word-forming element in words of Greek origin or formation meaning "around, about, enclosing," from Greek peri (prep.) "around, about, beyond," cognate with Sanskrit pari "around, about, through," Latin per, from PIE root *per- (1) "forward," hence "in front of, before, first, chief, toward, near, around, against." Equivalent in sense to Latin circum-.
prefix of reversal, deprivation, or removal (as in unhand, undo, unbutton), Old English on-, un-, from Proto-Germanic *andi- (source also of Old Saxon ant-, Old Norse and-, Dutch ont-, Old High German ant-, German ent-, Gothic and- "against"), from PIE *anti "facing opposite, near, in front of, before, against" (from PIE root *ant- "front, forehead," with derivatives meaning "in front of, before").
More or less confused with un- (1) through similarity in the notions of "negation" and "reversal;" an adjective such as unlocked might represent "not locked" (un- (1)) or the past tense of unlock (un- (2)).
word-forming element meaning "put in or into, bring to a certain state," sometimes intensive, from French assimilation of en- "in, into" (see en- (1)) to following labial stop (-b-, -p-, and often -m-), or from the same development in later Latin in- (to im-). "This rule was not fully established in spelling before the 17th c." [OED], but it is likely the pronunciation shift was in Old French and Middle English and spelling was slow to conform. Also a living prefix in English used to form verbs from adjectives and nouns (embitter, embody). In words such as emancipate, emerge, emit, emotion the e- is a reduced form of Latin ex- (see ex-) before -m-.
word-forming element meaning "in; into," from French and Old French en-, from Latin in- "in, into" (from PIE root *en "in"). Typically assimilated before -p-, -b-, -m-, -l-, and -r-. Latin in- became en- in French, Spanish, Portuguese, but remained in- in Italian.
Also used with native and imported elements to form verbs from nouns and adjectives, with a sense "put in or on" (encircle), also "cause to be, make into" (endear), and used as an intensive (enclose). Spelling variants in French that were brought over into Middle English account for parallels such as ensure/insure, and most en- words in English had at one time or another a variant in in-, and vice versa.
Old English steop-, with connotations of "loss," in combinations like steopcild "orphan," related to astiepan, bestiepan "to bereave, to deprive of parents or children," from Proto-Germanic *steupa- "bereft" (source also of Old Frisian stiap-, Old Norse stjup-, Swedish styv-, Middle Low German stef-, Dutch stief-, Old High German stiof-, German stief-), literally "pushed out," from PIE *steup-, from root *(s)teu- (1) "to push, stick, knock," with derivatives referring to fragments (see steep (adj.)). Barnhart suggests the forms in -f- are by assimilation of the first sound in following words for "father."
Etymologically, a stepfather or stepmother is one who becomes father or mother to an orphan, but the notion of orphanage faded in 20c. and came to denote simply relation through marriage. For sense evolution, compare Latin privignus "stepson," related to privus "deprived." Compare orphan (n.).
prefix of negation, Old English un-, from Proto-Germanic *un- (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Old High German, German un-, Gothic un-, Dutch on-), from PIE *n- (source of Sanskrit a-, an- "not," Greek a-, an-, Old Irish an-, Latin in-), combining form of PIE root *ne- "not." Often euphemistic (such as untruth for "lie").
The most prolific of English prefixes, freely and widely used in Old English, where it forms more than 1,000 compounds. It underwent a mass extinction in early Middle English, but emerged with renewed vigor 16c. to form compounds with native and imported words. It disputes with Latin-derived cognate in- (1) the right to form the negation of certain words (indigestable/undigestable, etc.), and though both might be deployed in cooperation to indicate shades of meaning (unfamous/infamous), typically they are not.
It also makes words from phrases (such as uncalled-for, c. 1600; undreamed-of, 1630s; uncome-at-able, 1690s; unputdownable, 1947, of a book; un-in-one-breath-utterable, Ben Jonson; etc., but the habit is not restricted to un-; such as put-up-able-with, 1812). As a prefix in telegramese to replace not and save the cost of a word, it is attested by 1936.