E 0951          UN-

The prefix " un- " is of Germanic origin

H 0086          א ו ן

Concept of root : unlucky

Hebrew word


English meanings

א ו ן


misfortune, sadness

Related English words


Comparison between European words and Hebrew




English meanings

Similarity in roots


א ו ן


misfortune, sadness

o n




displeasure affliction

a n

Old English



u n-


"un-" : in


"ill" advised

u n


un- : in Unmensch

un-: unmensh

evil person

u n


on- in ondier



dangerous animal

o n

Middle Dutch




o n




bad, unpleasant

lack of

o n d



Hebrew *ON --- *UN- Indo-European



The prefix "un-" in English and German, "on-" in Dutch does not have one only meaning.


1. Firstly, it may indicate an in itself neutral negation: "unlocked" = "not locked". This may be good or not good, so it is a neutral indication.


2. Secondly, it may mean the reversal of an action : "to unlock", again good or not good.


3. Thirdly it may mean a release or removal, like in "unearth". Still in itself neutral.


4. Fourthly it may tell an action is intensified, such as "to unloose".


5. But, fifthly, the praefix "un-" may constate something not good in general : "unlucky" is more than just "not lucky".


6. And then, sixthly, in German and Dutch the concept of "un-", respectively "on-" may indicate purely "bad".



  • English does not regularly use this prefix "un-" also in this specifically non-neutral negative sense as other languages do.


  • Hebrew. This negative meaning of "on", corresponding with the Dutch prefix "on-" lies probably at the basis of the development, through the inserting as in different vowels, of the word "awčn" of entry E 0976 (Hebrew 0087) . There we will find a Dutch prefix that has had a comparable development, into "wan-". Again Dutch rather near to Hebrew.


  • Proto-Semitic. This Hebrew word is given as of uncertain origin. So we have no evidence to make a hypothesis for Proto-Semitic, but the similarity with Germanic suggests a common origin that would mean a presence of the root in that language: "* א ו ן , 'on " , but we have no evidence to prove this.


  • Dutch. We have to distinguish between two meanings. First, the prefix "on-" in "onmoet" which confirms the concept of sadness as in Hebrew "ON". The word "moet", the same as English "mood", is clarifying. The contribution of "on" is more than just a negation. Secondly, the prefix "on-"in "ondier" gives the concept of "evilness", that in Hebrew has received different vowels ( A and E instead of O") exactly in order to literally and figuratively "differentiate".


  • Scandinavian. The speakers of Swedish, Norwegian and Danish still do not have much problems in understanding each other when conversing. Also the meaning of the word "ond" is practically the same in the three tongues. We recall that their meaning is found in the same root in Hebrew, but that a diversification with new vowels has also taken place in that language.


  • Proto-Germanic. Scholars often consider the "N" of the words of this entry as being the same as the "N" in English "no". This is basically right. Interesting is that in the case of "un" Germanic places a vowel in front of that "N" instead of as so often after it : "No". The vowel is "U" with its different pronunciations in German and its predecessors, as well as in English and Old English. In Nordic and Dutch it is "O", but the Scandinavian pronunciation tends to be near "U" . The most probable Proto-Germanic form is "*U N-".


  • Indo-European.


    Old Indian has "ūná-" = wanting, deficient, defective".


    Avestan with an identical "ūná-" covers the same meanings found in Old Indian.


    Latin For the important Latin word "vanus" the concept of "emptiness" is given as the first meaning. But very important are "lacking content" and "unreliable", that together with "idle" and "insignificant" give a picture that justify the usual opinion that "vanus" is a cognate of the mentioned Old Indian and Avestan words. As to the form, one may note that out of the tightly knit group "O U W V" we see here the use of the consonant "V" that has required and received a vowel A" to be properly pronounced together with the consonant "N. The indication is "* V . N ". It must be pointed out that, even if "emptiness" has entered into the group of meanings served by "vanus", it is probably not related to "vacuus = empty, not occupied, without control or master"" and the related verb "vaco = to be empty, unmanaged, " and figurative elaborations . The two concepts of kinds of "emptiness" are quite distant.


    Greek offers ευνις, eunis = lacking, deprived, short of" . The first part has nothing to do with "eu- = good" and the indication for Indo-European is "*U N-".







Created: Tuesday 6 November 2007 at 22.30.54 Updated: 27/09/2012 at 10.59.01