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

Illustrated depiction of common Greek and Latin word roots


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.

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."

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.