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Those Confusing Bi- and Semi- Prefixes

I hear people from time to time mention “biweekly meetings” or “semiannual conferences” or something like these. Most of the time, I hear people use the bi- and semi- prefixes correctly about half the time.

I have found that how often people use them correctly depends on the root word. Take biweekly, for example. People understand that bi- refers to two or twice, so people conclude that biweekly means “twice a week.”

They’d be wrong. It means “every two weeks” or “every other week.”

Similarly, people take semiannual and conclude it means “twice a year.” They would be correct. But ask them what semiweekly means and they might tell you “every other week.”

They’d be wrong. It means “twice a week.”

Here’s why: The prefix semi– doesn’t mean “twice” or “two.” It means “half.” Two halves make a whole. Therefore, semiannual means “two times a year” and semiweekly means “two times a week.”

The same applies with -monthlyBimonthly is every other month and semimonthly is twice a month.

Until next time! Use the right words!


November 3, 2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , ,

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