Greek and Latin Roots
A Survey of Common Greek & Latin Roots
The English language derives a very large portion of its vocabulary from Latin and Ancient Greek. Recognizing some of the most common roots and affixes is key to mastering more advanced vocabulary; and it can allow you to piece together the meaning of otherwise unfamiliar words.
Latin was the language of the ancient Romans. Though no people today speak Latin as their native language, it persisted well past the Roman period as a language of religion, culture, and science. English uses the Latin alphabet, so many of these roots and affixes are very close to Latin words.
Aqua is a Latin noun meaning water. It has many prominent derivatives; aquatic means something in or belonging to the water.
Audio is a verb in Latin, which means I hear or I listen. Something which can be heard is therefore audible, and those who gather around to listen to something are an audience.
Bene is an adverb, meaning well. It is related to the adjective bonus, meaning good. As an affix or root, bene means something that is good; such as a benefit, or someone who does good things for another being called a benefactor.
Circum is a preposition, meaning around. To circumvent something is to go around it; a circumstance is a condition surrounding some event or action.
Another preposition, contra means against. To contradict something is to speak against it; two opposite things are called contraries.
Dico is another verb, meaning I speak or I say. Typically it takes the form dict as an English affix; such as the example of contradict above, or benediction meaning to bless or speak well of someone (see how multiple roots and affixes join together to form our compound words?).
Facio is a very complex word in Latin, which can be variously translated as I make, I do, I accomplish, I make it so. Look for the root fact or fect as a clue for words that involve making something, such as manufacture or factory, or in words that have to do with doing, such as fact (literally “the thing done”), or perfect (to finish or complete something).
Iacio means I throw or I throw. In English, the I becomes a J, and the root is typically ject: A projectile means something thrown through the air with great force; to eject something is to cast it out.
Malus is an adjective meaning bad, wicked, harmful, or unpleasant. Malevolence means holding ill-will, while something that is maladjusted is badly adjusted for its purpose.
Multus is an adjective meaning many, and it typically shows up in the English affix multi. To multiply is to increase something many times, while a multitude is a great assembly of people.
Porto means I carry. To transport something is to move it from place to place; to import something means to bring it in.
Scribo means I write. More direct derivatives include inscribe and simply scribe. More indirect examples use the variant script, such as prescription or script. All example have to do with the act of writing down.
Trans is a preposition meaning across. As an English affix, it implies change or movement from one thing to another. To transition is to move from one thing to another; translation is changing from one language to another.
Video is a verb meaning I see or I watch. In addition to our modern word video, we get other sight-related words like visible and television.
Unlike Latin, Greek uses a different alphabet from English; many of these words in Greek are transliterated (Latin roots, ironically; trans + littera, letters.)
Anthropos means human being. Philanthropy, literally “love of humankind”, means doing good works for others. Anthropology is the study of human culture and development. Anthropos is sometimes translated as man, but this is in the sense of mankind, rather than…
This word, by contrast, means man specifically as an adult male. Andros is another form of the same word that show up as a root; misandry is contempt or hatred towards men.
Autos means self; in certain contexts it means the same, or oneself. Someone who is autonomous is self-ruling. An automobile is a thing capable of moving itself.
This word in Greek means life. A biography is a written account of someone’s life, while biology is the study of life and its forms.
Dynamis is a conceptual word meaning power, potential, or ability. A dynamic is an active element in a situation; dynamite was named for its explosive power.
This means an instrument or act of writing. See the above example of biography (written account of a life), or autograph (auto, self + graph, writing = something written by oneself).
This word means woman. A doctor who specializes in female anatomy is a gynecologist, and the hatred of women is called misogyny. Remember andros, man? Something that combines masculine and feminine elements is androgynous.
Hetero means opposite or different. Heterogeneous means having many different types mixed together; heterotrophs are living creatures that rely on different creatures for nourishment.
The opposite of hetero, homo means same. Homogenous means uniform and alike, and homophones are words that sound the same. It’s easy to get mixed up with the Latin homo, which means human, as in the word hominid.
Hypo means under, both in the literal sense of being positioned beneath something else, and in the sense of being lower or lesser. Hypothermic means very low temperature. A hypodermic needle goes under the skin.
Another very broad-concept word, logos means thought, speech, reason, argument, or account. It is the source of words like logic, logistics, and prologue. When you see the derived affix -logy, it means inquiry or study into something, as in our previous example words like anthropology or biology.
Mono means one, or one whole. A monogram is a signature in a single letter; a monopoly is singular control over a given resource.
Philia means love, affection, friendship. As a root, it indicates affinity or closeness between two things. Something hydrophilic absorbs and takes in water; philanthropy, a word we’ve seen earlier, means “love of mankind.”
Phobos means fear, dread. A phobia is an irrational, powerful fear of some particular thing, and it is often used with an affix: thanatophobia is the fear of death, while claustrophobia is the fear of tightly enclosed spaces.
Polys is an adjective meaning many. Someone who is a polyglot speaks many different languages; a polymorph is something that can change between many shapes.
Polis means city, but not merely in the modern sense of a large town; rather, it refers to a nation of people who share the same living space and society. Politics are the affairs of such a community; many modern cities, such as Annapolis and Minneapolis show this root.
Psyche means mind or soul. Psychology (see that logos root again?) means the study of the human mind and its working. Psychic means relating to purely mental events.
Techne means an art, craft, or other specialized skill. It is the source of words like technology and technical.
Tele means far away or at a distance. A telephone allows sound to be projected over long distances, while telepathy is the purported ability to project thoughts and feelings to another from a distance.