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Prefixes, Suffixes and Roots to Build Vocabulary

17 Jun Posted by in English and Grammar | Comments

Overview:  Parts of Words Are Clues to Meaning
Unfamiliar words often have clues to their meaning built into them.  Prefixes, suffixes, and roots generally have the same or similar meanings across many different words, so they can be used to build vocabulary. The reader can use those meanings to break apart words, along with context clues, to decipher them.

What Are Prefixes?
Prefixes are one or more syllables placed before the rest of the word.  Readers who know their meanings can use them with the rest of the word.  For example, the prefix un means not, and can change the meaning of a word to mean its opposite.  Unhappy is the opposite of happy.  Some prefixes have more than one meaning.  Since the prefix in can mean not or into, depending on the context, the word inhuman means not human, but one of the meanings of the word inflame is to set on fire.

What Are Suffixes?
Suffixes are one or more syllables placed at the end of a word, and they serve as clues to word meaning.  Some suffixes change a word from singular to plural or show verb tense.  Some suffixes that are important clues to word meanings include able, less, ment, and tion.  For example, the suffix less added to care, means exactly the opposite.  Someone who is careless does not take care.  Something sustainable is capable of being sustained.  The suffix ment is the result of being, so the pavement in the sidewalk is the result of being paved.  The suffix tion is the act of, so adaptation is the act of being adapted.  Suffixes can change one part of speech to another.  Adapt is a verb but adaptation is a noun.

What Are Roots?
A root is the base of the word.  Roots such as graph and scribe have to do with writing, so the word biography is the story of someone’s life, and inscribe is to write into.  Similarly, the root spec has to do with seeing — think inspect and spectacle. Roots may be spelled differently, depending on the other letters in the word.  The words revert and reverse have the same root, to turn, but their meanings and the spelling of the root are slightly different.

English Words Come from Many Different Languages
Prefixes, suffixes, and roots that are found in many English words have origins in other languages around the world.  The dictionary definition of any word often will include the word origins, as well as what roots are contained in it.  For example, a relatively unfamiliar word such as ponderous has the dictionary definition of “extremely heavy,” related to the Latin word for weight.

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