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Q: What does the "ex-" stand for? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: What does the "ex-" stand for?
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: gcse-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 04 Dec 2004 06:34 PST
Expires: 03 Jan 2005 06:34 PST
Question ID: 437977
For example, someone calling someone else an ex.
What does that mean. For example "ex-girlfriend" "ex-wife" etc..
Subject: Re: What does the "ex-" stand for?
Answered By: gentryunderwood-ga on 04 Dec 2004 08:05 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi gcse,

In short, "ex" is an English version of the Latin prefix "ex" (though
the Etymology can also be traced to the Greek cognate "ex", to Old
English, Old French, and Old Church Slavonic ). In Latin, "ex"
literally means "out of" or "outside", and in some cases an English
word that is built from the Latin "ex" uses the prefix precisely to
mean "out of", as in exorbitant, meaning out of the realm of the

In the cases you refer to, like "ex-wife" and "ex-girlfriend", it's
probably more appropriate to translate the latin not as "out of" but
rather as "not". So, in the most basic sense,  "ex-girlfriend" means
"not girlfriend". Of course, semantically we understand that term to
be used only in the context of a relationship that once did exist.
That is, it would be culturally inappropriate to call someone your
"ex-girlfriend" if she never was your girlfriend, although speaking
strictly etymologically anyone who is not your girlfriend is an ex-
(not) girlfriend.

Incidentally, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the use of
ex with a hyphen in front of some other term (ex-husband, ex-wife) was
first legitimated in 1929. In that sense it's a relatively new
linguistic tool.

More information can be found at the following sites:

Etymology - Greek and Latin Roots - Prefixes and Affixes library/weekly/aaetymologyprefixes.htm

Etymology - English Words with Latin Prefixes

Online Etymology Dictionary

Search Strategy:
latin etymology "ex"

I hope this helps!


Clarification of Answer by gentryunderwood-ga on 05 Dec 2004 08:02 PST
Many thanks to mathtalk and archae0pteryx for improving upon my
answer. "Former" girlfriend or "former" wife is a better way of
putting it than "not-girlfriend with the symantic understanding that
she once was."

Clarification of Answer by gentryunderwood-ga on 05 Dec 2004 08:03 PST
oops -- and thanks to ga1970 as well!
gcse-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: What does the "ex-" stand for?
From: mathtalk-ga on 04 Dec 2004 08:53 PST
The prefix "ex-" in this context means "former" rather than "not".

As with the more general meaning of "out of" (ex-ternal = out-side),
the meaning involves a boundary.  In an "ex-" relationship the
boundary may be chronological, such as an ex-wife, ex-employee, or
ex-boxer; the role referred to lies in the past.

regards, mathtalk-ga
Subject: Re: What does the "ex-" stand for?
From: ga1970-ga on 04 Dec 2004 08:57 PST
As stated above, "ex" in English comes from the Latin word "ex" meaning
"out of", and can mean "former", "from" or "outside":

( ex-girlfriend, ex-wife, ex-husband, ex-president, etc )
This is the case that you mentioned, where
"ex" stands for "former" or "previous" or "used to be".
Nicole Kidman is the ex-wife of Tom Cruise, as they are divorced.
Bill Clinton is an ex-president of the USA, as he is no longer President.

( ex-works )
An ex-works price is the price of the goods at the factory or
importers premises, not including the costs of delivery to the buyer's
location, that is the price of the goods if collected from the

( ex-directory )
An ex-directory telephone number is not included in the phone book, it
is outside the phone book.
Subject: Re: What does the "ex-" stand for?
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 04 Dec 2004 10:33 PST
Definitely "former" in this use.  If it simply meant "not," all the
women in the world that you're not married to would be your

Among heterosexuals, many people use the shortened expression "my ex"
informally to refer to someone they used to be married to.  It's not
usually heard when the "ex" was not actually a spouse, although they
might still say "ex-girlfriend" for a former steady partner to whom
they were not married.  Used alone, "ex" most commonly stands for

I hear gay men use "my ex" to refer to a former partner.


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