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Building Blocks of Words: Prefixes, Roots and Suffixes
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The most used 25 words in English appear to make up about one-third of all printed material in English, and the first 100 words make up about half of all written English. (WP, "Most common words in English")

The most used words are generally simple and short. The, be, to, of, and, a, in, that, have, I may be the most frequent ones. Short and simple . . .

Other and less frequent words are longer, but they may consist of building-blocks. Building-blocks of words are prefixes, roots, and suffixes. Prefixes are word elements in front of words, roots in the middle, and suffixes are at the back. The meanings given here, are not conclusive, but central. Further information can be found in large dictionares, which can also supply added meanings.

Knowledge of how words are built up, and how the meanings of some words have grown and branched out throughout centuries, can help us understand them and improve our verbal competence, and helps expressing ourselves - maybe.

  • In the tables that follows, G stands for Greek, L for Latin, and F for French.
  • Some of the prefixes have more variants than shown.
  • The main focus of the tables are basic meaning(s).

To communcate well and tell of reality or essential aspects of it by fit words is no small attainment. In such a process a scientific discipline or field of study may arrive at its own jargon of enlarged or narrowed (specialised) meanings. Yet central meanings of most words may be found in dictionaries too, not just larger textbooks.

There may be over a million words in the English language, but not all of them are current. Knowledge of the most frequent words can help very much, as those words form a basic vocabulary. As mentioned above, about 100 words make up 50% of the words that are used in daily conversation.

Detecting "common factors" in words and getting to their central meanings can assist understanding of what many foreign words mean; it can put you on the track and help you remember and process the word better, hopefully.

Terms that are not stale and do not delay the main message, may help to carry essential meanings through (cf. Cutts 2013).

Words and assertions may be awkward, get biased, unfortunate, tendentious, or wrong due to lack of sensible mastery of language. Where distorted and not nuanced and fair senses are followed by distortions are bluntly repeated, things could get worse.

Learning is helped by learning words at heart, maybe according to rules of successful study. Repetitions help learning, and getting to what is called overlearning, is a rater important point in combatting forgetting. Technicalities may not replace great interest. But interest may grow through proficient study, including study of dear terms, so taht "Appetite may come while eating" too.

Learning lessons well involves overlearning them, which may help in the long run. If you can take a friend or three into it, you may question one another in much friendly competition as an aid too.



a-, an- (G)without, notanaeorobic
ab-, abs- (L)away, from, apartabsent
ad-, ac-, af (L)to, towardsadvent, advance
aero-airaeroplane, acronaut
amb-, ambi- (G)both, aroundambiguous
amphi- (G)both, aroundamphitheatre
ante- (L)beforeantenatal
anti- (G)againstantidote, antitoxic
apo-away fromapostasy
arch- (G)chief, most importantarchbishop, archcriminal
auto- (G)selfautomatic, autocrat
be-about, makebelittle, beguile, beset
bene- (L)well, goodbenefactor
bi- (G)twobiennial, bicycle
centi-, cente- (L)hundredcentigrade, centenary
circum- (L)aroundcircumference, circumambient
co, coll, com-, cor-togethercompanion
con-, (L)with,collect, co-operate
contra- (L)against, countercontradict, contraceptive
de- (F)downdenude, decentralise
deca-, deci (G)tendecade, decagon
demi- (L)halfdemigod
dia-(G)through, betweendiameter
dis- (L)not, opposite todislike, disagree
duo- (G)twoduologue, duplex
dys-bad, difficult, ill, harddysfunction
e-, ex-out ofexhale, excavate
ec- (L)out ofeccentric
en-in-, em-, im-, (L; G) (F)into, notenrage, inability, embolden, emulate, impress
epi- (G)upon, at, in addition, besides, attached to, over, outer, afterepidemic, epidermis
extra- (L)outside, beyondextra-terrestrial
for-, fore- (E)beforeforesee
hemi- (G)halfhemisphere
homo- (L)samehomonym
hyper- (G)above, beyond, excessively, excessivehyperintelligent, hyperfunction
il- (im-, ir-)not, non-illogical
in, im, (un) (L, G, F)notimperfect, inaccessible
inter- (L)among, betweeninterrupt, interstellar
intra-, intro- (L)in, into, inward, within, during, between layers of (inside)intramural, introjection, introvert
iso (G)equal, same,isobaric, isosceles
mal- (L)bad, badly, abnormal(lly), inadequate(ly)malfunction, malformed, malnourished
meta- (G)after, beyond, more comprehensive, transcending, more highly organized, change (etc)metabolism, metaphysical, metastudy, metastasis
mis-wronglymisfit, mislead
mono (G)one, single, alonemonody, monophonic, monocular
multi- (L)manymultipurpose, multimillion
non-notnonsense, nonpareil
ob-, oc-, of-, op (L)in the way, against , opposite, in the way of resistanceobject, obstacle, opposite,
over-above,overhear, overcharge
para- (G)aside, beyondparable, paradox
per- (L)through, throughout, thoroughlyperuse, perennial, peradventure
peri- (G)around, aboutperimeter, pericardium
poly- (G)manypolygamy, polytechnic
post- (L)afterpostscript, postnatal, P.M (post meridiam, i.e., after noon)
pre- (L)beforeprehistoric, pre-war
prime-, primo- (L)first, important, of highest authority, of the highest grade, primaryprimary, Prime-Minister
pro- (L)in front of, favouring, before, earlier than, prior to, rudimentary, forward, front, in front ofprofessor, prologue
quadri- (L)fourquaddennial, quadrangi
re- (L)again, backreappear, recivilise
retro- (L)backwardretrograde, re
self-oneself, itself, of oneself or itself, by oneself or itself (etc) self-knowledge, self-adjustment
semi- (G)halfsemicircle, semidetached
sub- (L)undersubmarine, subterranean
super- (L)above, oversuperfluous, superior
syl-with, togethersyllogism
syn-, sym (G)togethersympathy, synchronise
tele- (G)far, far off, distanttelegram, telepathy
ter- (L)three timestercentenary
tetra- (G)fourtetrahedron, tetralogy
trans- (L)across, throughtransatlantic, translate
tri- (L; G)threetriangle, tripartite
ultra- (L)beyond (in space, range, limits, what's ordinary etc.)ultramarine, ultra-violet
un- (im) (L, G, F)notunbroken, unbotton, unable
under-belowunderfed, underling
uni- (L)oneunicellular, uniform
vice- (L)in place ofviceroy, Vice-President


Roots from Latin and Greek

In the table, 'fr.' means 'from'.

aerairaerate, aeroplane
am (fr. amare)loveamorous, amateur, amiable
ann (fr. annus)yearannual, anniversary
aud, (fr. audire)hearauditorium, audit
cap (fr. capire)takecaptive
cap (fr. caput)headcapital, per capita, decapitate
chrontimechronology, chronic
degoddeify, diety
dic, dietsay, speakdictate
duc, (fr. ducere)leadaqueduct, duke, ductile
fac, fic, (fr. facere)make, domanufacture, efficient
graphwritecalligraphy, graphology, telegraph
loc (fr. locus)placelocation, local
loqu, loc (fr. loqui)speakeloquence, circumlocution
luc, (fr. lux)lightelucidate
man (fr. manus)handmanuscript, manipulate
mit, miss (fr. mittere)sendadmit, permission
mort. (fr. mors)deathimmortal
omniallomnipotent, omnibus
pat (fr. pater) fatherpaternal, suffering, feelingsympathy, pathology
ped, (fr. pes)footimpede, millipede, pedal
phobia, phobefearhydrophobe, xenophobia
pneumair, breath, spiritpneumonia
pos, positplacedeposit, position
pot, poss, poten (fr. ponerte)be ablepotential, possible
quaerereask, question, seekinquiry, query
rog. (fr. rogare)askinterrogate
scrib, scrip, (fr. scribere)writescribble, script, inscribe
sent, sens, (fr. sentire)feelsensitive, sentient
solalonesoloist, isolate
spect, (fr. spicere) lookintrospective, inspect
spir, spirate)breatheinspiration
therm, (fr. thermos)warmthermometer
ten, (fr. tendere)stretchextend, tense
ten, (fr. tenere)holdtenant
ven, vent (fr. venire)come, arriveadvent, convenient
vert, vers, (fr. vertere)turnrevert, adverse
vid, vis (fr. videre)seesupervisor, vision, provident



A suffix is a unit (it may be just one letter too) you add to the end of another word or root so as to alter its meaning or create a new word. Usually, suffixes can't stand on their own as words. Knowledge of suffixes tends to help the student. On this page you find suffixes employed in common English.

-able, -ible (L)able of, fit fordurable, comprehensible
-acy (L; G)state or quality ofaccuracy
-age (L)action or state ofbreakage
-al, ial (L)relating toabdominal
-an (ane, ian) (L)the nature ofGrecian, African
-ance, encequality or action ofinsurance, corpulence
-ant (L)forming adjectives of quality, nouns, signifying a personal agent or something producing an effectdefiant, servant
-stable (L)See -able, -ible 
-arium, -orium (L)place foraquarium, auditorium
-ary (L)place for, dealing withseminary, dictionary
-ate (L)cause to be, office ofanimate, magistrate
-ation, -ition (L)action or state ofcondition, dilapidation
-cle, -icle (L)diminutiveicicle
-dom (E)condition or controlkingdom
-en (E)smallmitten
-en (E)qualitygolden, broken
-er (E)belonging tofarmer, New Yorker
-ess (E)feminine suffixhostess waitress
-et, -ette (L)smallpuppet, marionette
-ferous (L)producingconiferous
-ful (E)full ofcolourful, beautiful
-fy, -ify (L)makesatisfy, fortify
-hood (E)state or condition ofboyhood, childhood
-ian (L)practitioners or inhabitantsmusician, Parisian
-ion (L)condition or action ofpersuasion
-ic (G)relating tohistoric
-id(e) (L)a qualityacid
-ine (G; L)a compoundchlorine
-is (L)names of classes, names of placesbacteria, America
-ish (E)a similarity or relationshipspeevish, childish, greenish
-ism (G)quality or doctrine ofrealism, socialism
-itis (L)inflammation of (medical)bronchitis
-ist (G)one who practiceschemist, pessimist
-ity, -ety, ty (L)state or quality ofloyalty
-ive (L)nature ofcreative, receptive
-ize, -ise (G)make, practise, act likemodernize, advertise
-less (E)lackingfearless, faceless
-logy (G)indicating a branch of knowledgebiology, psychology
-lent (L)fulnessviolent
-ly (E)having the quality ofsoftly, quickly
-ment (L)act or condition ofresentment
-metry, -meter (G)measurementgasometer, geometry
-monyresulting conditiontestimony
-oid (G)resemblingovoid
-ora state or action, a person who, or thingerror, governor, victor, generator
-ous, -ose (L)full ofmurderous, anxious, officious, morose
- osisprocess or condition ofmetamorphosis
-tude (L)quality or degree ofaltitude, gratitude
-ward (E)directionbackward, outward
-y (E) conditiondifficulty

"Biology can be filled with words that sometimes seem incomprehensible. By "dissecting" these words into discrete units, even the most complex terms can be understood."

◦Biology suffixes


Prefixes, suffixes, roots of words, Literature  

LearningExpress. 1001 Vocabulary and Spelling Questions. 2nd ed. New York: LearningExpress, 2003.

Borror, Donald J. Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms: Compiled from the Greek, Latin, and Other Languages, with Special Reference to Biological Terms and Scientific Names. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1988.

Buzan, Tony. Speed Reading. Rev. ed. London: David and Charles, 1988:44-46; 94-95; 138-39.

Cutts, Martin. Oxford Guide to Plain English. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Devine, Felice Primeau. Goof-Proof Spelling. New York: LearningExpress, 2002.

Sheehan, Michael, J. Word Parts Dictionary: Standard and Reverse Listings of Prefixes, Suffixes, Roots and Combining Forms. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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