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Word Meaning with Known Root Words


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Word Meaning with Known Root Words

Basics on the topic Word Meaning with Known Root Words

Root Words – Definition

Some words are made of several parts: a main part with the most important meaning, and then prefixes, which get added at the front of the word, and / or suffixes, which get added to the end of the word.

The main part of a word is the root word. A root word cannot be broken into smaller parts. Root words are similar to base words. The difference is that base words can stand alone as words, while all root words cannot do this.


Using Root Words to Learn the Meaning of a Word

When you are faced with a long word you don’t know the meaning of, it can help you to try to find the root word in that long word.

Let’s say you want to bake some cookies and the recipe tells you to preheat the oven.

You first need to identify the root word. Look for a word you already know. In this case, it’s heat … and you know that the word heat means to warm something up. Now think about the pre-. You probably know the words prepare or predict: They’re about doing something ahead of time. So you might be able to figure out that to preheat the oven means to warm it up ahead of time!

Root words – Examples

Let’s look at some more examples of prefixes, suffixes and root words. We’ll take the verb (to) spell. That means to say or write the letters of a word.

We can add the prefix mis- to it to create the verb misspell. The prefix mis- means to do something wrong. If we know that, we can break down the word misspell and know that it means to spell something wrong.

You can also change a word by adding suffixes to it. Let’s stick with the verb misspell. We could also add the suffix -ing to it … and create the noun misspelling. Here we can see that a suffix or prefix can also change the part of speech of a word, for example from a verb to a noun.

Common Root Word Origins

Many of our most common root words come from the old Greek and Latin languages. These are usually words that cannot stand alone as English words. Let’s look at some of these root words with examples.

Latin Root Words

The table below shows an overview of common root words with a Latin origin:

Root Word Meaning Examples
aud to hear audio, audible, audience
cent one hundred century, percent
dic to speak, say dictionary, dictate, predict
script writing prescription, description

Greek Root Words

The second table shows an overview of common root words with a Greek origin.

Root Word Meaning Examples
geo earth geology, geography
gen family, race gene, generation
logy study of biology, psychology
tele far television, telephone

English Root Words

English also has many root words that can be combined with other root words and with prefixes and/or suffixes.

Root Word Examples
friend unfriendly, friendliness, friendless, befriend, friendship
happy happiness, happier, happiest, unhappy, happily
use useful, reuse, user, misuse, abuse, useless, user
appear disappear, reappear, appearance

Root Words – Summary

  • In short, root words are the basic building blocks of words: they give the main meaning.
  • Root words can't be broken down into smaller words.
  • While they're similar to base words, which can stand alone as words themselves, root words are very important for understanding complex vocabulary.

When dealing with unfamiliar, long words, finding the root word within can help understand their meaning. With a long word such as disrespectful, you first identify the root word (respect). If you know that dis- usually means “not” and -ful of course refers to having a lot of something, you can figure out that disrespectful means “not showing respect”. Understanding root words expands your vocabulary!

Frequently Asked Questions – Word Meaning with Known Root Words

Why do so many English words have Latin roots?
What is the definition of a root word?
How do I find root words in larger words?
What are some common examples of root words?
How can I use root words to build my vocabulary?
What are morphemes, and how are they related to root words?
Can root words help me understand scientific terminology?
Are there resources available to practice identifying root words?

Transcript Word Meaning with Known Root Words

: "Ahh, my favorite time of the day." Koko is working on her daily word search, but has a problem. She doesn't know some of the words that are in the clues! Let's help her by learning about word meaning with known root words. Have you ever found a word while reading that you don’t know the meaning of? You can use root words to figure it out. Root words are a part of a word that carries meaning... and they help us to understand word meanings! For example, the word helpful. You might recognize the root word here, help. The end part of this word looks like the word full, (...) and it means the same thing! If we put the meaning of the suffix first followed by the root word, we get the meaning of the whole word. So helpful means full of help! Now that we've learned a bit about root words, let's help Koko! She needs help figuring out what growable means. When trying to find the meaning using root words... first try to find the root word, this often is the first part of the word. Here, it's the word grow. Then, look at the end part of the word, or, the suffix. Here, it is able. We can use what we know about grow and able to help us figure out this words meaning. The word able means the ability to do something. Finally, put the meaning of the two words together to figure out what the word means. If we put together grow and to be able to, we get the meaning of this word... to be able to grow! One down! But, Koko has more she needs to solve. Her next word is underground. What does the word underground mean? Remember, start by looking at the root word. Here the root word is ground, or earth. Next, look at the prefix. Here, it is under, or below something. Finally, put the meaning of the two words together. If we put under, or below together with ground, or earth, what meaning will we get? We get the meaning below earth! So underground means below earth! Let's help Koko one last time. Her final clue is the word careful. What does the word careful mean? Remember to look at the root word... then the suffix... and finally put the two meanings together. The word careful means full of care! Before we see if Koko has figured out her puzzle, let's review. Today we learned about finding meaning using root words. Root words are a part of a word that carries meaning. When finding the meaning using root words... first, try to find a word within the word that you know, this is often the first part of the word. Then look at the beginning part of the word, the prefix, or the end part of the word, the suffix. Finally, put the meaning of the two words together to figure out what the word means. Now, let's see how Koko is doing! : "I did it! Oh, there's a secret message." : "Surprise, Koko! What does that mean..." : "Surprise Koko! Happy Friday!"

Word Meaning with Known Root Words exercise

Would you like to apply the knowledge you’ve learned? You can review and practice it with the tasks for the video Word Meaning with Known Root Words.
  • How can root words help us find the meaning of words?


    A prefix is a beginning portion of a word that carries meaning.

    A suffix is an ending portion of a word that carries meaning.

    Besides a suffix and prefix, what is another part of the word that carries meaning?


    A root word is a part of a word that carries meaning and help us to understand word meanings.

  • What do these prefixes and suffixes mean?


    A prefix can be the beginning part of a word and a suffix can be the end part of a word. Both carry meaning and change the meaning of the root word.

    The word pre-historic means before history.

    Try out each suffix and prefix to find the meaning, for example, if you are unwell, what does un mean?


    These are the meanings of each of the prefixes and suffixes.

    un-: not

    -able: can be done

    -ful: full of

    under-: under

    -less: without

    pre-: before

  • What does the word "precaution" mean?


    The prefix pre- means before.

    While pre- means before, post- means after

    Break up the word "precaution" into a prefix and a root word. How can this help you figure out the meaning?


    A precaution means caution (or care) taken before something happens!

  • What do these words mean?


    The prefix un- can mean not

    Remember, the suffix -less means without!

    Break up each word into the prefix/suffix and the root word to help you figure out the meaning. For example, helpful means full of help!


    When we use the root words, prefixes, and suffixes it makes finding the meanings of words much easier!

    fearless = without fear

    fearful = full of fear

    painful = full of pain

    painless = without pain

    unkind = not kind

  • What is a root word?


    In the word careless the word care is the root word.

    In the word careless -less is the suffix.


    A root word is part of a word that carries meaning.

    A noun is a person, place, or thing.

    The beginning or ending of a word is called a prefix/suffix and a verb is an action word.

  • Which root words fit with these suffixes?


    Remember, -ful means full of and -able means can be done

    Sometimes, a root word's spelling may change slightly when a suffix is added. That doesn't mean the meaning of the root word changes though.


    Here are the words that we can make when we combine the root words with the suffixes -ful and -able.