What Does the Prefix “Trans” Mean?

Updated March 27, 2023
Meaning of the prefix "trans" and some words where it's used.
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The prefix trans appears in lots of places in the dictionary, including in words like transportation, transfer, and translate. But in the 21st century, you may be as likely to see trans (as a reference to transgender) on the front page of the newspaper.

So, what’s the meaning of trans, and why does it appear in so many of our everyday words?

What Does “Trans” Mean?

Trans is a Latin prefix meaning “across, through, or beyond.”

You’ll find it with various root words to describe the act of moving oneself (or an object) from one place to another.

  • Does this city have public transportation to get across town?
  • I’d like to transfer $100 into my bank account.
  • Taylor can translate this French song into English.
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“Trans” Can Be Short for “Transgender”

Trans has become a politically loaded term because it often stands for transgender when used alone. The adjective transgender (not transgendered) describes the gender identity of being assigned one gender at birth and later moving into a different gender identity.

Trans has been used as a shorthand for transgender since the mid-1990s.

  • It’s important to advocate for trans rights.
  • My sibling Ned came out as trans several years ago.
  • Some trans individuals prefer gender-neutral pronouns.

The term transsexual was first used in the 1950s to describe a similar concept (a person who has the physical traits of one biological sex but identifies as the other). However, transsexual is no longer the preferred term for this gender identity, as gender and sex are two different constructs (gender is a social construct, while sex is a biological construct).


Need to Know

Trans isn’t the only prefix we use without a root word. If you’ve ever discussed the pros and cons of a situation, or described an excited friend as a little extra, you’ve used plenty of prefixes on their own.

Words With the Prefix “Trans”

Trans appears in more everyday words than you think. Notice how each definition relates to being “across” or “beyond” a particular state or condition.



Example Sentence


an exchange or trade of goods

We finished our business transaction during lunch.


crossing the Atlantic Ocean

Have you ever taken a transatlantic flight?


to rise above or go beyond a limit

Jazz can transcend the definitions of music theory.


crossing a continent

The transcontinental railroad revolutionized American travel.


to copy information from one source to another

Can you transcribe the minutes of this meeting?


a copy of a document

Please attach your college transcript to the application.


to carry something or move from one place to another

We transferred the baby from the car seat to the crib.


to move from one form to another

Cinderella’s dress transformed into a beautiful gown.


to flow from one source to another

The doctor transfused three pints of blood to the patient.


to move from one gender to another

My transgender friend is growing her hair longer.


an act that goes past or breaks a law

Stealing money from a bank is a legal transgression.


passing through; taking a short amount of time

Hotel guests are often transient and ready to move to their next location.


using a vehicle to pass through an area

Mass transit can move many people at a time through a city.


passing from one condition to another

Getting older can be a difficult transition for some people.


having a passing nature

His kindness is transitory; it comes and goes very quickly.


to change a message from one language to another

Can you translate these Greek texts for me?


letting light pass through

The translucent stained-glass windows made the sunlight look colorful.


sending a message from one place to another

Morse code was an effective way to transmit messages during World War II.


easily seen through

His lies were so transparent that we didn’t believe him for a second.


taking place across time

The plans for Jane’s surprise party transpired without her knowledge.


to remove from one place and put it in another place

A surgical team transplanted a new heart into the patient’s chest.


to carry from one place to another

You’ll need to transport this cargo by ship.


the system of moving from one place to another

Buses and subways are examples of public transportation.


to shift from one side or position to another

If you transpose these integers, you can solve the algebra problem easily.


Quick Tip

You can alter these words even more with additional affixes. For example, translation becomes mistranslation with the prefix mis-, and transfer becomes nontransferable with the prefix non- and the suffix -able.

Words With the Root Word “Trans”

Like many words and affixes, trans begins in Latin and travels through many additional languages. That’s why you may see some words with the trans root (and meaning), but not spelled exactly the same way.



Example Sentence


to walk through

We traipsed through the meadow on a beautiful spring day.


a given direction or course

What is the trajectory of your career?


to cross from consciousness into semi-consciousness

His blank face looked as if he were in a trance.


to cross or pass through

My family traversed the dangerous woods before finding safety.


a false or distorted representation

This legal decision is a travesty of justice.

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