Humanities › History & Culture Greek and Latin Roots Share Flipboard Email Print Dornveek Markkstyrn / Moment Open / Getty Images History & Culture Ancient History and Culture Ancient Languages Figures & Events Greece Egypt Asia Rome Mythology & Religion American History African American History African History Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By N.S. Gill Ancient History and Latin Expert M.A., Linguistics, University of Minnesota B.A., Latin, University of Minnesota N.S. Gill is a Latinist, writer, and teacher of ancient history and Latin. She has been featured by NPR and National Geographic for her ancient history expertise. our editorial process N.S. Gill Updated May 05, 2019 If you recognize the Greek and Latin prefixes and affixes, you'll understand the words as a whole. "As someone trained in foreign languages and theoretical linguistics, I completely agree with the experts quoted in Why your kids should learn Latin. I would add that the study of Ancient Greek stems and affixes is equally valuable. As a follow-up to this article, I would suggest that you compile a short course on the meanings of Greek and Latin stems and affixes, focusing upon their value as reading aids in English and the Romance languages." The content of this article is based on Scientific Terminology by expert John Hough. Rather than an introduction to linguistics, it is meant to be an introduction to Classical stems and affixes. Why Study Terminology How knowing the etymology of rhinoceros will help you understand your doctor's diagnoses: "Sometime during the 14th century someone decided to give this mammal its present day name. The characteristic of the animal that struck them the most was the large horn that grew from its nose. The Greek word for nose is rhis, and the combining form (the form that is used when it is combined with other word elements) is rhin-. The Greek word for horn is keras. So this animal was named a "nose-horn animal" or a 'rhinoceros [...] You take a peek in your file and discover that [... the doctor] wrote 'acute rhinitis' as your diagnosis. Now having taken this course, you know that 'acute' just means sudden onset [...] and you know that "-itis" simply means an inflammation." Root + Suffix = Word The suffix on please is an e. If you look at the word pleas-ure, it makes sense, since removing its suffix leaves the same root as in pleas-e. As John Hough, in Scientific Terminology, points out, roots rarely exist alone. They usually precede suffixes. The same is true of Greek and Latin, even if, when borrowing, we sometimes drop the suffix. Thus, the word cell in English is really the Latin cella, from which we've dropped the a suffix. Not only do almost all English words contain roots plus suffixes, but, according to Hough, suffixes can't stand alone. A suffix does not have meaning on its own but needs to be connected to the root. Suffixes A suffix is an inseparable form that cannot be used alone but that carries an indication of quality, action, or relation. When added to a combining form, it makes a complete word and will determine whether the word is a noun, adjective, verb, or adverb. Compound Words A suffix combined with a root is different from a compound word which, in loose English usage, is usually thought of as just another case of root + suffix. Sometimes two Greek or Latin words are put together to form a compound word. Often we think of these words as suffixes when they aren't, technically, although they may be thought of as end forms. End Forms The following is a chart of some common Greek "end forms." An example is the word neurology (study of the nervous system) which comes from the Greek neuro- the combining form of the noun neuron (nerve) plus -logy, listed below. We think of these end forms as merely suffixes, but they are fully productive words. A quick example in English: Backpack and ratpack contain what looks like a suffix (pack), but, as we know, pack is a noun and verb on its own. Greek Word Ending Meaning αλγος -algia -pain βιος -be life κηλη -cele tumor τομος -ectomy cut αιμα -(a)emia blood λογος -logy study ειδος -oid form πολεω -poesis make σκοπεω -scope see into στομα -stomy mouth (Note: breathing marks are missing. These forms and the other tables are excerpted from Hough's book but have been modified based on corrections submitted by readers.) And from the Latin, we have: Latin Word Ending Meaning fugere -fuge flee Root + Suffix/Prefix = Word Prefixes are usually adverbs or prepositions derived from Greek or Latin that can't be used alone in English and appear at the beginnings of words. Suffixes, which appear at the ends of words, aren't usually adverbs or prepositions, but they can't be used alone in English, either. While suffixes are often joined to the end of roots by separate connecting vowels, the transformation of these prepositional and adverbial prefixes is more direct, even though the final letter of the prefix may be changed or eliminated. In 2-letter prefixes, this can be confusing. Among other changes, n can become m or s and a final b or d may be changed to match the first letter of the root. Think of this confusion as designed to ease pronunciation. This list won't help you figure out antipasto, but it will prevent you from describing the antonym of precedent as antident or polydent. Note: Greek forms are capitalized, Latin in normal case. Latin Prefix/ GREEK PREFIX Meaning A-, AN- "alpha privative", a negative ab- away from ad- to, towards, near ambi- both ANA- up, back again, throughout, against ante- before, in front of ANTI- against APO- away from bi-/bis- twice, double CATA- down, across, under circum- around con- with contra- against de- down, from, away from DI- two, twice, double DIA- through dis- apart, removed DYS- hard, difficult, bad e-, ex- (Lat.)EC- EX- (GK.) out of ECTO- outside EXO- outside, outward EN- in endo- within epi- on, upon extra- outside, beyond, in addition to EU- well, good, easy HEMI- half HYPER- over, above, HYPO- below, under in- in, into, onYou often see this prefix as im.Used with verbal roots. in- not; occasionally, beyond belief infra- below inter- between intro- within intus- within META- with, after, beyond non- not OPISTHO- behind PALIN- again PARA- along side of, beside per- through, thorough, complete PERI- around, near post- after, behind pre- in front of, before PRO- before, in front of PROSO- onwards, in front re- back, again retro- backward semi- half sub- under, below super-, supra- above, upper SYN- with trans- across ultra- beyond Adjective + Root + Suffix = Word The following tables contain Greek and Latin adjectives in the form used to combine with English words or with other Latin or Greek parts to make English words—like megalomaniac or macroeconomics, to take examples from the top of the table. GREEK & Latin Meaning in English MEGA-, MEGALO-, MAKRO-; magni-, grandi- big MICRO-; parvi- little MACRO-, DOLICHO; longi- long BRACHY-; brevi- short EURY, PLATY-; lati- wide STENO-; angusti- narrow CYCLO-, GYRO; circuli- round quadrati- rectanguli- square PACHY-, PYCNO-, STEATO-; crassi- thick LEPTO-; tenui- thin BARY-; gravi- heavy SCLERO-, SCIRRHO-; duri- hard MALACO-; molli- soft HYGRO-, HYDRO-; humidi- wet XERO-; sicci- dry (Xerox®) OXY-; acri- sharp CRYO- PSYCHRO-; frigidi- cold THERMO-; calidi- hot DEXIO-; dextri- right SCAIO-; scaevo- levi, sinistri- left PROSO-, PROTO-; frontali- front MESO-; medio- middle POLY-; MULTI- many OLIGO-; pauci- few STHENO-; validi-, potenti- strong HYPO-; imi-, intimi- bottom PALEO-, ARCHEO-; veteri-, seni- old NEO-, CENO-; novi new CRYPTO-, CALYPTO-; operti- hidden TAUTO-; identi- same HOMO-, HOMEO-; simili- alike EU-, KALO-, KALLO-; boni- good DYS-, CACO-; mali- bad CENO-, COELO-; vacuo- empty HOLO-; toti- entirely IDIO-; proprio-, sui- one's own ALLO-; alieni- another's GLYCO-; dulci- sweet PICRO-; amari- bitter ISO-; equi- equal HETERO-, ALLO-; vario- different Colors A medical example of a Greek-based color word is erythrokinetics (e·ryth·ro·ki·net·ics), defined as "A study of the kinetics of red blood cells from their generation to destruction." GREEK & Latin Meaning in English COCCINO-, ERYTHTO-, RHODO-, EO-; purpureo-, rubri-, rufi-, rutuli-, rossi-, roseo-, flammeo- Reds of various shades CHRYSO-, CIRRHO-; aureo-, flavo-, fulvi- orange XANTHO-, OCHREO-; fusci-, luteo- yellow CHLORO-; prasini-, viridi- green CYANO-, IODO-; ceruleo-, violaceo- blue PORPHYRO-; puniceo-, purpureo- violet LEUKO-; albo-, argenti- white POLIO-, GLAUCO-, AMAURO-; cani-, cinereo-, atri- gray MELANO-; nigri- black Numerals Here are more combining forms that are important to know since they are numbers. If you've ever had trouble remembering whether millimeter or kilometer was closer to an inch, pay attention here. Note that the milli- is Latin and the kilo- is Greek; the Latin is the smaller unit, and the Greek the larger, so millimeter is a 1000th part of a meter (.0363 of an inch) and the kilometer is 1000 meters (39370 inches). Some of these numerals are derived from adverbs, most from adjectives. GREEK & Latin Meaning in English SEMI-; hemi- 1/2 HEN- ; uni- 1 sesqui- 1-1/2 DYO (DI-, DIS-) ; duo- (bi-, bis-) 2 TRI-; tri- 3 TETRA-, TESSARO- ;quadri- 4 PENTA-;quinque 5 HEX, HEXA-;sex- 6 HEPTA-;septem- 7 OCTO-;octo- 8 ENNEA-;novem- 9 DECA-;decem- 10 DODECA-; duodecim 12 HECATONTA-;centi- 100 CHILIO-;milli- 1000 MYRI-, MYRIAD-; any large or countless number Source John Hough, Scientific Terminology; New York: Rhinehart & Company, Inc. 1953. Boost Your English Vocabulary With These 50 Greek and Latin Root Words The Derivations of Words Used in English A List of 26 Common Suffixes in English (With Examples) Learn What an Affix Is in English Grammar and Morphology What Are Morphemes in English? How Is Spanish an Inflected Language? What Are the Distinctive Characteristics of English Grammar? What Are Inflectional Morphemes? What are Root Words in English? What Is the Job of the Hyphen in Punctuation? What Students of German Should Know About Inseparable Verb Prefixes 5 Good Reasons to Study Latin What Are Root Compounds in English Grammar? Denominal Adjectives in English Grammar Learning Latin? You'll Need the Declensions of Demonstrative Pronouns What Is Inflectional Morphology?