In Italian, what does the prefix ‘s’ do to the word?

door Regina Coeli

Adding an ‘s’ to the beginning of an Italian word often creates the opposite, often negative  meaning of the word.

For example:

  • vantaggio = advantage / svantaggio = disadvantage
  • fortuna = luck / sfortuna = bad luck
  • caricare = to load / scaricare = to unload

The ‘s’ comes from the even stronger prefix ‘dis’ that we see in words such as:

  • interessato / disinteressato = interested / disinterested
  • onesto / disonesto = honest / dishonest
  • fare / disfare = to do up / to undo, to tie / to untie, to pack / to unpack, etc.

But be careful, because this rule does not always apply! In the article about Carnival, for instance, we come across the word ‘scherzo’ (practical joke); there is, however, no such word as ‘cherzo’! ‘Scherzo’ is originally a Lombard/Germanic word that can be recognised in words such as ‘scorn’ in English, and ‘scherzen’ and ‘schertsen’ in German and Dutch respectively (to jest, to joke).  

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