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Prefixes in Reports about Student Protests

Prefixes in Reports on Student Protests
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American college students have been protesting the war in Gaza between Hamas and Israel.

In this week’s Everyday Grammar, we look at a few of the prefixes and words people are using to talk about the protests.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary says a prefix is “a letter or group of letters that is added at the beginning of a word to change its meaning.” Sometimes we see the prefix separated by a hyphen before the following word. At other times, there is no hyphen. This is often true of words that are often used with a prefix. Here are some very common prefixes:


Let us begin with the prefix “pro-.” This prefix comes from the Latin language. It means “forward” or “before.” The word “protest” combines this prefix with the root word, “test.” One form of the word “test” comes from a Latin verb, testari, meaning “to witness.” You can think of “protesting” as “speaking in front of the public.” When we combine “pro-” with another word in English, it means to be “in favor of” that thing. Let us take a look at some examples.

The recent student protests started at Columbia University in New York City. In April, the Associated Press (AP) reported:

“New York police removed a pro-Palestinian protest encampment at Columbia University on Thursday and arrested more than 100 demonstrators.”

The students said they are pro-Palestinian because they are calling attention to the situation of the Palestinians in Gaza. One demand of these students is a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas. Students at some schools have held pro-Israel events and reminded the protesters of the October 7 attack on Israel.


You may have noticed another prefix in our example. The protesters had set up tents, or cloth shelters, on an open green space of the school grounds, or campus. Because these tents are used for camping, the reports call them an “encampment.” This is a noun formed by adding the prefix “en-” and the suffix ‘-ment” to the verb, “camp.” The prefix “en-” means “to cause to be.” The suffix “-ment” makes it a noun form.

You may have seen this prefix before in words like “enlarge” and “enrich.” Before the letters b, m, or p, it is spelled “em-” as in “empower” and “embed.”

Anti- and counter-

Our next prefix is “anti-,” which means “against someone or something.” It is sometimes pronounced /ˌænti/ or /ˌæntɪ/. The United States has had a long history of anti-war protests, and the recent student protests follow that tradition. But another use of this prefix is related to these protests. On April 23, the AP reported that New York University (NYU) said it learned of reports of “intimidating chants and several antisemitic incidents.”

Antisemitic is a term that describes hatred of Jewish people. Byul Yoon, a student taking part in the protests at NYU, said:

“Antisemitism is never OK. That’s absolutely not what we stand for and that’s why there are so many Jewish comrades that are here with us today.”

Jewish students at other campuses said they were intimidated, or fearful of the protesters. This brings us to a similar prefix, “counter-,’ which means “as a reaction against.” There have been a number of counter-protests in favor of Israel.


At the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) on April 30, counter-demonstrators attacked the pro-Palestinian encampment. The AP reported that UCLA President Carol Folt said:

“This week, Alumni Park became unsafe.”

The prefix “un-” means the opposite of the word that follows it. So, “unsafe” is “not safe.”


Our final prefix is “di-” which can mean “divided in two, or separate from.” Another of the students’ demands is that the university divest its financial ties to Israel or companies that help support the war. You have probably seen the word “invest,” which can mean to gain ownership interest in a business. Divest has the opposite meaning: to take away or sell interest in a business. The AP reported that:

“At Brown University in Rhode Island, administrators agreed to consider a vote to divest from Israel in October — apparently the first U.S. college to agree to such a demand.”

Your turn

In this lesson, we have looked at the prefixes pro-, en-, anti-, counter-, un- and di-. The verbs in our examples included “protest” “camp” and “divest.” Write to us about protests you have experienced using one or more of these prefixes and the words that follow. Email us at or write to us in the comments.

And that’s Everyday Grammar.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Jill Robbins wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

hyphenn. a punctuation mark that is used to connect words or parts of words

encampment –n. the activity of setting up and maintaining a camp

tent n. a portable shelter that is used outdoors, is made of cloth (such as canvas or nylon), and is held up with poles and ropes

intimidatev. to make someone afraid

divestv. to sell or have taken away (something valuable, such as property or stocks)

Are students protesting in your country? What are they protesting about? Write to us in the Comments Section.