You probably know more word roots in English than you think, simply because you speak and write in the language every day. Once you glance at the list below, it will all start to make sense, and many of the word roots will be easy to remember because they’re so familiar.
Word roots are essential to our vocabulary and most of them are derived from Latin or Greek. Believe it or not, two thirds of the English language is derived from Latin or Greek words, which means you probably know more Latin and Greek than you think you do. But many working adults weren’t explicitly exposed to many word roots in their grammar school days. Instead, they were most likely provided a list of unrelated words to memorize at the beginning of each week that they would be quizzed on at the end of each week. This isn’t as effective as studying common word roots if you’re trying to build your vocabulary, and was just downright tedious at times.
What Is a Word Root?
A word root is a word or word part from which other words grow (hence it being named a “root”), usually through the addition of prefixes and suffixes. For example, “voc” is a Latin word root meaning "word" or "name." This word root also appears in the words advocacy, convocation, evocative, vocal, and vociferous.
A word root is also known as a “word stem” or “base of a word.”
Some word roots are complete words by themselves and others are word parts. For instance, “cent” comes from the Latin word root “centum,” meaning “hundred.” English treats the word as a word root that can be used independently (ex. “I won’t pay a cent.”) and in combination with affixes (a prefix or a suffix), as in “century,” “bicentennial” and “centipede.”
The most important thing to remember about word roots is that they must have a meaning. They can’t just be a random combination of letters. They have a history and sometimes a story that accompanies them. This is why it’s fun to learn about them. In Greek and Latin Roots (2008), T. Rasinski et al. define a word root as "…a semantic unit. This simply means that a root is a word part that means something. It is a group of letters with meaning."
How Learning Common Word Roots Can Help You Today
Everyone loves acing a vocabulary quiz because it provides a sense of accomplishment, and you just feel smarter afterward. And while learning word roots can help you ace your next vocabulary quiz, it can do much more than that. Here are some other benefits:
- Your vocabulary will increase exponentially faster than if you were to simply memorize a list of words.
- Automatically, you’ll know how to spell a variety of other words you’ve never even seen or heard before, and you’ll know their definitions.
- You’ll become a better reader and learner.
- It will become a lot easier for you to learn another language.
- Communicating with others from different industries and specialties will become easier.
If you’re interested in expanding your vocabulary by learning word roots, here’s a list of some common ones in English to get you started.
Latin Word Roots
acer-, acri- bitter, sharp, sour; Examples: acerbic, acrid, acrimonious, acrimony, exacerbate
ben-, bene- good, well; Examples: beneficence, benefit, benevolent, benign, benignant, benefactor
circ-, circum- circle, ring, around; Examples: circle, circular, circulate, circus, circumference, circumlocution, circumnavigate, circumscribe
dict- say; Examples: dictate, diction, edict, dictionary, addict
equ-, -iqu- even, equal, level; Examples: equal, equanimity, equate, equator, equilibrium, equinox, equipoise, equity, equivalence, equivocal, equivocate, iniquity
firm- firm, strong; Examples: affirm, confirm, confirmation, firm, firmament, infirm
gen- give birth; Examples: gene, generate, generous, generation
helic- something twisted or spiral; Examples: anthelix, helicine, helicograph, helicopter, helix
ign- fire; Examples: igneous, ignite, ignition
jur-, jus- law; Examples: jury, justice, adjure, conjurer, justification
luc-, lum- light; Examples: lucid, translucent, illuminate, elucidate
man(u)- hand; Examples: manual, manure, manicure, manipulate
nov- new; Examples: innovate, innovation, innovative, innovator, innovatory, nova, novelty, novice
omni- all; Examples: omnivorous, omnipotence, omniscient
port- carry; Examples: export, import, port, portable, portal, portfolio, rapport, report, support, transport
qui- quiet, rest; Examples: acquit, tranquil, requiem, quiescent, acquiesce
rudi- unskilled, rough, unlearned; Examples: erudite, erudition, rude, rudiment, rudimentary, rudity
scrib-, -script- write; Examples: ascribe, script, describe, transcribe, proscribe
tempor- time; Examples: contemporaneous, contemporary, extemporaneous, tempo, temporal, temporary
vac- empty; Examples: evacuate, vacate, vacancy, vacuous
Greek Word Roots
aster-, astr- star, star-shaped; Examples: aster, asterisk, asteroid, astrology, astronomy, astronaut
bio- life; Examples: biography, biology, biodegradable, symbiotic
chrono- time; Examples: chronic, synchronize, chronicle, chronology
dec- ten; Examples: decimal, decade, decagon, decagram, decahedron
eso- within; Examples: esophoria, esoteric, esotericism, esotropia
geo- earth; Examples: geography, geology, geometry, geopolitics
graph- write; Examples: autograph, graphic, epigraph, demographic
hemi- half; Examples: hemisphere, hemicube, hemicycle, hemimelia, hemiplegia
iatr- heal; Examples: iatrogenic, physiatrist, podiatrist, podiatry, psychiatrist, psychiatry
klept- steal; Examples: kleptocracy, kleptomania, kleptophobia, kleptoplasty
log-, -logy – word, reason, speech, thought; Examples: analogy, anthology, apology, biology, dialogue, doxology, ecology, epilogue, etymology, eulogy
mechan- machine or instrument; Examples: machine, mechanics, mechanism, mechanize
nom- arrangement, law, order; Examples: agronomy, astronomy, autonomous, bionomics, economy
onym- name; Examples: anonymous, antonym, allonym, cryptonym, eponym, eponymous, eponymy, homonym, synonym
phil- love; Examples: philosophy, bibliophile, philanthropy
psych- mind; Examples: psyche, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, psychologist, psychology, psychopathic
rhe- flow; Examples: rheumatic, rheumatism, rheumatoid, rheumatology, rhythm, rhythmic
schem- plan; Examples: schema, schematic, schematize, scheme
tele- far off, end; Examples: telecast, telephone, telekinesis, telepathy, telescope
xen- foreign; Examples: xenogamy, xenograft, xenon, xenophobia
Now that you’ve started learning word roots, you’ll probably want to keep going. It’s beneficial in a variety of capacities but it’s also just fascinating. You can find even more word roots here, and some great resources for further exploration. Enjoy! Use the comment system below to let us know about anything interesting that you find.