Root Words – Definition, Types & List With Examples

06.03.24 Root words Time to read: 8min

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Root words are like the secret ingredients in a recipe for language. Just a few basic ingredients can create a variety of dishes, these words are the building blocks that make up countless other words. By getting to know them, we unlock a world of new words and meanings, much like discovering new flavors in cooking. Understanding them is crucial for students to enhance their vocabulary and grasp language rules effectively.

Root words in a nutshell

Root words are the simplest, most basic form of words in a language, serving as the foundation from which other words are built by adding affixes. They encapsulate the essential meaning of a word and are key to understanding and expanding your vocabulary.

Definition: Root words

Root words are the basic, core units of meaning in a language from which other words are formed, derived from Latin, Greek, and other languages. Roots are the base part of words from which other words grow, usually through the addition of prefixes (beginnings) and suffixes (endings). They carry the core meaning of the word and cannot be broken down any further. Additionally, they function as a type of morpheme (small part of a word) with a distinct meaning.

For example, in the word “unhappy,” “happy” is the root, which means a state of joy or contentment, and “un” is a prefix added to indicate the opposite. Roots can be standalone words or not stand on their own. Understanding these words can help you decipher unfamiliar words, with the same roots, also called word families, and enhance one’s grasp of the language.

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Examples of root words

These examples of root words show the basis for many words in the English language, illustrating how understanding them can significantly expand your vocabulary and make sense of unfamiliar words.

Root Meaning Derived words
Hospit Host Hospitability, hospital
Tele Far off, at a distance Telephone, television
Audi To hear/listen Audible, audience
Sagitt Arrow Sagittarius, sagittal
Pet To seek or go towards Petition, compete
Astro Star, celestial body Astronaut, astrology
Form Shape Formal, uniform
Fac To make or do Factory, facility
Act To do/perform Action, active, interact
Andr Man, male Android, androgen
Mal Bad, evil Malicious, malfunction
Corn Horn Unicorn, cornucopia
Or Mouth Orchestra, oral
Omni All, every Omniscient, omnipotent
Inter Between, among Internet, interact
Camp Field, open space Campground, campfire
Auto Self Automobile, autonomy
Ultra Beyond, Exceeding Ultraviolet, ultra-modern
Pac Peace Pacifist, pacifism
Fin End, Boundary Finish, final
Ex Out, from Exit, extract
Bi Two, Twice Bicycle, bifocal
Sal Salt Saline, salinity
Port Carry, transport Transport, export
Phobia Fear Claustrophobia, germophobia
Mar Sea Marine, submarine
Herb Plant Herbicide, herbalist
Flex Bend Flexible, reflex
Amor Love Amorous, amorist
Norm Standard Normal, abnormal
Multi Many Multiple, multifaceted
Leg Law Legal, legislation
Fallac Deceptive Fallacy, fallacious
Don Gift Donate, donor
Counter Against Counteract, counterargument
Arbor Tree Arborist, Arboriculture
Ab Away from Abandon, Absent
Retro Backward, behind Retroactive, retrograde
Plan Flat, level Plane, explanation
Gen Origin, birth Generation, genetics
Acid Sour Acidic, acidity
Acer Sharp, bitter Acerbic, acerose
Vic Change, interchange Vicinity, vicarious
Script Write Scripture, scripted
Mill Thousand Million, millenial
Micro Small Microscope, Microchip
Corp Body Corporation, corpse
Urb City Urban, suburb
Ped Foot or child Pedicure, pedadogy
Mort Death Mortality, mortician
Meter Measure Thermometer, barometer
Menstru Month Menstrual, menstruation
Labor Work Laborious, collaborate
Contra Against Contradict, contrabend
Cardi Heart Cardiologist, cardiogram
Prim First Primary, primitive
Bio Life Biology, biography
Eco Environment Ecology, ecosystem
Liter Letter Literature, literal
Vid See Video, evidence
Junct Join Junction, Conjunction
Firm Stable Firmament, confirm
Vis See Vision, visible
Senti Feel Sentiment, consent
Manu Hand Manual, manufacture
Juven Young Juvenile, rejuvenate
Hypn Sleep Hypnosis, hypnotize
Dent Tooth Dental, dentist
Crypt Hidden Cryptic, cryptography
Cred Believe, trust Credible, credibility
Cede Yield, go Recede, secede
Anti Against Antisocial, anthithesis
Alb White Albinism, albino
Rog Ask Interrogate, derogatory
Sen Old, grow old Senior, senate
Ov Egg Ovulate, ovary
Nud Naked Nudity, nudism
Lun Moon Lunar, lunatic
Intra Within Intranet, intrapersonal
Derm Skin Dermatology, epidermis
Dem People Democracy, demography
Vor Swallow Devour, voracious
Gran Grain Granary, granola
Anim Breath Animal, Animation
Quin Five each Quinary
Sec Cut Secant, section
Lumin Light Illumination, luminous
Gust Taste Disgust, gusto
Grav Heavy Grave, gravity
Dict Say, speak Dictate, dictionary
Ambi Both, both sides Ambitious, ambiguous
Scrib Write Subscribe, inscribe
Bene Good, well Benefit, Benignity
Cosm Universe Cosmic, cosmonaut
Lav Wash Lavatory
Iter Again Iteration
Dur Hard Durable, duration
Vag Wander Vagabond, vague
Oliv Olive Olivary, olivette
Maj Greater Majesty, majority
Clar Clear Clarity, declaration
Carn Flesh Carnal, carnival
Terr Dry land Subterranean, terrace
Pell Drive Propellent, repellent
Pat Be open Patent
Magn Great, large Magnificent, magnitude
Fus Pour Diffusion, effusion, fusion
Frig Cold Frigid, frigorific
Capr Goat Capricorn, caprine
Ject Cast, throw Eject, interject
Equ Even, level Equivalence, equal
Tard Slow Retard, tardy
Radi Beam, spoke Radiance, radiation
Janu Door Janitor
Amphi Around, both Amphibian, amphoterism
Agri Field Agriculture
Simil Likeness, trust Assimilate, similarity
Anthrop Human Anthropology, anthropomorphic
Acr Height, summit Acrobatics, acronym
Acri Bitter, pungent Acrid, acrinomy
Sculp Carve Sculpture
Lact Milk Lactate, lactose
Pisc Fish Pisces, piscivore
Felic Happy, merry Felicity
Adip Fat Adipose
Somn Sleep Insomnia
Lingu Language, tongue Bilingual, linguistic
Quadr Four Quadrangle, quadrillion
Tempor Time Contemporary, temporal
Migr Wander Emigrant, migrate
Ordin Order Ordinal, ordinary
Homin Human Hominid, Ad hominem fallacy
Ambul Walk/move around Ambulance, ambulant

Types of root words

Root words are primarily categorized based on their origin, with the most common types being those derived from Latin and Greek languages. These diverse roots highlight the complexity and richness of the language, demonstrating how it has evolved over centuries to incorporate and adapt words from across the globe. Here’s a closer look at these types:

Latin root words

Many English words derive from Latin, the language of Ancient Rome. Latin roots form the basis for numerous words, especially in academic, legal, and scientific terminology.

Example: “Scrib/Scrip”

The Latin root “scrib” means “write,” leading English words like “describe,” or “manuscript.”

Common Latin roots

Common roots derived from Latin include the following:

Root word Meaning Derived words
Ambi Both Ambiguous, ambivert
Aqua Water Aquarium, aquamarine
Aud To hear Audible, auditorium, auditory
Bi Two Binary, bigamy, biscotti
Cent Hundred Cent, centennial
Contra Against Contradiction, contrast
Dent Tooth Dental, dentures
Ject Throw Projection, rejection
Mal Bad Malevolent, malefactor

To help you dive deeper into the world of Latin roots and see how they shape the English language, we’ve put together a handy list for you to download. This list shows Latin roots, their meanings, and sample words that are derived from them.

List of Latin roots

Greek root words

Greek roots have significantly influenced the English language, especially in the fields of science, medicine, philosophy, and arts. These roots words form the foundation of a multitude of English words, offering insights into their definitions.

Example: “Graph-”

The Greek root word “graph-“ which means “write” or “drawing,” leading English words like “autograph,” or “graphite.”

Common Greek roots

Some common Greek roots are illustrated below:

Root word Meaning Derived words
Auto Self Autobiography, automobile
Dyna Power Dynamic, dynamite
Homo Same Homonym, homogenous
Micro Small Microbe, microscope
Mono One Monologue, monotonous
Morph Form, shape Morphology, morphing
Tele Far off Television, telephone
Therm Heat Thermal, thermometer

Similar to the Latin root download list we offered earlier, we’ve also prepared a comprehensive guide focusing on Greek roots. This list shows common Greek roots with their meaning, along with derived words.

List of Greek roots

Hybrid roots

Some of these words are formed from a combination of roots from different languages, often Latin and Greek. These hybrid words are particularly common in scientific and technical vocabularies.

Example: “Television”

  • Tele-: This prefix comes from the Greek and means “far.” It is commonly used in English to denote distance or operating over a distance, as seen in words like “telephone” (sound from far away).
  • -vision: This part of the word comes from the Latin “visio,” meaning “sight.” It is derived from “videre,” the Latin verb “to see.” This root is found in many English words related to seeing, such as “visual,” or “visit.”

Anglo Saxon roots

English, with its rich linguistic history, includes many words that are derived directly from Old English roots, forming the backbone of the everyday language. These root words are foundational and often denote basic concepts, objects, or actions.

Example: “Friend” 

A friend is a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of family relations. Other words derived from this root are “friendship,” or “friendly.”

Slavic roots

Though less common, Slavic roots have entered English through direct borrowing or via other European languages. These roots are often found in words related to specific cultural concepts, foods, or political terms.

Example: “Robota”

“Robot” comes from the Czech and Polish word “robota,” meaning forced labor, introduced into English through a play in the early 20th century. A derived word is, i.e., “robot.”

Semitic roots

English has absorbed some Semitic roots, particularly from Hebrew and Arabic, through religious, scientific, and mathematical contexts.

Example: “Al-kuhl”

An example is “alcohol,” which comes from the Arabic “al-kuhl,” referring to a finely provided, and by extension, the essence or spirit of something.

Root words that can standalone

Root words that can stand alone as independent words are also known as free morphemes. These are complete words with distinct meanings, and can also serve as the base for creating more complex words through the addition of prefixes and suffixes.

Root word Meaning Derived words
Arbor Tree Arboreal, arborist
Phobia Fear Hydrophobia, claustrophobia
Norm Typical Abnormal, normality
Legal Law Illegal, paralegal
Act Move/do Actor, reaction
Ego I Egotist, egocentric
Crypt Hide Cryptic, cryptographic
Form Shape Conform, reform
Meter Measure Kilometer, pedometer

Base words vs. root words

Root words and base words are oftentimes used interchangeably, even though they are not exactly the same. They function as the fundamental units of a word, to which prefixes and suffixes can be added to create new words. Root words stand on their own with clear meaning and are often used as the starting point for word information in English. Unlike root words, which may not always stand alone as coherent words in modern usage, base words are always standalone words with complete meanings.


Base word: “play

With suffix: “playful”

With prefix: “replay

Here are some further examples of base words:

Base word Use in sentence Derived words
Act She decided to act immediately. Reaction
Appear Stars began to appear as night fell. Appearance
Break I need a break. Unbreakable
Care I do not care. Careless
Color Orange is my favorite color. Colorful
Do Just do it. Redo
Kind You are always so kind. Kindness
Love I love it! Lovely
Pack They pack their lunches every day. Package
Paint I really like to paint. Painting
Place Where did you place my phone? Placement
Like I like you. Dislike
Hope I hope this letter finds you well. Hopeless
Worth What is your net worth? Worthy
Reason What was the reason? Reasonable


Affixes are elements added to the base of a word to modify its meaning or create a new word. They play a crucial role in the morphology of a language, which is the study of the form and structure of words. Affixes can be categorized into prefixes, suffixes, and infixes.


A prefix is a type of affix which is placed before the base form of a word to modify its meaning or create a new word. Prefixes can alter the meaning of the root word in various ways, such as by negating it, indicating repetition, or describing a relationship. Unlike suffixes, which can change the part of speech of a word, prefixes typically do not alter the word class but modify the word’s semantic meaning.


  • Un- (not)
  • Re- (again)
  • Dis- (not, opposite of)
  • Pre- (before)
  • Mis- (wrongly)
  • Over- (too much)

Common Latin prefixes

Latin prefixes are widespread in English and contribute to the richness of the language. Below, you’ll encounter some common Latin prefixes:

Latin prefix Meaning Derived words
A-, ab-, abs- Away from, off Abnormal, absent
Ante- Before Antecedent, anterior
Con- With, together Concede, conclude
Ex- Out, out of Exhale, export
Trans- Across, beyond Transport, transcend

Common Greek prefixes

Greek prefixes, like their Latin counterparts, play a significant role in English, particularly in medical, technical, and scientific technology. Below, you will find some examples.

Greek prefix Meaning Derived words
Anti- Against, opposite Antibiotic, antithesis
Bio- Life Biology, biodegradable
Chrono- Time Chronology, chronometer
Crypto- Hidden Cryptography, cryptic
Psycho- Mind Psychology, psychopath
Geo- Earth Geology, geography
Hydro- Water Hydrology, hydroelectric


Another type of affix, the suffix, is a letter or a group of letters added to the end of a word to alter its meaning or form a new word. It oftentimes alters its grammatical function, such as changing a verb to a noun, a noun to an adjective, and so on. Further, they can indicate tense, part of speech, and plurality.


  • Noun suffixes: -tion, -ment
  •  Adjective suffixes: -able, -ful
  •  Verb suffixes: -ize, -ate
  •  Adverb suffixes: -ly

Common Latin suffixes

In the table below, we have put together some common Latin suffixes for you, since they play a crucial role in academic writing.

Latin suffix Meaning Derived words
-tion, -sion, -ation, -ition Turns verbs into nouns. Creation, decision, information, condition
-ous, -ious, -eous Turns nouns into adjectives. Gracious, curious, courageous
-able, -ible Turns verbs into adjectives. Readable, divisible, advisable
-ate Turns nouns into verbs. Activate, desolate
-ity, -ty Turns adjectives into nouns. Activity, clarity, security
-ism Turns nouns into other nouns. Capitalism, realism, socialism

Common Greek suffixes

Greek suffixes, much like Latin ones, have had a profound impact on the English language, especially in the realms of science, astrology, or medicine.

Greek suffix Meaning Derived words
-logy Study of Psychology, geology
-phobia Fear of Claustrophobia, arachnophobia
-cracy Rule/government Democracy, aristocracy
-graphy Writing/recording Geography, biography
-meter Measure Kilometer, thermometer
-ist Practice/concern Artist, biologist


An infix is inserted into the middle of a word and are relatively rare in English but are found in other languages with specific grammatical or phonological functions. This is not a part of formal English grammar but rather an example of informal, expressive language.



Benefits of learning root words

Learning root words is not just about expanding vocabulary; it’s a tool for unlocking the richness of language, enhancing cognitive skills, and opening doors to greater academic, professional, and personal growth. These words could elevate the expression and composition of your thesis, academic paper, or dissertation.

Vocabulary expansion

Root words serve as the foundation for several other words and by understanding them, you can unlock the meaning of numerous derivatives. This knowledge increases your vocabulary without the need to memorize each word individually and helps to prevent repetition and redundancy in your writing.

Critical thinking

Analyzing words to identify their roots actively encourages critical thinking and sharpens analytical skills. It transforms passive reading and listening into active linguistic investigation, fostering a more profound engagement with language.

Spelling & pronunciation

Learning the origin of words is crucial when it comes to spelling and pronunciation, particularly those that are complex or less familiar. Understanding the components of a word provides clues to its correct pronunciation and helps to avoid spelling mistakes.

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Traditional roots come from ancient languages like Latin and Greek, while modern roots are based on newer words and concepts.


  • Aqua– (Latin for “water”): Aquarium, aquaplane
  • Bio– (Greek for “life”): Biology, biodegradable
  • Chron– (Greek for “time”): Chronological, synchronize

No, not all words possess a root. Many words are basic or original forms that do not derive from a root. This includes simple nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, that cannot be broken down any further into smaller meaningful units.

Common Latin roots include:

  • Aqua- (Auqarium)
  • Dict- (Predict)
  • Vis- (Vision)
  • Port- (Report)
  • Scrib- (Describe)

Common Greek roots include the following:

  • Anthropo- (Anthropology)
  • Bio- (Biology)
  • Geo- (Geology)
  • Phon- (Telephone)
  • Photo- (Photography)