The Latin word also denoted "agency by; source, origin; relation to, in consequence of." Since classical times usually reduced to a- before -m-, -p-, or -v-; typically abs- before -c-, -q-, or -t-.
An initial consonant combination common in Greek; the p- typically is silent in English words that have it but pronounced in French, German, etc.
active word-forming element in English and in many verbs inherited from French and Latin, from Latin de "down, down from, from, off; concerning" (see de), also used as a prefix in Latin, usually meaning "down, off, away, from among, down from," but also "down to the bottom, totally" hence "completely" (intensive or completive), which is its sense in many English words.
As a Latin prefix it also had the function of undoing or reversing a verb's action, and hence it came to be used as a pure privative — "not, do the opposite of, undo" — which is its primary function as a living prefix in English, as in defrost (1895), defuse (1943), de-escalate (1964), etc. In some cases, a reduced form of dis-.
before vowels tel-, word-forming element meaning "far, far off, operating over distance" (also, since c. 1940, "television"), from Greek tele "far off, afar, at or to a distance," related to teleos (genitive telos) "end, goal, completion, result," from PIE root *kwel- (2) "far" in space or time.
prefix or inseparable particle, a relic of various Germanic and Latin elements.
In words derived from Old English, it commonly represents Old English an "on, in, into" (see on (prep.)), as in alive, above, asleep, aback, abroad, afoot, ashore, ahead, abed, aside, obsolete arank "in rank and file," etc., forming adjectives and adverbs from nouns, with the notion "in, at; engaged in." In this use it is identical to a (2).
It also can represent Middle English of (prep.) "off, from," as in anew, afresh, akin, abreast. Or it can be a reduced form of the Old English past participle prefix ge-, as in aware.
Or it can be the Old English intensive a-, originally ar- (cognate with German er- and probably implying originally "motion away from"), as in abide, arise, awake, ashamed, marking a verb as momentary, a single event. Such words sometimes were refashioned in early modern English as though the prefix were Latin (accursed, allay, affright are examples).
In words from Romanic languages, often it represents reduced forms of Latin ad "to, toward; for" (see ad-), or ab "from, away, off" (see ab-); both of which by about 7c. had been reduced to a in the ancestor of Old French. In a few cases it represents Latin ex.
[I]t naturally happened that all these a- prefixes were at length confusedly lumped together in idea, and the resultant a- looked upon as vaguely intensive, rhetorical, euphonic, or even archaic, and wholly otiose. [OED]
word-forming element meaning "beyond" (ultraviolet) or "extremely" (ultramodern), from Latin ultra- from ultra (adv. and prep.) "beyond, on the other side, on the farther side, past, over, across," from PIE *ol-tero-, suffixed form of root *al- "beyond." In common use from early 19c., it appears to have arisen from French political designations. As its own word, a noun meaning "extremist" of various stripes, it is first recorded 1817, from French ultra, shortening of ultra-royaliste "extreme royalist."