Etymology
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apo- 
before vowels ap-, word-forming element meaning "of, from, away from; separate, apart from, free from," from Greek apo "from, away from; after; in descent from," in compounds, "asunder, off; finishing, completing; back again," of time, "after," of origin, "sprung from, descended from; because of," from PIE root *apo- "off, away" (source also of Sanskrit apa "away from," Avestan apa "away from," Latin ab "away from, from," Gothic af, Old English of "away from," Modern English of, off).
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ab- 
word-forming element meaning "away, from, from off, down," denoting disjunction, separation, departure; from Latin ab (prep.) "off, away from" in reference to space or distance, also of time, from PIE root *apo- "off, away" (also the source of Greek apo "off, away from, from," Sanskrit apa "away from," Gothic af, English of, off; see apo-).

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-.
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a- (1)

prefix or inseparable particle, a conglomerate 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]
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