upon, over

Quick Summary

Prefixes are key morphemes in English vocabulary that begin words. The English prefix epi-, which means “over” or “upon,” appears in a good number of English vocabulary words, such as epidermis and epitaph. You can remember that the prefix epi- means “upon” from the noun epidemic, which is a widespread disease that comes “upon” people; you can also recall that epi- means “over” via the word epidermis, which is the outer skin that lies “over” lower layers of skin.

A Writing Over and Upon Epi-

Today we will focus on the English prefix epi-, which means “over” or “upon.” Hopefully you will find this podcast to be the epitome of all information about epi-!

One of the primary meanings of the English prefix epi- is “upon.” An epidemic is a disease that comes “upon” people over a widespread area. When epidemics are deadly, epitaphs are in great demand, being words written “upon” tombstones speaking of who is buried there. An epithet, however, is meant for use during life, as it is a descriptor placed “upon” a person’s name, such as the “Great” in Alexander the Great or “Terrible” in Ivan the Terrible. An epilogue speaks “upon” a play as it ends, often asking for the audience’s approval …. or forgiveness! As a final example of epi- meaning “upon,” an eponym is the name of a person put “upon” a place, such as Virginia (from Elizabeth I of England, the Virgin Queen) or Rome, derived from the first king of Rome, Romulus.

Having spoken “upon” the first meaning of epi- sufficiently, let’s now go “over” another widespread meaning of epi-, that is, “over”! The epidermis, or visible layer of skin in humans, lies “over” the dermis and hypodermis, the two underlying skin layers. The epicenter of an earthquake is that point on the surface of the Earth directly “over” the very center or place of origin of an earthquake. Have you seen those quotes from literary works that often begin chapters in books? Those are epigraphs, or words written “over” the beginning of a book chapter, often to clue you into what the chapter is going to be about. Finally, an epigram, or short group of words written “over” a given subject, is defined as a short poem or sentence that expresses something such as a feeling or idea in a short, clever, and amusing way.

There are many more words that the prefix epi- lies “upon” and rules “over”—but enough already of this epi- epilogue!

  1. epidemic: a widespread disease that comes “upon” people
  2. epitaph: writing “upon” a tomb
  3. epithet: descriptor placed “upon” someone’s name
  4. epilogue: writing “upon” the conclusion of a written work
  5. eponym: someone’s name placed “upon” a place
  6. epidermis: top layer of skin placed “over” the two underlying layers
  7. epicenter: place directly “over” the origin of an earthquake
  8. epigraph: appropriate words written “over” the chapter in a book
  9. epigram: short number of words written “over” a particular topic


  • epigram

    An epigram is a short poem or sentence that expresses something, such as a feeling or idea, in a short, clever, and amusing way.

  • epitaph

    An epitaph is an inscription upon a tomb that tells of a person's accomplishments during life.

  • epithet

    An epithet is a short description or term that usually follows and augments someone's name, such as the word "great" in "Alfred the Great."

  • epidemic

    An epidemic problem, such as a disease or unpleasant development of some kind, spreads quickly over a widespread area.

  • epicene

    The adjective epicene refers to something or someone that has both feminine and masculine traits.

  • epigraph

    An epigraph is a quotation or inspiring line heading a chapter or entire book that sets forth an overarching theme or is related to the book or chapter in some way.

  • epistemology

    Epistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge, including its limits, source, and nature.

Differentiated vocabulary for your students is just a click away.