Root Words | Definition, List & Examples
A root word is the most basic form of a word that cannot be further divided into meaningful segments. Root words are used to form new words by adding letters at the beginning (i.e., a prefix) and/or the end (i.e., a suffix).
For example, the word “unfaithful” is made up of these different parts:
prefix root word suffix
By adding a suffix and/or a prefix to a root word like “faith”, we can make other words such as “faithful”, “faithfully”, “unfaithful”, and “unfaithfully”. These words are linked both in terms of spelling and meaning and are called a word family.
What are root words?
A root word is the fundamental unit of a word. A root word has nothing added at the beginning or the end. While some root words are standalone words in English, others need a prefix (like “anti-” or “un-”) and/or a suffix (like “-able” or “-ist”) to create a meaningful word.
For example, “cede” is a root word for other words like “recede” or “precedent”, but it is also a word on its own (meaning “to give up”). On the other hand, the root word “struct” does not constitute an understandable word in itself and other letters need to be added for it to make sense (e.g, “instructor”, “destruction”, “structural”).
Many words are created from Latin or Greek root words and usually cannot function as standalone words in English. For example, “chrono” comes from Greek and is the root of words like “chronology”, “synchronise”, and “chronic”, but it’s not a separate word in English.
Learning about root words can help you work out the meaning of new or longer words. When you know how to decode unknown words by identifying their root words and affixes (i.e., the prefix or suffix attached to them), you can navigate more complex or specialised texts. For example, many root words derived from Latin and Greek are common in math and science terminology, like “centi” (“hundred”) or “geo” (“earth”).
Example root words
Some root words can be used independently, while others need to be combined with a prefix (i.e., letters at the beginning), a suffix (i.e., letters at the end) or another root word (e.g., -logue) to form a standalone word.
|act||to do||react, action, activity|
|centr/o/i||center||eccentric, egocentric, centrifuge|
|cycl||circle||cycle, bicycle, encyclopedia|
|domin||master||domineering, dominate, dominant|
|ego||I (first person singular)||egomaniac, egotistic, superego|
|employ||apply/make use of||unemployment, employee, disemploy|
|form||shape||uniform, formality, information|
|friend||friend||unfriendly, befriend, friendship|
|norm||a carpenter’s square/ a pattern||abnormal, enormous, normalise|
|note||comment upon||keynote, denote, connotation|
|place||spot||misplaced, displaced, workplace|
|use||take or hold||user, useless, misuse|
Root words vs. base words
The terms root words and base words are often used interchangeably. However, they are not exactly the same. While root words cannot always be used as standalone words in English, base words can be used on their own or combined with other words or letters to create complex words.
For example, “code” is a base word that can be used independently or to create other words like “barcode”, “decode”, or “codify”. On the other hand, the root word “aud” (which comes from Latin) cannot be used by itself and has to be combined with other letters to form words like “auditorium”, “audition”, and “audible”. Because many root words are of Latin or Greek origin, they don’t make sense as independent words in English.
Sometimes, root words and base words overlap. For example, the word “act” is a root word of Latin origin, but also a standalone word in English. By adding a prefix or suffix, we get new words like “reaction”, “exact”, and “actor”. In this case, “act” is both a root word and a base word.
Latin root words (free downloadable list)
Below is a list containing common Latin root words, their meaning, and examples of words based on each root. You can also download this list in the format of your choice below.
|anim(a)||breath or soul||animate, animal, unanimous|
|aqua||water||aquarium, aquatic, aquamarine|
|aud||to hear/listen||audio, inaudible, audition|
|bene||good||benefactor, benefit, benign|
|brev||short||abbreviation, brevity, brief|
|cand/cend||to glow/shine||incandescent, candid, candidate|
|carn||meat or flesh||carnivorous, carnage, reincarnation|
|cred||to believe/trust||incredible, credentials, creed|
|dict/dic||to say||dictionary, diction, dedicate|
|doc||to teach||doctrine, docile, document|
|don||to give/grant||donor, condone, pardon|
|duce/duct||to lead||deduce, induction, produce|
|hospit||host, guest||hospital, inhospitable, hostess|
|jur/jus||law/right/oath||conjure, jurisdiction, justice|
|libr||book||library, libretto, librarian|
|luc/lum||brightness/clarity||elucidate, lucid, illuminate|
|magn||great/large||magnanimous, magnificent, magnifying|
|manu||hand||manuscript, manicure, manipulate|
|pac||peace||Pacific, pacifier, pacifist|
|port||to carry||export, import, reporter|
|scrib/script||to write||describe, script, nondescript|
|sens||to feel||sense, consensus, desensitise|
|terr||earth||terrain, territory, extraterrestrial|
|vac||empty||evacuate, vacancy, vacuum|
|vis/vid||to see||invisible, video, evidence|
Greek root words (free downloadable list)
Below is a list containing common Greek root words, their meaning, and examples of words based on each root. You can also download this list in the format of your choice below.
|aero||air||aerodynamic, aeronautics, aerobic|
|aesthet||related to the senses||aesthetic, anesthetic, anesthesia|
|anthrop||human||anthropology, misanthrope, philanthropist|
|astro/aster||star||astronomy, astronaut, asteroid|
|auto||self||automatic, autobiography, autofocus|
|biblio||book||bibliography, bible, bibliophile|
|bio||life||biology, biography, symbiosis|
|chrome||color||monochrome, chromosome, chromatic|
|chrono||time||chronicle, chronological, synchronise|
|cosm(o)||world/universe||cosmology, cosmopolitan, microcosm|
|dyn||power||dynamic, dynamite, electrodynamics|
|gnos||know||diagnosis, prognosticate, agnostic|
|graph||write||telegraph, calligraphy, geography|
|hydr||water||hydrogen, hydration, dehydrate|
|logy||study||epistemology, ecology, trilogy|
|mania||frenzy||mania, megalomaniac, egomania|
|melan||black||melatonin, melamin, melancholy|
|metr/meter||measure||metric, asymmetry, diameter|
|narc||numbness/sleep||narcotic, narcolepsy, narcosis|
|paleo||old||paleontology, Paleolithic, paleobotany|
|phon||sound/voice||microphone, telephone, symphony|
|photo||light||photograph, photon, photocopy|
|psych||soul/spirit||psychology, psychiatrist, psychic|
|rhe||flow||rhythm, rheology, diarrhea|
|schem||shape/manner||scheme, schematic, schemer|
|therm||heat||hypothermia, thermometer, thermostat|
Base words can stand alone, but can also be combined with other letters to create new words.
|Base word||Derived Word|
Worksheet: Root words
Want to test your understanding of root words? Try the worksheet below. In each sentence, see if you can identify the root word(s) of the highlighted word.
Frequently asked questions about root words
- 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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