Greek and Latin Root Words

root words

What Are Root Words?

A root word is the primary lexical unit, or most basic part of a word. It contains the essential meaning. We add prefixes and suffixes to roots, to add to the basic meaning of the root.

Let’s look at the root word nature, which refers to the living, material word. When we remove the final e, and attach ‘al’ to the end of the noun, we turn it into the adjective natural. If we then add the prefix ‘un’ we have unnatural, meaning not in accordance with what can and should occur in nature.

We can also put two root words together, to create a new word. The root bio means ‘life’, and logy means ‘the study of’. When we put them together, we get biology, the study of life.

Try it out!

For each pair of words below, think of an English word that combines the roots, and define the combined word. Can you think of other words that include one of the roots?

1.) Bi means ‘two’, and cycl means ‘circle’.

2.) Pre means ‘before/earlier’ and dict means ‘to speak/say’.

3.) Homo means ‘same’, and ‘phone’ means sound.

4.) Syn means ‘together with’, and nymn means ‘name’.

Learn Latin and Greek Root Words as Part of Your Vocabulary Strategy.

Most English words come from Latin and Greek. Therefore, knowing the most common root words from these languages will greatly improve your vocabulary, help you decipher unfamiliar words, and increase your general knowledge of how English works.


Greek and Latin Numbers in English words

Student Resources:

Online Etymology Dictionary – Discover the origins and history of English words.

100+ Root Word Definitions and Meanings – Learn Greek and Latin root words.

Why Are So Many English Words Latin Based? – Practice reading and learn about the history of English with this interesting article (C2).