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-.
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).
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.
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, par-, word-forming element, originally in Greek-derived words, meaning "alongside, beyond; altered; contrary; irregular, abnormal," from Greek para- from para (prep.) "beside, near; issuing from; against, contrary to," from PIE *prea, from root *per- (1) "forward," hence "toward, near; against." Cognate with Old English for- "off, away." Mostly used in scientific and technical words; not usually regarded as a naturalized formative element in English.
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]