Grow Your Vocabulary by Learning Root Words
English has been called one the most difficult languages for non-native speakers to learn. One reason is that English has so many rules – and almost as many exceptions of those rules!
Sometimes, this leaves learners confused. For example, the order of words in a sentence can be tricky.
Another reason English is hard to learn is that the pronunciation of its words cannot always be predicted by their spelling. For example, there are at least six ways to pronounce the group of letters spelled o-u-g-h. And, maybe the worst thing of all is that there are many idioms, or expressions, in English. You could say we use idioms like they're going out of style.
So, it is comforting to know that learning root words can help a non-native speaker use English. A root word is the most basic form of a word.
Root words can help you to break down large, new words into smaller units to discover their meanings.
Learning just one root word can help you understand several words in English. So, by learning just 20 or 30 root words, you can expand your English vocabulary to include hundreds of new words.
A root can be any part of a word that carries meaning: the beginning, middle or end. Prefixes, bases, and suffixes are types of roots. The prefix appears at the beginning of a word, the base in the middle and the suffix at the end.
Most English root words came from the Greek and Latin languages.
Building vocabulary through root words
One useful method for building vocabulary through root words is to first look at a base word and then look for familiar prefixes and suffixes that go with that base.
Let's try an example: the base word “struct-.” It comes from the Latin word meaning “build.” Any English word you hear containing “struct-”* will relate to building, developing or creating something. By itself, “struct” is not a word, but it is the basis for more than 30 words in English.
For example, the word “construct” is a verb that means “to build.” The prefix “con” means “together” or “with.” So, "construct" means to put things together to build or create something.
Adding suffixes to “struct-” creates additional words.
For example, adding “-ion” in English makes verbs into nouns. When we add "-ion" to “construct," we get "construction," which means the process, or act, of building something.
Adding the suffix “-ing” to “construct” makes “constructing.” That is the gerund form and has a similar meaning as the noun "construction."
Adding the suffix “-ive” to make “constructive” gives us the adjective form, and means helpful in developing or improving something.
Now, let's build onto “constructive." Adding the suffix “ly” to "constructive" gives us the word “constructively” and produces an adverb. It means doing something in a way that is helpful.
There are many other words that the base word “struct” produces. For instance, “destruction” is the opposite of “construction.”
"Destruction" is the act of taking apart or damaging something that was built. "Instruction" means the act of building knowledge and has a similar meaning to the gerund "teaching."
And, just like with "construct," you can add many suffixes to "destruct" or "instruct" to get several more words. The suffixes may include -ion, -ing, -ive, ing+ly or -ive+ly.
So, you see, by knowing just one root word – “struct-” – you can get a better idea of the meaning of at least 15 words in English.
A few other common root words include “bio" meaning life, “auto” meaning self, “pro” meaning before or in favor of, and “tele” meaning distance.
Surely, you recognize some of these roots. So, choose one or two and write in the comments section all of the words you can think of that come from them.
Join us again soon when we will discuss suffixes and prefixes. Learning common roots, prefixes and suffixes will help you become an expert in deconstructing the meanings of English words and constructing a strong vocabulary.
I'm Jill Robbins
And I’m Alice Bryant.
Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.