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Greek Roots: The Key to English Language

written by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 3/2/2012

Ever wonder about the origin of words? This list of English words with Greek origin will demonstrate how extensively entwined the roots of the Greek language in English.

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    Ancient Roots

    English is a language that has roots in many languages. Many modern English words have Greek roots. Knowing some of the Greek roots helps students to figure out other English words. For instance, in the sciences, many words have Greek roots. However, there are also common words used daily with Greek roots. Learning to identify the roots in words helps students to decipher unknown vocabulary.

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    Common Word List

    The following Greek roots can be found in words we use daily.

    • anti (old) – antique, antiquated
    • arch (first, ancient) – archetype, archangel
    • athl (prize) – athlete, athletic
    • auto (self) – automatic, automobile, autonomous
    • basi (bottom) – basic
    • bibl (book) – bibliography, bible
    • centr (center) – eccentric
    • cid (fall) – accident
    • ceram (clay) – ceramic
    • doc (teach) – doctor, doctorate
    • graph (draw, write) – graphic
    • id, ido (shape) – idol, idolize
    • kudo (glory) – kudos
    • log (thought, word, speech) – logic, logical
    • mim (repeat) – mimic
    • par, para (beside or near) – parallel, parameter
    • sacchar (sugar) – saccharin
    • sy, sym (with) – symbol, system
    • tele (far, end) – telephone, telegraph, telescope
    • the (put) – theme, thesis, thesaurus
    • zon (belt, girdle) – zone
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    Words Found in Science

    The following Greek roots can be found in various scientific vocabularies.

    • acro (height, summit) – acrophobia
    • aesthet (feeling, sensation) –- aesthetics
    • archeao (ancient) – archeology
    • baro (weight, pressure) – barometer
    • bio (life) – biology
    • calli (beautiful) – calligraphy
    • carci (cancer) – carcinoma, carcinogen
    • chrom (color) – chromosome, chromatic
    • dactyl (finger, toe, digit) – dactylology
    • dino (terrible, to fear greatly) – dinosaur
    • dys (bad, ill) – dysentery, dysplasia, dystrophy
    • eco (house) – ecology, economics
    • endo (inside) – endocrine
    • epi (upon) – epicenter
    • geo (earth) – geology, geography, geological
    • hal, halo (salt) – halogen
    • hel, helo (sun) – helium
    • hex (six) – hexagon
    • is, iso (equal, same) – isometric
    • kine (movement, motion) – kinesis, kinetic, kinesthetic
    • leuco, leuko (white) – leukemia, leucocytes
    • lip, lipo (fat) – liposuction
    • meaning (membrane) – meningitis
    • meno (moon) – menopause
    • narc (numb) – narcolepsy, narcotics
    • naut (ship) – nautical
    • oed (swollen) – edema
    • paed (child) – pediatric
    • path (to feel, hurt) – pathology,
    • rhiz (root) – rhizome
    • schem (plan) – schematic
    • scler (hard) – scleroderma, sclerosis
    • techn (art, skill) – technology, technological
    • xen (foreign) – xenophobia
    • zo (animal) – zoo, zoology
    • zym (ferment) – enzyme

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    Prefixes and Suffixes

    In addition to being the root that creates a word, Greek words can also be found in the prefixes and suffixes used in daily language. Here is a short list:

    Prefixes

    a-, an- (without) – atypical

    anti-, ant- (opposite) – anticlimax, antacid

    hyper- (excessive) – hyperactive, hypersensitive

    mono- (one, single) – monologue, monosyllable

    neo- (new, recent) – neonatal, neoclassical

    pan- (all) – pandemic, panorama

    Suffixes

    -ism (the act, state or theory of something) – racism, optimism, Buddhism

    -ize (to make into something) – Americanize, legalize, computerize

    -graph (something written or drawn) – phonograph, photograph, seismograph

    -logy (the study of something) – biology, geology, zoology

    -oid (the shape or form of something) – humanoid, trapezoid

    -phobe, -phobia (fear or terror of something) – agoraphobia, claustrophobia

    -phone (something that receives or emits sound) – telephone, gramophone

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    Getting Results

    Teaching students how to find roots in words is an excellent way to build vocabulary. Since many English words have their base in the Greek language, beginning with the roots from this ancient language is a good place to start. This list of English words with Greek origin will give students a basis for further exploration into the roots of the English language.

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