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Learning the Roots of Words

written by: Meetu • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 1/5/2012

Learning the roots of English words is a great way to enhance your vocabulary. In addition to gaining deeper knowledge about the meanings of words, you'll easily be able to decipher new words based on their roots. Learn some common root words you'll encounter in the English language.

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    Roots – A Tool to Enhance Vocabulary

    One of the easiest ways to enhance vocabulary is to learn it through roots, prefixes and suffixes. The root is the base of the word; it is the element of the word around which it develops. Many words can be formed using the same root.

    For example: In the word ‘agriculture’ ; ager is the root. In the word ‘bicycle’, ’cycle ’ is the root. A number of words can be formed using the above mentioned roots - agrarian, agronomy, agriculture, cyclone, cyclic, tricycle, cyclist.

    Knowing the meaning of the root helps one attach a general meaning to the word. The root ‘ager’ means ‘a field’. Can you guess the meanings of the words ‘agrarian’, ‘agronomy’ and ‘agriculture’?

    Know that you know the meaning of the root ‘ager’ you'll be able to correctly guess that those words have something to do with a field. ‘Agrarian’ is an adjective meaning ‘of the land’. An example of usage is- ‘India is an agrarian economy.’ Agronomy’ is a noun and means ‘soil management and crop production’. ‘Agriculturist’ is a noun and it means ‘science and practice of farming’

    Just by knowing the meaning of the root, one can decipher meanings of many words. This technique opens a plethora of words for the learner. If not the exact meaning of the word one can easily understand the contextual meaning of the words.

    Try to work out the meanings of the words cyclone, cyclic, tricycle, cyclist on your own.

    Latin & Greek

    The English Language has borrowed a lot of it's root words from other languages like Greek and Latin. Many English words use the original meaning of the roots. Over a period of time meanings of some of the roots has changed with usage. One needs to be cautious while deciphering meanings of these words. While you can make an edjucated guess on the meaning of the word based on it's root word and context, make sure to look up the definitions to make sure. Like any other technique, learning root words requires a lot of practice and memorization.

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    Common Root Words

    Find below a list of roots for numbers, the meaning of the root, and words using the root.

    1. Unus: one: Union, Unique, Unanimous, Unitary, Universal

    2. Bi: two: Bisect, Bilingual, Bigamy, Bicentenary, Bicycle

    3. Tri: three: Triad, Triangle, Triangulation, Trident, Tricolor

    4. Quad, Quat: four: Quadrilateral, Quadruplets, Quadrangle, Quadrupeds, Quadrant

    5. Pent: five: Pentagon, Pentagram, Pentathlon

    6. Sex, Hex: Hexagon, Hexagram, Sextet, Sextuplets, Sexagenarian.

    7. Sept: seven: Septuagenarian, September, Septillion, Septenary, Septante

    8. Oct: eight: October, Octave, Octagon, Octopus, Octillion

    9. Non: nine: November, Nanosecond, Nonagenarian

    10. Dec, Deca: ten: Decimal, Decade, Decathlon

    11. Cent: hundred: Century, Centennial, Centenary,

    12. Milli: thousand : Millennium, Millenarian, Million, Millipede, Millionaire

    Try to guess the meanings of the examples!