Using Greek & Latin Prefixes to Understand English Words
In many ways, the English language could be considered a puzzle, and not just because it’s decidedly puzzling! Students learning English as a second language can certainly testify to challenges they face with the unexpected grammar rules and wonky pronunciations, but today we’re going back to the basics – English vocabulary words.
Many English words are traceable back to Latin and Greek origins and are like a puzzle as they are made up of elements that can be fitted together in different ways. Word roots are the core part of a word that determine the main meaning, but they are unable to stand alone.
Prefixes and suffixes are also parts of words that cannot stand alone, but they are used at the beginning (prefix) and ending (suffix) of words to change its meaning. Learning these Latin and Greek building blocks can help you guess the meaning of unfamiliar English words.
Pre Itself is a Latin Prefix
Today let’s take a look at prefixes in the English language with Latin and Greek origins in order to have a set of clues to use to figure out new vocabulary. Prefixes are usually prepositions or adverbs that appear at the start of a word and can’t be used alone. As it so happens, the word “prefix” itself contains a prefix – “pre.”
Pre– is a prefix which can mean before, prior to, early, or in front of. It comes from the Latin prae, meaning in front of or before. Whenever we place it at the beginning of a word, it alters the meaning accordingly. For instance, if we add it to the word “pay” to form “prepay”, it changes the meaning to pay ahead of time. If we add it to “school” to form “preschool”, it now means early schooling or school that happens before/prior to a standard school.
It’s All Greek to Me!
If you’ve ever heard the English idiom “It’s all Greek to me”, you’ll appreciate the irony here. People use this to indicate they don’t understand something at all. However, we use many prefixes and suffixes from the Greek language to form words in English.
For example, we use “anti-” or its variant “ant-” to indicate being against (or opposite of) something. Anti– derives from the ancient Greek word “ἀντι-” which meant “against”. (Of note, anti– should not be confused with the prefix ante– of Latin origin, meaning “before”.)
If we add it to the beginning of some common words, you can see how it changes the definition:
- Antisocial – contrary to the laws and customs of society
- Anti-inflammatory – an agent that works against inflammation
- Antonym – a word that is opposite in meaning to another word
Learning the common prefixes used in English that derive from Greek can help you figure out new words so you don’t have to feel like it’s all Greek to you!
Common Prefixes in English & Their Greek and Latin Roots
|not, without, (having) no
|anemia, atheist, atypical
|ab-, a-, abs-
|abnormal, absent, abstain, aversion
|both, on both sides of
|against, opposed to, preventive
|antagonist, antibiotic, antonym
|hearing, listening, sound
|audible, auditorium, auditory
|biography, biology, biologist
|cent, centennial, centurion
|from, away from, removing, down
|deletion, dementia, descend
|deca-, dec-, deka-, dekten-
|diode, dipole, diameter
|equal, equality, equate
|geography, geology, geometry
|in- (1), im-
|import, incur, intend, invite
|in- (2), il-, im-, ir-
|not, un- (negation)
|illicit, impossible, inimical, irrational
|kilobyte, kilogram, kilometer
|malfeasance, malicious, malignancy
|ob-, o-, oc-, of-, og-, op-, os-
|obstinate, obstreperous, occur, offend, omit, oppose, ostentatious
|octagon, octahedron, octode
|perfection, permeate, persistence
|recede, redact, retract
|sec-, sect-, seg-
|secede, section, segment
|sub-, su-, suf-, sug-, sus-
|submerge, suffix, suggest
|triad, triangle, tripod
Excel English Institute is Ready to Help You Learn English
Keep an eye out for a follow-up blog discussing suffixes and root words with a Latin or Greek origin to help build your knowledge of English words. With such a challenging language as English, any and all clues can help!
Are you ready to learn more strategies to help you increase your fluency in English? Excel English Institute is here to help! Give us a call today to learn more about how we can help you achieve your English language goals.