I’ve been teaching prefixes for many years to help my students increase their English vocabulary. I used my experience and some extra research to write this detailed study of how to use Over and Under as Prefixes.
Over and Under as prefixes
Over is used as a prefix to mean excessively or too much
“The airport said my suitcase is overweight.” – it weighs too much.
Under is used as a prefix to mean below or not enough
“This steak is undercooked.” – it is not cooked enough.
|Over – prefix = excessively or too much|
|overweight – weigh too much (adjective)|
|overconfident – be excessively [too] confident (adjective)|
|overeat – eat too much (verb)|
|Under – prefix = below or not enough|
|underwater – below the surface of the water (adjective)|
|undercooked – not cooked enough (adjective)|
|underqualified – not having enough qualifications (adjective)|
Do you know what a prefix is? A prefix is: a letter or group of letters added to the beginning of a word to change its meaning, such as un- in unhappy and pre- in preheat
OVER as a Prefix
The prefix over can be added to verbs, nouns, and adjectives to show that something is too much or it was done more than we need.
overcook (verb) to cook something too much
overachiever (noun) someone who tries too hard to be successful at work
overrated (adjective) rated too high
If your luggage is too heavy when you weigh it at the airport, your bags are overweight. (Overweight is an adjective.)
If you eat too much at a buffet and now your stomach hurts, it may be because you overate. (Overate is the past tense of the verb overeat.)
Both these words (overweight – overeat) show that something is too much or was done too much.
Let me give you a few more examples of how we use these words in natural sentences.
- “I can’t believe my team lost the league championship after we played such a great season. I guess we thought the final would be easy so we were overconfident.”
= excessively (too) confident
- “Some people have actually died from overwork! Remember to keep time in your life for fun too!”
Overwork is a noun in this sentence. Overwork can also be a verb.
- “Work hard but be careful not to overwork.”
OVER can also mean COMPLETELY or totally
- “I was overjoyed when I found out that I won a free vacation!” = completely happy
Did you know? Verbs have a Past Participle form that can be used as an adjective. Learn more at my post: Use Past Participles The Right Way (25 examples + PDF list)
UNDER as a Prefix
The prefix under can be added to verbs, nouns, and adjectives to show that something is below a certain level or it is not enough for our needs
undercook (verb) to not cook something enough
undergraduate (noun) a first-level university student
underhanded (adjective) secret and dishonest
You may already know some common words that use this prefix.
These words talk about a position or location, they mean below ground and below the surface of the water.
Let me give you a few more examples of how we use UNDER as a prefix where the meaning is NOT ENOUGH
“I’m gonna send this hamburger back. It’s undercooked.” = not cooked enough
(Undercooked is an adjective.)
“Peter applied for a new job but he was underqualified.” = Peter doesn’t have enough qualifications for this job
(Underqualified is an adjective.)
“I think that Batman vs Superman was a good movie. It’s underrated in my opinion.” I think it’s not rated high enough. People are unfairly judging the movie (in my opinion)
Undercooked, underqualified, and underrated are adjectives.
Some people who work very hard at their job but feel like they don’t get enough money might say:
- “I’m overworked and underpaid.”
– both of these words are adjectives.
20 more examples of words with the prefixes OVER and UNDER
Definitions from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/
I chose 10 words for each prefix, but there are hundreds to choose from. For this list, I have chosen words that I have used, heard, or read in the news recently.
The website The Free Dictionary dot com has a much longer list if you would like to take a look. (Links at the bottom of each list.)
10 words with the prefix OVER (+ 1)
overdo – to do too much (verb)
My back is really sore today. I think I overdid it at the gym yesterday.
overdone – done too much (adjective)
This steak is overdone. (= cooked too much)
oversee – to watch somebody/something and make sure that a job or an activity is done correctly (verb)
The architect oversaw the building of the model house.
①overlook – to fail to see or notice something (verb X3)
We should not overlook this possibility.
②overlook – to see something wrong or bad but decide to ignore it
I can overlook your mistakes this time but please be more careful in the future.
③overlook – if a building, etc. overlooks a place, you can see that place from the building
My wife and I had dinner at a great restaurant overlooking the ocean.
overachiever – a person who tries too hard to be successful in their work (noun)
Spencer comes in early and works overtime every day. He is such an overachiever.
overbearing – trying to control other people in an unpleasant way (adjective)
I feel bad for Ken. His mother is really overbearing.
overhaul – an examination of a machine or system, including doing repairs on it or making changes to it (noun)
I’m going to do an overhaul of my entire website.
overhaul – to examine every part of a machine, system, etc. and make any necessary changes or repairs (verb)
We need to overhaul the car’s engine. It’s gonna be expensive.
①override – to use your authority to reject somebody’s decision, order, etc. (verb X3)
The chairman overrode the committee’s objections and signed the agreement.
②override – to be more important than something
Safety concerns override all other issues.
③override – to interrupt the action of a device that usually works by itself in order to control it yourself
I had to override my computer after I forgot my password.
overcharge – to make somebody pay too much for something (verb)
It’s a popular nightclub but they will overcharge you on the drinks if you don’t watch the bartenders carefully.
overturn – overturn something to officially decide that a legal decision, etc. is not correct, and to make it no longer legally recognized (verb)
The verdict was overturned by the appeal court.
10 words with the prefix UNDER
undergo – to experience something, especially a change or something unpleasant (verb)
– New COVID-19 vaccines are currently undergoing trials in Asia.
underway – having started (adjective)
New vaccine trials are underway.
undertake – to make yourself responsible for something and start doing it (verb)
This task has been undertaken by a group of new employees.
underhanded – secret and dishonest (adjective)
Too many leaders and business owners are involved in underhanded deals.
underprivileged – having less money and fewer opportunities than most people in society (adjective)
We need more programs in place to support the underprivileged in our society.
underlying – important in a situation but not always easily noticed or stated clearly (adjective)
Unemployment may be an underlying cause of the rising crime rate.
undermine – to make something, especially somebody’s confidence or authority, gradually weaker or less effective (verb)
Budget cuts have undermined our efforts to vaccinate more people.
undergraduate – a university or college student who is studying for their first degree *This is commonly shortened to undergrad. (noun)
I teach language communication to undergrads at university.
underdog – a person, team, country, etc. that is thought to be in a weaker position than others and therefore not likely to be successful, win a competition, etc. (noun)
In politics, he was a champion of the underdog (= always fought for the rights of weaker people).
underage – done by people who are too young by law (adjective)
The police shut down the party due to all the underage drinking.
OVER and UNDER as prefixes – VIDEO
Watch the video to improve your English listening skills as you refresh the grammar!
Over and Under as prefixes PDF E-guide (free!)
Do you know any other words that use the prefixes over or under? Write them in the comments.
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