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Have you ever been reading and encountered a word that you didn’t know? This is so common! Especially when you begin to read more complex texts. There are many ways to define words on the fly (including using context clues), but one helpful skill to know is root words and definitions for common words

A word is comprised of parts and pieces that assemble the entire term. One of the components might be a root word. Root words are derived from Greek and Latin words. Many English words contain one of these root words.

 

What is a Root Word?

Have you ever noticed that many of the words in English have many variations? For example, take the word biology. You can also have bioluminescence, biosphere, and even biodegradable. All of these words begin the same, but none of them have the same meaning.


Root words are the reason that we can have such an extensive vocabulary with millions of words to articulate exactly what we want. 

Root words are the basic form of the word. This means that it cannot be further divided– it’s at its most basic form. It is the most concentrated form and provides the most meaningful value to words. They carry most of the meaning.

There are some English root words (we’ll dig into this later), but most common root words have originated from Latin and Greek words. This is what sometimes makes it hard to determine the meaning of a root. Take, for example, biology. The root bio means life, but since it is derived from the Greek word that means life. Without an understanding of root words, we wouldn’t be able to know that life and bio mean the same thing quickly. 

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Base Word

Sometimes when dealing with root words, you will see the term “base word” being used. Since we have already established that a root word is the stem of a word, it would be easy to assume that base word is a proper way of referring to a root. Many people use these terms interchangeably, but they are different. It is essential to understand the distinction.

A base word is a word in English that can stand on its own. It can be transformed with the use of affixes. Root words specifically refer to roots that are derived from Latin and Greek. 

 

Two Types of Root Words

As mentioned, there are two common types of root words: Latin and Greek. These root words serve as a road map of the development of these languages throughout history. If you are trying to learn a new language (especially if they are Latin based like French and Spanish), you will find that these roots will aid in the memorization of new vocabulary words. 

Examples of Common Latin Roots

Latin Roots

 

Common Latin Roots

Latin Root Definition Examples
ambi- both ambiguous, ambidextrous
aud- to hear audiologist, audio, audience
cent- one hundred percent, century
contra/counter- against contradict, encounter
duc-/duct- to lead conduct, induct
form- shape reform, conform, perform
fract- to break fraction, fractal, fracture
ject- throw projection, rejection
mal- bad malevolent, malice
pater- father paternal, patriarchy, paternity
port- to carry transport, teleport, portable
sent- to feel; to send consent, resent
scrib/scribe to write scribble, prescribe
vid/vis to see video, televise
spect to look aspect, inspect, spectator
fund bottom founder, foundation, fundraiser
bene good benefit, benign, benefactor
hab to have habit, exhibit, ability
manu hand manual, manuscript, manicure
omni all omniscient, omnipotent, omnivorous
sens to feel sensitive, sentient, resent
quit silent, restive tranquil, requiem, acquit
tim to fear timid, timorous
ct do activity, react, interaction
astro/aster star, stars, outer space astronaut, astronomer, asterisk

 

Examples of Common Greek Roots

 

Leveraging Root Word Expertise on the GRE

There are many ways that you can use root words in day-to-day English. Having an understanding of the roots will help you define on the fly, but for many, there is a more urgent need to studying root words: the

The GRE verbal section demands that test-takers understand roots to define terms accurately. Of course, just like all vocabulary testing, it is unrealistic to think that you can dedicate all of your time to studying lists of thousands of root words and vocabulary to prepare for the exam.


The GRE will test your skills in three different sections, including Sentence Equivalence, Text Completion, and Reading Comprehension.

Many people believe the verbal section is the most challenging on the test because the volume of vocabulary knowledge is so vast that you cannot simply wing it and expect to score high on this section. That’s why we have identified the most effective ways to prepare for the verbal section using root words.

Before we dig in, let’s review one final characteristic of root words: affixes.

 

Why Are Roots Commonly Grouped with Affixes?

Root words and affixes are commonly grouped. There is a reason for this! Remember, we have already discussed that each word is pieced together with different parts (that include the root). Affixes are either at the beginning or end of a word. Again, these are common word parts that help us define the complete term. 

Affixes can either be a prefix or a suffix, but either will help define the word. For example, un- is a prefix for remove.  Just like root words can help us define the word, affixes can help us take it a step further in getting the most accurate definition possible.

Much like building a house, each brick serves a purpose in building the structure. The affixes and root words are the bricks to building a complete word and effectively build a word that accurately represents it’s intended definition. 

Study High-Frequency Roots

Instead of studying 500 different root words, consider making a list of the 50 (or 100) most common. When selecting your words, think about how many words include the root, that would give you an advantage during testing if you encounter a word that you don’t know. 

Once you have identified the common root words (psst, we have compiled a couple of lists for you above), write them on a flashcard (or use an app like
), and begin working through memorizing the roots.

Depending on how much time before the test you have given yourself, you may be able to repeat this process 2-3 times with new words to expand your vocabulary. Make sure that if you make multiple decks that you return to previous decks, shuffling the words, to retain the older knowledge.

If you are going to work on memorizing root words, remember sustained memorization over a lot of time is better than quick cramming right before the exam. Just like digging a trench, if you make a short length but deep, you will be more likely to keep water out over a long stretch at 1-inch deep.

By working on a shorter list of words for more time, you will more readily recall the words under stress. 

Use the Waterfall Method

A popular method to study flashcards is called the waterfall method. This method requires that you create a deck of vocabulary words. To start, pass through the deck once creating two piles: known and unknown terms.

With the unknown pile, pass through the words again and make two more piles: known and unknown.

Repeat the process until you can recall every word in the deck and then start over.

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Use a Variety of Lists

When preparing for the GRE, it is essential that you do not limit yourself to studying only root words to excel on the verbal portion of the test. 

Roots, while helpful in defining terms, can be problematic. Since many roots sound similar but have different meanings, it can cause test-takers to select the wrong answer, thinking they have chosen the correct one based on their knowledge about roots.

When studying for the GRE pull from different lists to get a holistic view of the terms for the test. These can include root words (of course), affixes, high-frequency vocab words, and more.

 

Practice Makes (Nearly) Perfect

One of the best ways to prepare for the GRE is to work through practice tests. When you practice using the format of the exam, you are less likely to be slowed down by the phrasing of questions. The most important thing to remember when practicing is to practicing in unideal environments. Getting used to processing the questions with background noise will allow you the ability to think in a large testing room. 

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Root Word Conclusion


Root words are a great tool to help us define words on the fly. Especially when preparing for the GRE. Since we covered a lot in this post, let’s review:

  • Root words are the purest form of a word and carry the most meaning. 
  • There are two forms of root words: Latin and Greek.
  • A base word is a root word derived from English. 
  • Affixes are commonly grouped with root words because it transforms the word to achieve a different definition.
  • When preparing for the GRE, make flashcards for 50-100 common roots. 
  • Diversify your studying to include common affixes and high-frequency vocab words too. 
  • Practice with ArgoPrep practice tests to help get used to the format of the test. 

 

 

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