When I was in school, teachers often used to say that we should know the root words in English. But woefully, I forgot how could they be handy. Can anybody here explain if remembering the root words really can help me? I assume it has something to do with acquiring a strong vocabulary, etc.

I am talking about the form in another language from which the word is derived, for example the Latin sto and stare, from which words like stance, status, and state are derived, as pointed out by StoneyB.

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    There are many prefixes and suffixes in English. Here you can find a chart of them. Keep them in mind and make use of them. I hope it helps. Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 11:52
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    Could you be a little more specific? When you speak of a 'root word', do you mean 1)the English 'base form', such as know, on which knows, knew, known and knowing are built, or 2)the form in another language, such as Latin sto,stare, from which stance, status, state, instant and many other words ultimately derive? Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 11:53

1 Answer 1


The basis for understanding Latin, Greek, etc. roots is to help you make an educated guess at the meaning of new words you encounter.

Often, context will give you sufficient clues to guess the word's meaning, but not always. If you are familiar with roots and you can recognize the root of the new word, you can get a pretty good idea of its meaning even when there is not enough context to clearly define it, or when the context is ambiguous. Roots are especially helpful when used in conjunction with a word's context.

It also helps to know the English roots of words, so that when you come across compound words or words with crazy prefixes and suffixes you can still pretty well guess what someone is talking about.

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    One fellow I knew was particularly adept at guessing the meaning of an unfamiliar word. After we would marvel at his uncanny ability, he'd remind us that he had studied Latin for three years in high school.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 13, 2013 at 9:08
  • Despite studying Latin for one year in university, three years of high school Spanish, looking up every word's origin on Kindle, as well as a host of other language experiences, I have still never been able to guess a single word's meaning from the root. Identifying a word's root is extremely difficult, mostly because English words can originate in German, Latin, Greek, French, and from possibly more sources. My opinion is that your efforts might be better spent elsewhere. I'm of the opinion that learning a Romance language will help your English skills. One language at a time though.
    – MXMLLN
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 8:07

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