An alpha privative or, rarely, privative a (from Latin alpha prīvātīvum, from Ancient Greek α στερητικόν) is the prefix a- or an- (before vowels) that is used in Greek and in words borrowed from Greek to express negation or absence, for example the English words atypical, anesthetic, and analgesic.
It is derived from a Proto-Indo-European syllabic nasal *n̥-, the zero ablaut grade of the negation *ne, i.e. /n/ used as a vowel. For this reason, it usually appears as an- before vowels (e.g. an-alphabetism, an-esthesia, an-archy). It shares the same root with the Greek prefix nē- or ne-, in Greek νη- or νε-, that is also privative (e.g. ne-penthe).
It is not to be confused with, among other things, an alpha copulative (e.g. a-delphi) or the prepositional component an- (i.e. the preposition ana with ekthlipsis or elision of its final vowel before a following vowel; e.g. an-ode).
The same prefix appears in Sanskrit, also as a-, an-.
In English and other West Germanic languages, the cognate is un- (or on-).
In North Germanic languages, the -n- has disappeared and Old Norse has ú- (e.g. ú-dáins-akr), Danish and Norwegian have u-, whereas Swedish uses o- (pronounced [u]), and Icelandic and Faroese use the related ó-.
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