Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Flammable & Inflammable

Irene wrote that only recently had she learned that flammable and inflammable are synonyms, not antonyms. Previously, she thought that flammable referred to something that would burn, and that inflammable referred to something that would not burn. She took the in- prefix to mean not. The problem is that this prefix has three diverse meanings, so context or a dictionary must be used to know which one is in play.

First, it can mean not. This occurs in words such as insane, inanimate, and insincere.

Second, it can mean inside or within. Examples are inbred, inset, and inhabit.

Third, it can be an intensifier: invaluable, incandescent, and intoxication.

A complication is that the prefix in- can change its spelling to il- (illuminate), im- (impossible), or ir- (irrigation).

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