Unlocking the Secrets of Root Words, Prefixes, and Suffixes

A number of the words we use today are shaped from prefixes, root words, and suffixes that originally came from many other languages, especially Latin, Greek, Old English, and French. By learning some of these, you can analyze unfamiliar words, break them down into their component parts, and then apply their meanings to help unlock their definitions.

Root words (base words) can add either prefixes or suffixes to create other words. Take, for instance, the root word bene, meaning good. If you add various prefixes (letters that come at the beginning of a word) and suffixes (letters that come at the end of a word) to bene, you can create other words such as benefit, benevolent, benediction, and unbeneficial. Each prefix and suffix has a meaning of its own; so by adding one or the other — or both — to root words, you form new words. You can see the root word bene in each of the new words, and each of the new words still retains a meaning having to do with good, but the prefix or suffix changes or expands on the meaning. (The prefix un-, for instance, means “not.” That gives a whole new meaning — an opposite meaning — to the word unbeneficial.)

In another example, look at the root word chron, which comes from Greek and means time. Adding the prefix syn- (meaning together with) and the suffix -ize (meaning to cause to be) creates the modern word synchronize, which means to set various timepieces at the same time. Use a different suffix, -ology, meaning the study of, and you have chronology, which means the study that deals with time divisions and assigns events to their proper dates.

Interesting, too, is the way ancient word forms have been used to create words in modern times. Two thousand years ago, for instance, no one knew there would be a need for a word that meant sending your voice far away — but that's what the modern word telephone means. It's a combination of tele, meaning distant or far away, and phon, meaning voice or sound.

In Appendix B, you'll find other common root words and some examples of modern English words that incorporate them.

The Last Word on Spelling

Here are some rules for spelling words to which prefixes or suffixes have been added.

  • Words that end in -x don't change when a suffix is added to them:

    fax = faxing, hoax = hoaxed, mix = mixer

  • Words that end in -c don't change when a suffix is added to them if the letter before the c is a, o, u, or a consonant:

    talc = talcum, maniac = maniacal

  • Words that end in -c usually add k when a suffix is added to them if the letter before the c is e or i and the pronunciation of the c is hard:

    picnic = picnickers, colic = colicky, frolic = frolicking

  • Words that end in -c usually don't change when a suffix is added to them if the letter before the c is e or i and the pronunciation of the c is soft:

    critic = criticism, clinic = clinician, lyric = lyricist

  • Words that end in a single consonant immediately preceded by one or more unstressed vowels usually remain unchanged before any suffix:

    debit = debited, credit = creditor, felon = felony

    Of course, you'll find exceptions, such as:

    program = programmed, format = formatting, crystal = crystallize

  • When a prefix is added to form a new word, the root word usually remains unchanged:

    spell = misspell, cast = recast, approve = disapprove

    In some cases, however, the new word is hyphenated. These exceptions include instances when the last letter of the prefix and the first letter of the word it's joining are the same vowel; when the prefix is being added to a proper noun; and when the new word formed by the prefix and the root must be distinguished from another word spelled in the same way but with a different meaning: anti-institutional, mid-March, re-creation (versus recreation).

  • When adding a suffix to a word ending in -y, change the y to i when the y is preceded by a consonant:

    carry = carrier, irony = ironic, empty = emptied

    This rule doesn't apply to words with an -ing ending:

    carry = carrying, empty = emptying

    This rule also doesn't apply to words in which the -y is preceded by a vowel:

    delay = delayed, enjoy = enjoyable

  • Two or more words that join to form a compound word usually keep the original spelling of each word:

    cufflink, billfold, bookcase, football

  • If a word ends in -ie, change the -ie to -y before adding -ing:

    die = dying, lie = lying, tie = tying

  • When adding -full to the end of a word, change the ending to -ful:

    armful, grateful, careful

Take a look at these Web sites for spelling rules, which range from very elementary to quite detailed.

<tgroup cols="2" align="center"> <colspec colnum="1" colname="col1" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colnum="2" colname="col2" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <tbody> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>tinyurl.com/y93yvj</emphasis></p></td> <td><p><emphasis>tinyurl.com/y8hr56</emphasis></p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>tinyurl.com/yyvbmu</emphasis></p></td> <td><para/></td> </tr> </tbody> </tgroup> </table> <p>To test yourself with homonyms (words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings), try the online test at: <emphasis>tinyurl.com/toupk</emphasis>.</p> </div> <!--/gc--> <div id="pagination"><ul><li class="prev"><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/whats-in-a-word/so-many-rules.htm" title="So Many Rules!">So Many Rules!</a></li><li class="next"><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/whats-in-a-word/checkpoint.htm" title="Checkpoint">Checkpoint</a> </li></ul></div></div> <div id="coda"> <div id="rel"><div class="n5">Related Articles</div><ul> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/whats-in-a-word/unlocking-the-secrets-of-root-words-prefixes-and-suffixes.htm" zT="18/1YL/Zn"> Unlocking the Secrets of Root Words, Prefixes, and Suffixes - Grammar ... </a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/learning-latin/vocabulary-building/vocabulary-building-2.htm" zT="18/1YL/Zn"> Vocabulary Building - Learning Latin </a></li> <li><a href="http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/etymology/f/Roots.htm" zT="18/1YL/Zn"> General Writing and Grammar Help: Word Roots: How Do You Recognize Lat... </a></li> <li><a href="http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa052698.htm" zT="18/1YL/Zn"> A Little Etymology - Greek and Latin Roots and a Little Etymology - St... </a></li> <li><a href="http://grammar.about.com/od/words/a/comsuffixes.htm" zT="18/1YL/Zn"> Common Suffixes in English - Vocabulary Building - List of English Suf... </a></li> </ul></div> <div id="sec"><div class="n5">Read More What's in a Word?</div><ul><ul class="col1"><li ><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/whats-in-a-word/spelling-it-all-out.htm">Spelling It All Out</a></li> <li ><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/whats-in-a-word/making-more-forming-plurals-of-nouns.htm">Making More: Forming Plurals of Nouns</a></li> <li ><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/whats-in-a-word/so-many-rules.htm">So Many Rules!</a></li> </ul><ul class="col2"><li class="btO">Unlocking the Secrets of Root Words, Prefixes, and Suffixes</li> <li ><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/whats-in-a-word/checkpoint.htm">Checkpoint</a></li> </ul></ul></div> </div> <script>if(zSbL<1)zSbL=3;zSB(2);zSbL=0</script> </div> <div id="widgets"><script type="text/javascript">if(z336>0){w('<div id="adB">'+ap[0]+at[4]+as[0]);adunit('','','about.com',ch,gs,300,250,'1','bb',3);w('</div>')}if(z155>0){w('<div id="adP">'+ap[0]+at[4]+as[0]);adunit('','','about.com',ch,gs,336,155,'1','ps',4);w('</div>')}</script> <div id="pg" class="pane"><div class="n3">Shopping</div><div class="cntnr"><a href="http://shop.everything.com/product/the-everything-grammar-and-style-book-2nd-edition"><img src="http://0.tqn.com/d/np/grammar/Cover.jpg"></a><h4><a href="http://shop.everything.com/product/the-everything-grammar-and-style-book-2nd-edition">THE EVERYTHING GRAMMAR AND STYLE BOOK</a></h4><p><a href="http://shop.everything.com/product/the-everything-grammar-and-style-book-2nd-edition">By Susan Thurman</a></p><div id="fp"><a href="http://shop.everything.com/product/the-everything-grammar-and-style-book-2nd-edition">Buy This Book</a></div></div></div> <div id="toc" class="pane"><div class="n3">Grammar and Style Sections</div><ul><li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/whats-in-a-word/">What's in a Word?</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/cracking-the-code-of-punctuation/">Cracking the Code of Punctuation</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/more-fun-with-punctuation/">More Fun with Punctuation</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/punctuation-pairs/">Punctuation Pairs</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/wrapping-it-all-up/">Wrapping It All Up</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/parts-of-speech-the-big-eight/">Parts of Speech: the Big Eight</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/more-pieces-of-the-puzzle/">More Pieces of the Puzzle</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/lets-have-a-few-words/">Let's Have a Few Words</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/pertinent-points-about-pesky-pronouns/">Pertinent Points about Pesky Pronouns</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/figuring-out-some-finicky-forms/">Figuring Out Some Finicky Forms</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/keeping-it-coherent/">Keeping It Coherent</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/shaping-strong-sentences/">Shaping Strong Sentences</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/in-plain-english-please/">In Plain English, Please</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/putting-pen-to-paper/">Putting Pen to Paper</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/the-final-dress-rehearsal/">The Final Dress Rehearsal</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/maximizing-your-means-of-expression/">Maximizing Your Means of Expression</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/getting-personal/">Getting Personal</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/literary-terms-you-need-to-know/">Literary Terms You Need to Know</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/latin-alive-and-kicking/">Latin: Alive and Kicking!</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/foreign-languages-in-everyday-american-english/">Foreign Languages in Everyday American English</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/appendix-a-999-of-the-most-commonly-misspelled-words/">999 of the Most Commonly Misspelled Words</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/appendix-b-root-words-prefixes-and-suffixes/">Root Words, Prefixes, and Suffixes</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/appendix-c-suggested-substitutes-for-wordy-phrases/">Suggested Substitutes for Wordy Phrases</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/appendix-d-checkpoint-answers/">Checkpoint Answers</a></li> </ul></div></div> <script type="text/javascript">zCi();validateForms();</script> <div id="abf" style="padding-right:0"><ol class="crumbtrail"><li class="home"><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/">Home</a></li><li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/">Grammar and Style</a></li><li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/grammar/whats-in-a-word/">What's in a Word?</a></li><li>Unlocking the Secrets of Root Words, Prefixes, and Suffixes</li></ol></div> <div id="aboutinfo" class="hlist"><div id="morefrom"><h6>Visit other About.com sites:</h6><ul><li><a href="http://caloriecount.about.com/" rel="nofollow">Calorie Count</a></li><li class="last"><a href="http://www.allexperts.com/" rel="nofollow">Allexperts.com</a></li></ul></div> <ul id="siteinfo"><li><a href="http://spiderbites.about.com/sitemap.htm">SiteMap</a></li><li><a href="http://www.about.com/gi/pages/hc.htm" rel="nofollow">Help</a></li><li><a href="http://www.about.com/gi/pages/mprivacy.htm" rel="nofollow">Privacy Policy</a></li><li><a href="http://www.about.com/gi/pages/mprivacy.htm#adchoices" rel="nofollow">Your Ad Choices</a></li><li class="last"><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/pform.htm" rel="nofollow">Contact Us</a></li></ul> <ul id="companyinfo"><li class="last"><a href="http://shop.everything.com/ " rel="nofollow">Buy Books</a></li></ul><div id="disclaimer"> </div></div></div> <script type="text/javascript"><!-- zPxA[zPxC]=new Image();zPxA[zPxC++].src="http://b.scorecardresearch.com/p?c1=2&c2=6036459&c7=http%3a%2f%2fwww%2enetplaces%2ecom%2fgrammar%2fwhats%2din%2da%2dword%2funlocking%2dthe%2dsecrets%2dof%2droot%2dwords%2dprefixes%2dand%2dsuffixes%2ehtm&c8=Unlocking%20the%20Secrets%20of%20Root%20Words%2c%20Prefixes%2c%20and%20Suffixes&c9=&cv=2.0&cj=1"; adclose() //--> </script> <script type="text/javascript">(function(){var po=document.createElement('script');po.type='text/javascript';po.async=true;po.src='https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js';var s=document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(po,s)})();</script> </body></html>