It was Greek to Me: Improving Your English by Knowing Greek Roots
Greek provides many important prefixes, suffixes, and roots used in the English language. To understand the full meaning of a word, it is essential to know the original meaning of the roots used to form the word. Not only will your comprehension of the word be more complete and accurate, you will understand many more words since roots and other word parts (i.e. affixes, prefixes, suffixes) occur in many English words. For example, Webster’s Dictionary has seventy-seven listings starting with the Greek root -chrom-.
Root words are most often combined with other word parts to precisely describe a particular phenomena, action, or thing. Continuing with the root word -chrom- an example of this type of combining is chromolithography =chrom (color)+lithos (a stone)+graphien (to write) which is a method of producing color printed pictures using stone or zinc plates. Many roots are much more productive than -chrom- and certain prefixes (like un- meaning not, lack of, the opposite of as in undo) and suffixes (like –ology meaning a specified type of speaking as in eulogy or the science, doctrine, study of, or theory of as in geology) are in hundreds of words. You can greatly improve your command of English by familiarizing yourself with these word parts.
Your command of English spelling will also be strengthened by knowing the origins of a word. Knowing a word originated from Greek gives clues to some of the tricky spellings in English like the silent initial p- in pneumatic and psychopathic.
Here are frequently used Greek roots and their meanings with an example word. Improve your memory of these roots by copying them into a notebook. Write down the root, its definition, and several examples of its use. You can add examples by looking for more in your dictionary. Practice using the words in sentences when writing and speaking. Look for words with these roots in newspaper, magazine, or books you read and underline them. Create flashcards with the Greek root on one side of the card and the meaning or the reverse. The more often you use the word in some way, the better you will remember it.
-aero- (air) aerobics
-angio- (vessel) angioplasty
-anthrop- (human) anthropological
-astro- (constellation) astronomy
-centre- (center) central
-chrom/o- (color) chromatic
-chron- (time) chronograph
-dem- (people) democracy
-hydro- (water) hydroelectric
-kinesis- (movement) kinetic energy
-leuko- (white) leukemia
-litho- (stone) neolithic
-metre- (to measure) meter, geometry
-morph- (form) morphology
-naut- (sailor, ship) astronaut
-path- (feeling, suffering) pathetic
-ped/o- (child, children) pediatrics (do not confuse this Greek root with the Latin root pedi-meaning foot)
-phil/o- (having a strong affinity or love for) philosopher
-phon- (voice, sound) phonograph
-phos-,-photo- (light) phosphorus, photography
-pneu- (to breathe) pneumonia
-pseudo- (false) pseudography
-psych- (soul, mind) psychoanalyze
-tele- (distant) telephone
-therm- (hot) isotherm
Knowing Greek roots can help you discern the meaning of a word and expand your vocabulary exponentially. Study them carefully and your ability to understand precisely what you read and hear will improve.