How to Teach the Prefix EX- (Tips From a REAL Teacher + PDF)

I have been teaching English as a second language since 2006. I have also been a language student for most of my life. Connecting grammar ideas to other things that people already have a memory of is very helpful. In this post, I will share a helpful way to teach the prefix ex- to ESL students.

  1. Teach the meaning of the suffix EX- = former; not anymore.
  2. Compare the sound that EX makes with the letter X. Then connect the idea that the letter X means eliminated (Like a TV game show or contest)
  3. Find an EX- in your student’s life and make an example sentence that they can easily remember.
  4. Share common prefix ex- words that they can guess the meaning of. Add new words with the prefix ex-.

Prefixes are like puzzle pieces. We connect them to other words to make new words. It’s like putting together a puzzle, If we understand what the prefix means we can understand the meaning of the new word after the prefix is added.

Prefix ex- Meaning

ex- prefix (in nouns) = former

  • Ex-wife – A former wife
  • Ex-president – The former president

ex- also = out

  • exodus

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries prefix ex-

When I teach this prefix to my students I stick with the first definition – former. This prefix is joined with other existing words with a hyphen (-) so it’s easy to use and understand. 

As a prefix meaning out, ex- is not joining other English words with a hyphen (-) but it is being combined with other non-English words to make a new word. For example:

exodus = a situation in which many people leave a place at the same time

ex (out) + hodos (road or way) [from Greek to English] 

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries exodus
I don’t spend too much time on this application of ex- out because it’s not as much of a vocabulary builder as ex- former.

Some Tips for Associating the Prefix ex- With the Letter X 

Ex = X 

What does the letter X mean on a TV game show or a talent contest?

American’s Got Talent uses an X when someone is eliminated from the show. The prefix ex- means former. This also has the feeling of no more, not any longer

You were a part of the contest in the past, but now you are not. X = not anymore.

Here is another example.

If you get three Xs on a TV game show you are out. You are not a contestant anymore. You are an ex-contestant.

The prefix ex- works the same way. If a person is no longer your romantic partner they are an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. Ex- = not anymore.

The prefix ex- and the letter X make the same sound so it’s easy to relate these two ideas.

Connect the Lesson Topic to Real Experience 

Most people have an ex- something. Have your student make a sentence talking about an ex- from their own life. Ex-boyfriends/husbands and ex-girlfriends/wives are probably not good lesson topics. I would try to find something less personal.

Former connections like an ex-roommate, ex-boss, ex-coworker, ex-teammate, etc. are safer. 

If politics are a safe topic you can search the news for something that is meaningful for your student’s country. If an ex-president or ex-prime minister is in the news that can be a nice connection for your student. Any ex-politician is good if politics is not a sensitive topic.

Next, introduce some common prefix ex- words in English that they can guess the meaning of. Using common jobs or sports is a nice place to start. The person no longer has this job or plays this sport or plays for this team.

  • Ex-policeman
  • Ex-teacher
  • Ex-bank president
  • Ex-basketball coach
  • Ex-footballer
  • Ex-Chicago Bull

Again, keep this section meaningful to sports that are familiar to your student and popular in their country. This will be easier for them to remember.

Adding More Ex- prefix Examples to Their Vocabulary

After my student is more comfortable I will introduce some words with the prefix ex- that may be new for them. 

Ex-con (short for ex-convict, someone who has served time in prison but is now free)

I like to go over some political positions that are often used with the prefix EX-.

Ex-minister (Finance minister, deputy Defense minister, minister of Education, etc.)

Organization leaders are often referred to by their former positions.

  • Ex-leader of the ABC party
  • Ex-head of UNICEF


Then I would explain how we often use EX by itself as a noun to mean our past wife, husband, or romantic partner.

“I saw my ex at the mall yesterday. He has a beard now, it makes him look older.”


The city of Tampa Bay in the state of Florida has a major league baseball team called the Tampa Bay Rays. (Ray comes from a kind of ocean fish called a stingray.)

Here is a news headline I found on the Internet.

Ex-Ray Tommy Pham: ‘I’m a little sad to go.’ – Tampa Bay Times

Tommy Pham is a former member of the Tampa Bay baseball club. The newspaper headline calls him an ex-Ray. I have one question:

Can an ex-Ray go to the hospital and get an x-ray? Is it too confusing?

Prefix ex- Printable PDF worksheet

Download your printable Prefix ex- PDF worksheet below. (It’s FREE!)↓

As a follow-up activity, you might make a list of ex- words with your student and write some example sentences. You could also ask your student to research online and find examples of these words on the Web.

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