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This chapter is from the book

Finding Word Meaning Through Structure

You can often determine the general meaning of a word by its structure. Compound words have a root word, which might not be a whole word, either preceded by a prefix or followed by a suffix.

Although the English language, especially in the United States, has considerable influence from many different languages, most English root words and prefixes come from Latin or Greek and still carry the same meaning they did in the original language. Your job is to learn the most common prefixes and roots so you can determine a word's meaning from its structure. By learning the most common standard prefixes, roots, and suffixes, you can improve your vocabulary and spelling skills immensely.

Root Words

Root words generally keep the same meaning as they had in the original language, whether it be Latin, Greek, or another mother language. Most of our root words are derived from Latin and Greek; Table 3.2 provides a list of some of the most common Latin and Greek roots, what they mean, and examples of English words containing them.

Table 3.2 Common Root Words

Root

Meaning

Example

anthrop

man; human

anthropomorphic

aster, astr

star

astronomy, astrology

audi

to hear

audible, audience

bene

good, well

benefit, benevolent

biblio

book

bibliography

bio

life

biology, autobiography

dic, dict

to speak

dictator, dictionary

equ; aequ

equal, same

equivalent

fer

to carry

transfer, referral

fix

to fasten

fix, suffix, prefix

geo

earth

geography, geology

gram

written or drawn

telegram

graph

to write

geography, photography

jur, jus

law

jury, justice

lingue

language, tongue

linguistics

log, logue

word, thought, speech

astrology, biology, neologism

manu

hand

manual, manuscript

meter, met

measure

metric, thermometer

op, oper

work

operation, operator

par

equal

parity

path

feeling

pathetic, sympathy

ped

child

pediatrics

phil

love

philosophy, anglophile

phon

sound

phonics

phys

body, nature

physical, physics

psych

soul

psychic, psychology

sci

know

science

scrib, script

to write

scribble, manuscript

tele

far off

telephone, television

ter, terr

earth

territory, extraterrestrial

vac

empty

vacant, vacuum, evacuate

verb

word

verbal, verbose

vid, vis

to see

video, vision, television

voc

call, voice

vocation


Prefixes

Prefixes are standard syllables that attach to the front of root words to modify the root word and provide specificity and meaning. For example, the prefix pro added to the beginning of the root logue, results in the word prologue, which means "before the word, thought, or speech." When you think of multisyllabic words as simply puzzle pieces, it becomes much easier to determine their meanings. Table 3.3 provides a list of the most common prefixes you will see in everyday language.

Table 3.3 Common Prefixes

Prefix

Meaning

Example

a-

on, in

aboard, asleep

a-, an-

not, without

achromatic

ab-, a-, abs-

away, apart from

abdicate, amoral

ad-, a-, ac-, af-, ag-, al-, an-, ap-, ar-, as-, at-

near to, toward, without perceptible force

adhere, ascribe, allude, annex, append, attract

ambi-

both

ambidextrous

amphi-

both or all sides, around, both kinds

amphichroic, amphibious

ante-

before

anteroom, antenatal

anti-

against

antibiotic

bi-

two

biannually, biped

bio-

life

biophysical

circum-

around

circumvent

co-, com-, col-, con-, cor-

with, together

combine, collide, concur, correspond

contra-

against

contradict

counter-

opposite to

counterclockwise

de-

away, off, remove, completely, undo, opposite of, down

depart, debark, derail, debrief, detract, decline

di-

twice, double

dichotomy, dipole

dia-, di-

across, through

diameter

dis- (di-, dif-)

apart, away from

disperse, digress

en-, em

to cover, into

encircle, empathy

epi-, ep-, eph-

among, besides, upon

epigram

ex-

out, former

exhale, ex-president

exo-

outside

exoskeletal

extra-

outside of, beyond

extrasensory, extralegal

fore-

prior to

forewarn

hyper-

excessive, over

hyperactive

hypo-, hyp-

less than, under

hypodermic

icon-, icono

image

iconographer

in-, il-, im-, ir-

into, on, within

include, immigrate

in-, il-, im-, ir-

not, without

inapt, impossible

infra-

below, beneath

infrastructure

inter-

together, between

intercultural

intra-

within, inside of

intracellular

juxta-

near, next to

juxtaposition

macro-

large, long

macroclimate

mega-

large, powerful

megalith

meta-

changed, with, beyond

metabolic, metaphysics

micro-

enlarges, one- millionth part of, abnormally small

microphone, microjoule, microcosm

mini-

small

minibus, miniskirt

mid-

middle point

midsentence

mis-

wrong, bad, amiss

misbrand, miscreant

multi-

much, many

multitask, multitude

non-

not

nontoxic, nonduty

ob-, o, oc-, of-, op-

against, toward, to

obstruct, omit

ortho-

correct, straight

orthopedics

out-

external, surpass

outcast, outrun

over-

above, superior, excessive, move down

overbuild, overlord, overdose, overthrow

peri-

around, near

perimeter

post-

after, behind, later

postwar

pre-

before

prepaid, preempt

pro-

before, on behalf of, favoring

prologue, propitiate, pro-life

pseudo-

false, resembling

pseudonym, pseudopod

re-

back, again

reexamine, reunify

retro-

backward

retrogression

semi-

half, partly

semiconductor

sub-, suc-, suf-, sug-, sum-, sup-, sur-, sus

below, under, nearly, lower, division of

subfloor, subdermal, sublateral, subagent, subcouncil

subter-

beneath, secretly

subtend, subtitle

super-

above, surpassing

supersonic

supra-

above, beyond

supraorbital

syn-, syl-, sym-, sys-

together, with

symbiosis

tele-

distant, far away

telephone, telepath

trans-

across, surpassing

transarctic, transphysical

un-

not, reversal

unadorned, unchain

under-

beneath, inferior, insufficient

undertow, under-god, underpowered

ultra-

surpasses, excessive

ultrasonic


Suffixes

Suffixes, yet another piece of the word structure puzzle, are standard syllables attached to the end of a word to modify and further specify its meaning. Although some suffixes add meaning to the root, most often the addition of a suffix also changes the part of speech (that is, verb, adjective, adverb, or noun) of the original word. In many cases, the suffix gives us clues to indicate which part of speech a particular word is.

For example, if you add an -ist suffix to the word art, you have artist, or one who displays the characteristics of art. In this case, both the root and the modified word are nouns. However, if you add an -istic suffix to the word art, you have artistic, which demonstrates a change of the root from a noun to an adjective. Table 3.4 demonstrates some common suffixes you should know.

NOTE

Inflectional endings, such as the plural -s, possessive -'s, past tense -ed, and comparative -er or -est, appear at the end of a word, but they do not change that word's grammatical function.

Table 3.4 Common Suffixes

Suffix

Meaning

Example

-able, -ble, -ible

able to, fit to

salable, edible

-al

pertaining to

betrayal

-cide

killer or destroyer

insecticide

-clasm, -clysm

break, destroy

cataclysm

-cracy

government, rule by

aristocracy

-er, -or, -ess, ist

one who

painter, artist

-escense, -escent

becoming

effervescent

-fer

to bear, produce

aquifer

-ful

full of

peaceful

-fy

to make

satisfy

-ish

like, similar to

piggish

-ism, istic

characteristic of

barbarism

-ize, ise

to cause to be; to become; to engage in

sterilize, crystalize, theorize

-latry

worship of

idolatry

-less

without

dauntless

-mancy

divination, prophecy

necromancy

-mania

excessive like of, psychosis

pyromania

-oid

resembling

humanoid

-ous

full of, having

zealous

-phobia

dread of, fear of

hydrophobia

-scope

instrument for viewing

telescope

-sect

cut, divided

bisect


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