Root Words in English

English Root Words Video

Imagine a Lego set being assembled. At the base, we start with the fundamental Lego bricks. These bricks are the foundation that will support the construction of an intricate structure. It could be a skyscraper, a castle, a spaceship, anything you can imagine! Without these foundational bricks, none of these creations could come to life.

Believe it or not, this idea also applies to English. Many English words are built from fundamental root words. Just like basic Lego bricks in a set, root words are crucial for creating the basic meaning of a word and can be used to build many different related words.

Today, we’ll be taking a look at what root words are, common root words and their origins, and how root words can be modified.

What Is a Root Word?

So, what exactly is a root word? A root word is the most basic form of a word that still carries meaning. Most English root words can be traced back to Latin and Greek influences.

Because root words are basic, they cannot be dismantled into smaller parts and still retain the meaning of the original root. They can, however, be modified to create new words that are related in meaning. This can be done using a combination of prefixes and suffixes, which are like the specialized bricks added to the beginnings and ends of our Lego creation, or by combining root words together, similar to connecting different Lego bricks to form a new structure.

Root Word Examples

Now that we know what a root word is, let’s take a look at some examples of root words and where they come from.

  • act: “to do” (from the Latin actus)
  • form: “shape” (from the Latin forma)
  • norm: “typical” (from the Latin norma)

In each of these examples, the root word carries the core meaning of the word and cannot be broken down into smaller parts. If we take a look at act, for example, it can be broken down into a and ct. Now, ct does not form a brick on its own, and while a is a brick, it does not carry the core meaning of “to do” on its own.

While these three examples of root words can all work as standalone bricks, it’s important to note that some roots cannot stand on their own as a complete word.

One common example is the root aud which is Latin for “hear” or “listen.” This root can be seen in common words like audio or inaudible. Both relate to hearing and listening, but are modified from the original root.

Now, let’s dive a bit deeper into how root words can be modified.

Modifying Root Words

Combining Root Words

Sometimes root words can be combined together to create new words with combined meanings.

Our previous example of aud can be combined with the Greek root phil, meaning “love.” This results in audiophile, which is a word for someone who has a love for high-fidelity sounds.

Prefixes and Suffixes

Another common way root words can be modified is through the use of prefixes and suffixes. Prefixes and suffixes are like the specialized Lego pieces that can be added to a root word to modify its meaning. They are very similar, with one slight difference: prefixes are like the pieces added to the front of our Lego creation, and suffixes are added to the end.

Fun fact: the word prefix is autological, which just means that it’s a great example of itself.

Prefix is built from the Latin root fixus, meaning “to attach something.” Pre- is a prefix meaning “before.” The resulting word prefix refers to a piece that is attached before a word.

Let’s take a look at some possible words that could be constructed from our previous example root word act. Remember that the root act carries the meaning “to do.”

  • We can add a suffix of -ed, which indicates that something has happened in the past. This creates the word acted, which then has a modified meaning of “having been done in the past.”
  • We can also modify act with a prefix of re- which indicates repetition or response. Our resulting word react means “to do in response to something.”
  • If we want to go even further, we can add both a prefix and a suffix to the word act to create the word reacted, which means “to have previously done in response to something.”

At this point, I encourage you to pause the video and examine the word structure stemming from the root word act. Can you identify the various prefixes and suffixes added to each word?

For practice, try writing down each word and circling its root. Then underline and label the various prefixes and suffixes used to modify each word.

To wrap up, remember that a root word is the most basic form of a word that carries meaning and cannot be broken into smaller parts that retain this original meaning. Root words can sometimes be complete words on their own or may require a combination of prefixes, suffixes and/or other root words. The resulting combination will relate to the original meaning of the root word.

If you want to practice identifying root words, try writing down a word and circling its root. Then, underline and label the various prefixes and suffixes used to modify each word.

That’s all for this review. Thanks for watching and happy studying!



by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: March 30, 2024