Base Words | Definition & Examples

A base word is the most fundamental part of a word that has meaning. The meaning of a base word can be changed by adding letters at the beginning (prefix) and/or the end (suffix). However, base words can also be used as standalone words in English.

For example, the word “untrained” has three parts:

untrained base words

prefix       base word     suffix

“Train” is the base word (i.e., the smallest part of the word that makes sense by itself and cannot be further divided). The prefix “un-” adds a negative meaning to the word, and the suffix “-ed” means “characterised by”. The word “train” is also the base for other words like “trainee”, “trainer”, or “training”.

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What are base words?

A base word is the core part of a word and contains its essential meaning. Base words can be used on their own or combined with other words or letters to create new, complex words.

For example, the word “use” is a word in its own right, but it is also the basis for other words when a suffix or prefix is added, such as “misuse”, “useless”, and “reusable”. Base words like “use” are not derived from or made up of other words.

Although identifying the base of words is usually easy, sometimes adding a suffix (i.e., an ending) causes a spelling change to the original form of the word. For example, “y” changes to “i” when the suffix “-ful” is added, like in the words “beautiful” (from “beauty”), “merciful” (from “mercy”), and “dutiful” (from “duty”).

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Base word examples

Base words are often used to form more complex words.

Base word Derived word
accept acceptable
act inaction
colour colourful
do outdo
fill refill
friend befriend
harm harmless
heat heating
help helper
match mismatch
mix mixture
place displace
play replay
power empowerment
real realism
sign signal
teach teachings
use reuse
view preview
want unwanted

Base words vs root words

The terms base words and root words are often used interchangeably. However, they are not exactly the same thing.

While a base word can function as a standalone word or be used to form more complex words, a root word may not always be able to stand alone. Some root words are independent words, but many of them need a prefix, a suffix, or another root word to form a word that makes sense in English.

This is because many root words are of Greek or Latin origin. For example, the Latin root word “cred” (meaning “believe” or “trust”) is the root of words like “incredible”, “credentials”, and “creed”, but it’s not a separate word in English.

Sometimes, a base word is also a root word. For example, the word “meter” is a root word of Greek origin, but it is also an independent word in English. By adding a prefix or a suffix, we get new words like “metric”, “asymmetry”, and “diameter”. In this case, “meter” is both a root word and a base word.

Below are some examples to illustrate that base words and root words are not necessarily the same:

Base and root words
Word Base word Root word Meaning
bicycle cycle cycl wheel
centralised center centr middle point
reaction act act to do

Worksheet: Base words

Want to test your understanding of base words? Try the worksheet below. In each sentence, see if you can identify the base of the highlighted word.

  1. I don’t like staying in hotels when I’m on a holiday. I find them so impersonal.
  2. Her book has already been translated into 15 languages, which is quite remarkable for a first novel.
  3. His efforts have not gone unnoticed by his coworkers and managers.
  4. The restaurant has a friendly atmosphere.
  1. The base word is person. The word “impersonal” is made of three parts: “in-” (prefix), “person” (base word), and “-al” (suffix).
  1. The base word is mark. The word “remarkable” is made of three parts: “re-” (prefix), “mark” (base word), and “-able” (suffix).
  1. The base word is notice. The word “unnoticed” is made of two parts: “un-” (prefix) and “noticed” (past participle of the base word “notice”).
  1. The base word is friend. The word “friendly” is made of two parts: “friend” (base word) and “-ly” (suffix).

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      Frequently asked questions

      What is an example of a base word?

      An example of a base word is the word “help”. “Help” is an independent word but it can also be used to form complex words like “unhelpful”, “helpless”, or “helper” by adding a suffix and/or a prefix.

      How do you find the root of a word?

      Although there is no particular rule for finding the root of a word, one way to do this is to check if the word has any affixes (suffix and/or prefix) added to it.

      For example, the word “hyperactive” has the prefix “hyper-” (meaning “over”) and the suffix “-ive” (meaning “having the nature of”). If we remove the affixes, we get the root word (“act”).

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      Nikolopoulou, K. (2023, September 23). Base Words | Definition & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved 22 April 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/english-language/base-words/

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      Kassiani Nikolopoulou

      Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex scientific information into easily accessible articles to help students. She specialises in writing about research methods and research bias.