Boost Your English Vocabulary With These 50 Greek and Latin Root Words

How to identify root words in everyday language

Illustrated depiction of common Greek and Latin word roots
Some of the most common Latin and Greek word roots.

ThoughtCo. 

In English grammar, a root is a word or portion of a word from which other words grow, usually through the addition of prefixes and suffixes. By learning root words, you can decipher unfamiliar words, expand your vocabulary, and become a better English speaker. 

The Roots of Words

Most words in the English language are based on words from ancient Greek and Latin. The root of the word "vocabulary," for example, is ​voc, a Latin root meaning "word" or "name." This root also appears in such words as "advocacy," "convocation," "evocative," "vocal," and "vowel." By dissecting words such as these, etymologists can study how a word has evolved over time and tell us about the cultures they came from.

In some cases, root words might be slightly transformed en route to becoming part of words that we're familiar with. In the above example, "vowel" is a word that's clearly related to the voc root and its family of derivative words, and yet the "c" in "voc" is not present. There are several reasons for this sort of pattern, and the changes often depend on what language each individual word comes from, but it serves as a reminder that not every word with the same root will look exactly the same.

Root words are also useful for creating new words, especially in technology and medicine, where new innovations occur frequently. Think of the Greek root word tele, which means "far," and inventions that traverse long distances, such as the telegraph, telephone, and television. The word "technology" itself is a combination of two other Greek root words, techne, meaning "skill" or "art," and logos, or "study."

Because several modern languages share some of the same ancestor languages, it's not entirely uncommon for several related languages to share root words. For instance, the Latin root voc, described above, is shared by several Romance languages. Connections between languages can be found in the shared roots between them, although one always has to be wary of false cognates - that is, words that sound like they have the same roots (and thus related meanings) but actually don't.

Greek Root Words

The table below defines and illustrates 25 of the most common Greek roots.

Root Meaning Examples
anti against antibacterial, antidote, antithesis
ast(er) star asteroid, astronomy, astronaut
aqu water aquarium, aquatic, aqualung
auto self

automatic, automate, autobiograph

biblio book bibliography, bibliophile
bio life biography, biology, biodegradable
chrome color monochromatic, phytochrome
chrono time chronic, synchronize, chronicle
doc teach document, docile, doctrinal
dyna power dynasty, dynamic, dynamite
geo earth geography, geology, geometry
gno to know agnostic, acknowledge
graph write autograph, graphic, demographic
hydr water dehydrate, hydrant, hydropower
kinesis movement kinetic, photokinesis
logos word, study astrology, biology, theologian
narc sleep narcotic, narcolepsy
path feel empathy, pathetic, apathy
phil love philosophy, bibliophile, philanthropy
phon sound microphone, phonograph, telephone
photo light photograph, photocopy, photon
schem plan scheme, schematic
syn together, with synthetic, photosynthesis
tele far telescope, telepathy, television
tropos turning heliotrope, tropical

Latin Root Words

The table below defines and illustrates 25 of the most common Latin roots.

Root Meaning Examples
ab to move away abstract, abstain, aversion
acer, acri bitter acrid, acrimony, exacerbate
audi hear audible, audience, auditorium
bene good benefit, benign, benefactor
brev short abbreviate, brief
circ round circus, circulate
dict say dictate, edict, dictionary
duc lead, make deduce, produce, educate
fund bottom founder, foundation, funding
gen to birth gene, generate, generous
hab to have ability, exhibit, inhabit
jur law jury, justice, justify
lev to lift levitate, elevate, leverage
log, logue thought logic, apologize, analogy
luc, lum light lucid, illuminate, translucent
manu hand manual, manicure, manipulate
mis, mit send missile, transmit, permit
omni all omnivorous, omnipotent, omniscent
pac peace pacify, pacific, pacifist
port carry export, import, important
quit silent, restive tranquil, requiem, acquit
scrib, script to write script, proscribe, describe
sens to feel sensitive, sentient, resent
terr earth terrain, territory, extraterrestrial
tim to fear timid, timorous
vac empty vacuum, vacate, evacuate
vid, vis to see video, vivid, invisible

​Understanding the meanings of the common word roots can help us deduce the meanings of new words that we encounter. But be careful: root words can have more than one meaning as well as various shades of meaning. In addition, words that look similar may derive from different roots.

In addition, a handful of root words can stand on their own as whole words in and of themselves. This list includes words such as photo, kinesis, chrome, port, and script. Words like this tend to have related meanings on their own, then can also act as roots for longer, more complex words.

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