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Word Parts

Do you have any idea on how words are made? Well, words don’t always come to us in a final form. They come as parts of several different words related in meaning to each other. The three word parts that combine to form a word are

  • Root (base word)
  • Prefix (comes before the root words)
  • Suffix (comes at the end of the root words)

Many English words are made by combining a root word, a prefix, and a suffix. By understanding the meaning of one part of a word, you will have a clue to defining a whole group of related word. For example, by knowing what oppress means, you can figure out that an oppressive government would be one that controls by the cruel use of force. Interesting, isn’t it?

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What are Root Words?

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A root is a base upon which other words are built. The root of every word carries the word’s core meaning. The root of a word can be a whole word, such as self. Word parts can be attached to the root to form new words, such as selfish and selfless.

Most words, however, are formed from roots that are not whole words. These roots come from many languages; thus, their meanings may not be obvious at first glance. For example, the root of convocation is voc, a Latin root meaning either “to call” or “voice.”  Convocation is an act of calling together; an assembly. From the same root grew such words as vocal, vociferous, and provocative.

Look at these examples.

Set 1: biography, autobiography, biology, antibiotic

Set 2: manufacture, factory, benefactor

Did you know that each of these two sets of words have one common root word?

In Set 1, the common root word is “bio-” which means life.

In Set 2, the common root word is “fac” which means make or do.

Root Word Examples

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On analyzing the root words, you would definitely recognize that most of the root words are difficult to understand, since they are not English words. It is found that many English words originated mostly from the roots of Greek and Latin, which were two of the first influences on the English language. Learning the origin and meanings of root words definitely help us deduce the meanings of new words that we encounter.

For example, let’s consider the word divert. To trace the origin of the word, we need to identify the root of this word. The root word is vert, which comes from the Latin root vert, which means “to turn,” and the Latin prefix dis-, meaning “away.” If you divert someone, you turn his or her attention away from something. When you know the meaning of a Greek or Latin root, you can better understand and more easily unlock the meanings of English words in which that Greek or Latin root appears.

Here are some common root words derived from Greek and Latin.

Root word   Meaning  Origin   English word 
 anthropo-  human  Greek  anthropology, anthropomorphic 
 astra  star  Greek  astronomy, astrology
 audi  hear  Latin  audible, audio, audience
 cap, capt  to take, seize   Latin  capable, capture
 chron  time  Greek  chronicle, chronology
 cred  to believe  Latin  credit, incredible
 dict  say, speak  Latin  diction, dictator, predict
 dorm  sleep  Latin  dormant, dormitory
 duc  to lead  Latin  educate, abduct
 flect  bend  Latin  reflect
 ject  throw  Latin  eject
 photo  light  Greek  photon, photographer
 port  carry  Latin  export, transport
 mono  single  Greek  monologue
 mut  change  Latin  commute, mutation
 sperm  seed  Greek  angiosperm
 terr  earth  Latin  terrain
 vac  empty  Latin  evacuate, vacate
 val  strong/well  Latin  valor, valid
 ver  truth  Latin  verdict, verify
 vert  to turn  Latin  divert, convert
 vol  wish/will  Latin  volunteer

Because a number of words may come from the same root, recognizing a word’s root  can deepen your understanding of the meaning of a word and can help you in figuring out the meaning of other words derived from the same or similar roots.

Look at this example.

The root word tort comes from Latin word torquere, meaning “to twist.”

Recognizing the root tort when you see it in an unfamiliar word can help you get at least a general sense of the word’s meaning. Let’s see how.

Extort - to get money or goods by "twisting" them out of someone

Distort - to twist or change the shape or appearance of something

Tortuous - full of bends; winding or twisting

Prefixes and Suffixes

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A prefix is one or more syllables added before a root. When a prefix is added to a root, the new word combines the meaning of the prefix and the root.

For example, 

Perfect - Imperfect

The prefix ‘im’ means ‘not.’ Adding ‘im’ before the word ‘perfect’ modifies the meaning to produce a negative sense.

Many prefixes used in English come from the Latin, Greek, and the Anglo-Saxon languages. Look at the chart below to learn the meanings and origins of some commonly used prefixes.

 Prefix   Meaning   Origin   Examples 
 ab-  away from   Latin  abduction, abnormal 
 ad-  to, toward  Latin  adjoin
 ante-  before  Latin  anteroom, antechamber 
 anti-  opposed to   Greek  antisocial, anticlimax
 bi-  two  Latin  bisect, bimonthly
 ex- (e-, ec-, ef-)   forth, from, out   Latin  extend, emigrate
 dis-  not, apart  Latin  disqualify, disagree
 in- (il-, im-, ir)  not  Latin  inhuman, illegal, impossible, irresponsible 
 inter-  between  Latin  intermediate
 mis-  wrongly  Anglo Saxon   mislead, misunderstand
 pre-  before  Latin  pretest, precede
 re-  again/back  Latin  review, rewrite
 sub-  beneath  Latin  subway, submarine


A suffix is a syllable or group of syllables added after a root. Often, adding a suffix to a word changes the word’s meaning as well as its parts of speech.

For example,

Cheerful - Cheerfully

Adding ‘-ly’ to the adjective ‘cheerful’ changes it to an adverb ‘cheerfully.’

Here are some common suffixes, their meanings and origins.

 Suffix   Meaning   Origin   Example 
 -able (-ible)  expressing ability  Latin  capable, manageable 
 -ac  pertaining to  Greek  cardiac, maniac
 -ary (-ery)  connected with  Latin  dictionary, surgery
 -dom  state, rank, condition  Latin  freedom, wisdom
 -en  cause to be, become  Old English   darken, weaken
 -ful  full of, marked by  Anglo Saxon   hopeful, colorful
 -ish  tending to  Anglo Saxon  foolish, stylish
 -ly  characteristic of  Anglo Saxon  friendly, quickly
 -ment  action/instance  Latin  punishment, development
 -tion (-ion, -sion, -ation, -ition)   the action or state of  Latin  action, friction

With the addition of prefixes or suffixes to root words, many new words are created, and each word part contributes to the meaning of the whole word. A demonstration would guide you better. 

Analysis of the Word Immutable:

Prefix Suffix Root Words
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