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a native English prefix formerly used in the formation of verbs:
become, besiege, bedaub, befriend.
Middle English, Old English, unstressed form of by Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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British Dictionary definitions for be-


(from nouns) to surround completely; cover on all sides befog
(from nouns) to affect completely or excessively bedazzle
(from nouns) to consider as or cause to be befool, befriend
(from nouns) to provide or cover with bejewel
(from verbs) at, for, against, on, or over bewail, berate
Word Origin
Old English be-, bi-, unstressed variant of by
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin and History for be-

word-forming element with a wide range of meaning: "thoroughly, completely; to make, cause seem; to provide with; at, on, to, for," from Old English be- "on all sides" (also used to make transitive verbs and as a privative or intensive prefix), from weak form of Old English bi "by," probably cognate with second syllable of Greek amphi, Latin ambi and originally meaning "about" (see ambi-).

This sense naturally drifted into intensive (cf. bespatter "spatter about," therefore "spatter very much"). Be- can also be privative (cf. behead), causative, or have just about any sense required. The prefix was productive 16c.-17c. in forming useful words, many of which have not survived, e.g. bethwack "to thrash soundly" (1550s), betongue "to assail in speech, to scold" (1630s).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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