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Root Words, Roots and Affixes

Spelling and Word Study

Root Words, Suffixes, and Prefixes

Familiarity with Greek and Latin roots, as well as prefixes and suffixes, can help students understand the meaning of new words. This adapted article includes many of the most common examples.

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Many English words are created from Greek or Latin root words. Root words hold the most basic meaning of a word. 

Most root words are not stand-alone words in English — they need a prefix and/or a suffix to create a meaningful word. For example, the Latin root word aud meaning “to hear or listen” is not an English word on its own, but it is the root of common words such as audioaudible, or auditorium which all have to do with hearing or listening

Some root words can be stand-alone words — for example, the Greek root word scope meaning “viewing instrument” can stand alone or be combined with other Greek root words to create the words microscope and telescope

Common Latin roots

Latin RootDefinitionExamples
ambibothambiguous, ambidextrous
aquawateraquarium, aquamarine
audto hearaudience, audition
benegoodbenefactor, benevolent
centone hundredcentury, percent
circumaroundcircumference, circumstance
contra/counteragainstcontradict, encounter
dictto saydictation, dictator
duc/ductto leadconduct, induce
facto do; to makefactory, manufacture
formshapeconform, reform
fortstrengthfortitude, fortress
fractto breakfracture, fraction
jectthrowprojection, rejection
judjudgejudicial, prejudice
malbadmalevolent, malefactor
matermothermaterial, maternity
mitto sendtransmit, admit
mortdeathmortal, mortician
multimanymultimedia, multiple
paterfatherpaternal, paternity
portto carryportable, transportation
ruptto breakbankrupt, disruption
scrib/scribeto writeinscription, prescribe
sect/secto cutbisect, section
sentto feel; to sendconsent, resent
spectto lookinspection, spectator
structto builddestruction, restructure
vid/visto seevideo, televise
vocvoice; to callvocalize, advocate

Download a copy of the common Latin roots chart.

Common Greek roots

Greek RootDefinitionExamples
anthropoman; human; humanityanthropologist, philanthropy
autoselfautobiography, automobile
biolifebiology, biography
chrontimechronological, chronic
dynapowerdynamic, dynamite
dysbad; hard; unluckydysfunctional, dyslexic
gramthing writtenepigram, telegram
graphwritinggraphic, phonograph
heterodifferentheteronym, heterogeneous
homosamehomonym, homogenous
hydrwaterhydration, dehydrate
hypobelow; beneathhypothermia, hypothetical
logystudy ofbiology, psychology
meter/metrmeasurethermometer, perimeter, metrics
microsmallmicrobe, microscope
mis/misohatemisanthrope, misogyny
monoonemonologue, monotonous
morphform; shapemorphology, morphing
nymnameantonym, synonym
phillovephilanthropist, philosophy
phobiafearclaustrophobia, phobic
phonsoundphone, symphony
photo/phoslightphotograph, phosphorous
pseudofalsepseudonym, pseudoscience
psychosoul; spiritpsychology, psychic
scopeviewing instrumentmicroscope, telescope
technoart; science; skilltechnique, technological
telefar offtelevision, telephone
thermheatthermal, thermometer

Download a copy of the common Greek roots chart.

Prefixes and suffixes

One method of understanding the meanings of new words is to analyze the different parts of the word and the meanings of those parts. Many new words are formed by adding an affix (a prefix or a suffix) to the beginning or end of a Latin or Greek root or root word. 

Prefixes are added to the beginning of root words; suffixes are added to the end of root words. Prefixes and suffixes are word parts that carry meaning. For example, the prefix un- means means “not” or “the opposite of” as in the word unusual, and the suffix -est means “the most” as in the word smartest

Common prefixes

dis-not; opposite ofdiscover
en-, em-cause toenact, empower
fore-before; front offoreshadow, forearm
in-, im-inincome, impulse
in-, im-, il-, ir-notindirect, immoral, illiterate, irreverent
inter-between; amonginterrupt
over-over; too muchovereat
semi-half; partly; not fullysemifinal
super-above; beyondsuperhuman
un-not; opposite ofunusual
under-under; too littleunderestimate

Download a copy of the common prefixes chart.

Common suffixes

-able, -ibleis; can beaffordable, sensible
-al, -ialhaving characteristics ofuniversal, facial
-edpast tense verbs; adjectivesthe dog walked, 
the walked dog
-enmade ofgolden
-er, -orone who; 
person connected with
teacher, professor
-estthe mosttallest
-fulfull ofhelpful
-ichaving characteristics ofpoetic
-ingverb forms; 
present participles
-ion, -tion, -ation, 
act; processsubmission, motion, 
relation, edition
-ity, -tystate ofactivity, society
-ive, -ative, 
adjective form of nounactive, comparative, 
-lyhow something islovely
-mentstate of being; act ofcontentment
-nessstate of; condition ofopenness
-ous, -eous, -ioushaving qualities ofriotous, courageous, 
-s, -esmore than onetrains, trenches
-ycharacterized bygloomy

Download a copy of the common suffixes chart.


McEwan, E.K. (2008). The Reading Puzzle: Word Analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

You are welcome to print copies for non-commercial use, or a limited number for educational purposes, as long as credit is given to Reading Rockets and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact the author or publisher listed.