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Language Arts Lesson 1
Word Analysis, Fluency and Vocabulary Development (Grades 9-12)

Instruction 1-2

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Etymology of Significant Terms | Greek, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon Roots and Affixes | Greek, Roman, and Norse Mythology | Analogies | Literal and Figurative Meaning of Words | Denotative and Connotative Meaning | Summary


In our last Instruction, you learned a little about where words come from. But words don’t always come to us in final form. They come in pieces. Those pieces -- or word parts -- are called roots, prefixes and suffixes. If you understand the meaning of one part of a word, you can often understand the meaning of the whole thing.

Greek, Latin and Anglo-Saxon roots, prefixes and suffixes are the foundation of the English language.

Although there are some exceptions, here is how it usually works:

The part at the beginning of a word is called the prefix.

The part at the end is called the suffix.

And the part in between is called the root (which is the part that often gives you the biggest clue to what the word means).

Not all words contain all three word parts. Some roots stand alone. Some words have only roots and prefixes. Some have only roots and suffixes. Some have all three parts. And some are really just compound words made up of two or more other words.

Here are some common Greek and Latin word roots:

aqua (water) mob (move)
aud (hear) photo (light)
bibl (book) phon (sound)
bio (life) psych (mind)
chron (time) retro (backward)
cert (to trust) sol (sun)
derm (skin) stell (star)
ego (I) thermo (heat)

Now here are some common prefixes:

ab (away from) epi (on or upon)
ad (towards or near) infra (below)
auto (self) macro (long, large)
aero (air) micro (small)
anti (against) pan (every, all)
ante (before) para (along the side of)
bi (two) peri (around, about, near)
ben (good, well) psuedo (false, counterfeit)
con (against) syn (with, together, joined)
deca (ten) trans (across)

Let’s see what happens when you put a prefix and a root together, for example the prefix “epi” with the root “derm.” You get the word “epidermis” which means the protective outer layer of your skin (“epi” means “on” and “derm” means “skin”). Or the word “infrastructure” which means “the structure below” or “the basic facilities needed for the functioning of a system.”


Most words in English are made up of roots and suffixes. But suffixes are pretty complicated, since they can be used in four different ways: to make nouns, to make adjectives, to make verbs or to make adverbs.

Strictly speaking, suffixes are word parts that cannot stand alone. But over time, some actual words have come to be used as suffixes. Two examples are the words “meter” (which means measure) and “graph” (which means write). Put at the end of the roots for “heat,” “ sound” and “light,” we get “thermometer” (heat meter), “phonograph” (sound writer) and “photograph” (light writer).

True suffixes, however, really can’t stand alone. They need to be combined with roots. A good example would be the suffix “logy” which means “the study of” and the suffix “ist” which means “one who studies.” Go back to the roots list and find the roots “bio” (life) and “psych” (mind). Put the roots and suffixes together and you’ll see that “biology” means “the study of life” while a “biologist” is “one who studies life.” “Psychology” means “the study of the mind” while a “psychologist” is “one who studies the mind.”

Another common suffix is “ous” which means “full of.” So the word “grievous” means “full of grief” and the word “nauseous” means “full of nausea.” You can probably think of some other examples of your own.

Now if you think that all our words and word parts come from Greek and Latin, you’re wrong. As we learned in our last instruction, nearly half our words have Anglo-Saxon (Old English) roots. Here are a few of them:

Root Root Meaning Today’s Words
ber  carry bear, berth, borne, burden
brew ferment brew, brewery, bread
dear  valued dear, early, darling
drink swallow drink, drank, drunk
hel sanctuary Hell, hellish, helmet, hall, place of protection
kno- skill know, knowledge, knew
lik- similar,  to be pleased with like, liken, likeness, likely
spell recite spell, spelling, gospel
swer- swear, proclaim answer, forswear, swear, sworn
tru- faithful truth, true, troth, betrothed, truly
ward guard, protect ward, wardrobe, homeward, warden

The more you learn about words and word parts, the more you’ll enjoy books and reading. Because words and ideas are what books are all about. If you have read any of the Harry Potter books, you know that the villain is named Voldemort, although most of the characters in the books are afraid to speak his name. Did you ever wonder where the name Voldemort came from? "Vol" means roll, or turn. Think of the word "revolve."

"Mort" means “death.” Perhaps you can interpret his name to mean "turn to death."

In “Paradise Lost,” John Milton mixed the prefix “pan” with the root and suffix “demon” and “ium” to come up with a name for the capital of Hell: “pandemonium” meaning “the place of all demons.” Remember “hel” from our Anglo-Saxon root list? Remember what we said in our last instruction about Shakespeare making up over 2000 words to add to the English language? He made them from roots, prefixes and suffixes.

See how, when it comes to words, everything fits together?

Next Page:  Greek, Roman, and Norse Mythology (top)