Roots of the English Language

What is a Root?

Root is the generic term for any part of a word that carries meaning. Latin and Greek roots remain the foundation of the English language. Knowing the meaning of roots will enable learners to understand difficult and long words built on them.

What are the Types of Roots?

Roots have the structure similar to a story: beginning, middle and end. Examine the three kinds of roots in English: Prefix, Base, and Suffix.

1. Prefix

A prefix is a type of root that appears at the beginning of a word. Prefixes may negate (ie negative prefix), specify direction (ie directional prefixes), or intensify (intensifying prefixes) the force of the base.

  • port (portable, porter): carry
  • dic, dict (diction, dictate): speak
  • geo (geology, geography): earth
  • voc, vow (vocal, vowel): call
  • viv, vit (vitality, vivacious): life
  • dom (domestic): house

2. Base

A base is a kind of root that appears in the middle of a word. The base holds up the entire word by providing its basic or 'essential' meaning.

  • anthro (misanthrope, philantrophy):  man 
  • mot (promotion, locomotive): move
  • spec (inspector, introspective): look
  • tract (distract, extract, subtract): pull, draw, drag 
  • clam, claim (reclamation, exclamation): cry out

3. Suffix 

Suffixes are the type of roots that come at the end of a word. Its essential function is to indicate the part of speech of a particular word. 

  • gram (telegram, diagram): written or drawn, a record
  • logy (dermatology, psychology): study
  • phile (audiophile, bibliophile): love
  • phone (homophone, telephone): sound 


  • Greek & Latin Roots: Keys to Building Vocabulary by Timothy Rasinski, et. al. (Shell Education, 2008) 
Designed by Neil Yamit