Discover the Latin Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes That Shape Our Language

Caesar Possessing Himself Of The Treasure In The Temple Of Saturn
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Whether in day-to-day life or a trivia competition, you are bound to run into words you don't know. English is such a complicated mashup of other languages that you never know when you might run into something new.

Luckily, English is largely a combination of German, romance languages, and Greek. It's an odd assortment, I know. Essentially, the Anglo-Saxons brought us the German, the Norman Conquest brought us French, and the dominance of Greek and Roman culture introduced Greek and Latin.

You probably know a lot more of these linguistic roots that you might expect, just from your day-to-day life. Have you ever come across a word that you could figure out based on what other words it sounds like? Then you are already applying some of these linguistic strategies naturally!

That being said, we often can recognize similarities more than specific meanings. This is often enough, but having that extra knowledge can only ever help when you're trying to make sense of a new word! Read on to learn about the Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes that make up a large part of our language.

Latin prefixes

Prefixes alter the meaning of the root word, usually in ways that explain the new word's relationship with the root word. For example, "antechamber" can be understood as before the chamber. Similarly, "Antebellum" is before the "bellum," or war.

While some are more obscure, you would be surprised how many Latin prefixes you already intuitively know how to use. As you read through the examples below, think about what other words in English rely on each prefix.

Some of the most common Latin prefixes used in English include:

a/non/dis: not

  • Ex: apolitical; nondescript; disinterested

co: together

  • Ex: cooperate

sub: under

  • Ex: subterranean; submarine

re: again

  • Ex: redo; reciprocate

pre/post: before/after

  • Ex: prepare; postponed

de/anti: opposite

  • Ex: defrost; antibiotic; antagonist

omni: all

  • Ex: omnivore; omnipotent

ben: good

  • Ex: benevolent; beneficiary

mal: bad

  • Ex: malevolent; Maleficent

Some Latin prefixes also line up with numbers. These include:

  • un: 1 (universal; unilateral)
  • du: 2 (duo, dual, duet)
  • tr: 3 (triangle, triple)
  • qua: 4 (quartet, quadrilateral)
  • sept: 7 (September)
  • oct: 8 (October, octagon)
  • deci: 10 (decimal, decimate)
  • cent: 100 (century, centimeter)
  • mill: 1,000 (millenium, millimeter)

Latin root words

Roots are the core of each word, which can exist with or without prefixes and suffixes. While most root words can be transformed into any part of speech, based on their prefixes and suffixes, they tend to fall into categories based on their purpose.

Some key root words that have to do with the senses and how the world works include:

aud: pertaining to sound

  • Ex: auditory; audition

spect/vid/vis: pertaining to sight

  • Ex: inspect; spectator; video; vision

tact: pertaining to touch or feeling

  • Ex: tactile; contact

Other critical root words are focused on verbs that are fundamental to our daily lives, often focusing on tasks the average person will perform on a regular basis. These include:

dict: to say

  • Ex: dictation; contradiction

scrib: to write

  • Ex: describe; scribble

fac/struct: to make

  • Ex: factory; construction

form: to shape or mold

  • Ex: reform; formula

voc: to speak

  • Ex: vocal; advocacy

Some root words that are based on relationships between individuals include:

  • mat/mater: mother (maternity)
  • pat/pater: father (patriarchy)
  • sor: sister (sorority)
  • fr: brother (fraternal)

Latin suffixes

Suffixes traditionally are used to change the root word from one part of speech to another. These are terms you probably use all the time, even jokingly. Once you start noticing them, you'll be able to see Latin everywhere.

Some of the most common Latin suffixes used in English include:

able/ible/ic: capable of; turns a root into an adjective

  • Ex: capable; flexible; romantic

ation/ment: makes a verb into a noun

  • Ex: creation; statement

ty: makes an adjective into a noun

  • Ex: loyalty; specialty

ify: makes something into the root word

  • Ex: specify; pacify

Quick Tip: If you're unsure what a word means, try to break it into pieces (usually by syllable). Think of other words that have similar components, and see if you can find the common theme.

Keep an eye on Ask Everest for helpful resources to prepare for trivia!

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