Getting started on ancient Greek
Getting started on ancient Greek

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Getting started on ancient Greek

3 Prefixes

Greek words can also appear at the start of English words, as prefixes. You have already encountered bio- from βίος (‘life’). Here are three more examples, each of which can still be used to produce new words:

  • poly- (πολύ, much, many): polygamy, polymath, polyphony
  • pan- (πᾶν, all): pandemic, pandemonium, panorama, pan-European
  • pseudo- (ψευδής, false): pseudonym, pseudo-science

One rich source of prefixes are prepositions – words like ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘through’, or ‘to’ that accompany a noun to form a phrase:

  • up the mountain
  • down the river
  • through the forest
  • on the road

English prepositions, like Greek, can be found as prefixes at the beginning of words:

Activity 5 Prepositions

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Identify the English prepositions at the start of these words.

  1. uptake
  2. downbeat
  3. afterthought
  4. throughput
  5. onset
  6. byproduct


  1. up-take
  2. down-beat
  3. after-thought
  4. through-put
  5. on-set
  6. by-product

Now, familiarise yourself with some Greek prepositions, all of which can be found at the start of English words. Read them aloud and, for this exercise, focus as much on the shape and the sound as the meanings.

  • ἀνά     up, upon
  • ἀπό     from
  • διά      on account of, through
  • ἐκ     out of
  • ἐπί      on, at, to
  • κατά    down, along, over
  • παρά   beside, against
  • περί     about
  • σύν      with
  • ὑπέρ    over, above
  • ὑπό      under

Using the list of prepositions, identify the two parts of the following English words.


analysis = ana + lysis (literally, ‘a breaking up’)

  1. apocalypse
  2. catastrophe
  3. diaspora
  4. ecstatic
  5. epidemic
  6. hyperbole
  7. hypothesis
  8. paradox
  9. periphrasis
  10. synthesis


  1. apocalypse    apo + calypse (‘unveiling’)
  2. catastrophe   cata + strophe (‘overturning’)
  3. diaspora     dia + spora (‘scattering about’)
  4. ecstatic       ec + stasis (‘standing outside [oneself]’)
  5. epidemic     epi + demic (‘among, or in, the people’)
  6. hyperbole      hyper + bole (‘overshooting’)
  7. hypothesis    hypo + thesis (‘an underlying assumption’)
  8. paradox      para + dox (‘against expectation’)
  9. periphrasis    peri + phrasis (‘a roundabout way of saying something’)
  10. synthesis    syn + thesis (‘putting together’, ‘combining’)

Once again, there are instances here where the roots of a word are not a reliable guide to its current meaning. An ‘apocalypse’ is literally an ‘unveiling’ or ‘uncovering’, from καλύπτω, ‘I cover’. In the New Testament book of Revelation – whose original title is ‘The Apocalypse of John’ (Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰωάννου) – what is ‘unveiled’ is a series of divine revelations concerning the end of the earth. These certainly include the catastrophes with which the word ‘apocalypse’ is now associated, although for Christian readers these are signs of the impending arrival of the Kingdom of God.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371