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The Best Root Word List

Learn 200 New Words in Less Than 10 Minutes

Vocabulary Ninja Word Parts List

Turn lonely words into word families. This is a list of 219 of the most important and common word parts. Only available at Vocabulary Ninja.

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May 10, 2017 0 comments

“That’s it?”

“Only 10?”

“I thought this was supposed to be the best list of root words.”

I agree. This isn’t a lot of root words.

But do you know you just expanded your vocabulary by over 200 words?

Seriously.

If you know the meaning of just one root word, you unlock the meaning of dozens, maybe hundreds of other words.

This is the best root word list because it includes only the most useful root words.

However, roots can be hard to understand.

You may have never heard of root words until now.

So, in this article, I’m going to explain what root words are and why they’re useful.

After that, I’m going to explain these ten powerful root words in more detail and prove to you that you just learned 200 new words.

So…

What are root words?

Richard Nordqvist at ThoughtCo succinctly writes,

“In English grammar, a root is a word or word part from which other words grow, usually through the addition of prefixes and suffixes.”

The root of a word is the most basic part of a word and it can not be broken down any further. The very word itself, root, comes from the part of the tree that holds the entire structure in place.

Let’s look at an example:

This is a word we can break down into parts:

trans

fer

able

Transferable begins with a prefix. Prefixes are like roots, but they are usually found at the beginning of a word. In this case, trans is a prefix. There are many other popular prefixes like un-, dis– and bi-.  You can learn more about prefixes in our The Best Prefix List article.

Transferable also contains a suffix. Suffixes usually go at the end of a word. In this case, able is the suffix.

For now, we are only going to focus on root words.

Root words can go at the beginning, middle or end of a word, but they’re usually somewhere in the middle since many words are created when prefixes and suffixes are added on. In this case, the root word is fer, which comes from Latin and means to carry or to bring.

But here’s the interesting part.

This root word, fer,  shows up in dozens of other words.

And even more interesting…

All of these words can be related to the meaning, carry.

  • reference – to carry one source of information to a new source
  • different – to carry in two separate ways
  • fertile – land that carries water
  • circumference – to carry around in a circle and measure

Why should you study root words?

If you’re like many English language learners, you’ve been studying English for years and you feel stuck. It seems like no matter how hard you try, you can’t bring your English to the next level.

“Lack of vocabulary comprehension of both native and non-native speakers has a tremendous impact on language comprehension and destroys student motivation.” Joe Lockavitch, Failure Free Reading 

If you’re an English language learner, you may have lost your motivation.  A big reason for that is because you don’t have adequate knowledge of root words.

There are over a thousand root words that have been carried through history and are now a part of the English lexicon. According to researchers Nagy and Anderson,

“…approximately 70% of English words contain Greek and Latin prefixes, suffixes or roots.” 

Wait, what!

That’s right, approximately 70% of all words in English have elements of Greek and Latin.

If you know the most important Greek and Latin root words then you can expand your vocabulary by thousands without studying long lists.

Roots like fer and a handful of others show up in thousands of other words with similar meaning to the given root.

When you know that gen means to produce, you also know:

When you know that ject means to throw, you also know:

You can figure out the meaning of hundreds of other words.

No dictionary required!

Do you see how powerful root words are?

You can study just a few roots and expand your vocabulary by thousands.

You might have learned about prefixes, suffixes, and roots when you were in elementary school. Many English language teachers have already recognized the importance of learning these common base words because they unlock the meaning of so many other unknown words. This is particularly true for Romance languages — French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian — because they all derive from Latin. In fact, Latin used to be a required class in high school. it was considered important to understand the history of the English language to speak, listen, read and write well.

English is considered a Germanic language because it follows a similar grammar structure to German, but many words still derive from Latin, just like the other Romance languages. And it’s clear from the research that language teachers must start to teach their students roots as soon as possible. In B.J Fox’s Word Identification Strategies, she writes,

“Students who recognize and comprehend roots can learn a great many technical terms with relative ease, and with less guidance than students who do not understand the contributions roots make to English words.” 

It’s not just English teachers who teach about roots, but other Romance language instructors. Just look at one common English root serv, which means to serve.

  • serve – English
  • servir – Portuguese
  • servire– Italian
  • servir– French
  • servir– Spanish

All of these words across five different languages share the same root, serv, which comes from the Latin word slave, but is closer in meaning to serve or service. Language teachers understand that prefixes, suffixes, and root words are important to learn because this foundational knowledge is crucial for improving reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition.

This is one of the reasons why a Spanish speaker will have an easier time learning English than a Chinese speaker. As Gunning states in his book Creating Literacy Instruction for All Children,

“The prefixes re- and sub- are the same in both languages, and so are the suffixes –able and –ion.” 

Many Americans and other native speakers of a given languages apply their knowledge of prefixes, suffixes and root words naturally, without thinking consciously about the process.

However, this skill does not come naturally to you, the English language learner. Recognizing and deciphering meaning based only on word form is challenging for someone who’s learning English as a second language.

Bottom line?

It’s crucial for you to become familiar with the most important prefixes, suffixes, and root words so you can expand your vocabulary by thousands.

This is especially true for students who don’t speak a Romance language. If your first language derived from an origin other than Latin, then you won’t be familiar with most of these words.

After years of teaching vocabulary, I’ve identified 219 of the most important prefixes, suffixes, and roots you need commit to memory.

Right now, I’m going to go through the ten root words I mentioned earlier and show you how to use them to learn new words.

The Best Root Word List

The first one up is:

versto turn

How can you use vers?

Do you have an adversary? I do. We’ve been enemies since kindergarten. Our controversial relationship began in kindergarten. Mike, my adversary, was an extrovert. He could easily talk to anyone in the class. He even made friends with the older kids. I was more of an introvert. I was quiet and enjoyed playing with my toy cars. One day, Mike started a conversation with me about my cars. I was relieved that someone in the class had finally decided to talk to me. I showed him my favorite car. It was the most versatile of all my toy cars. It could drive through grass, sand, and snow. Mike asked if he could play with it. Of course, I was averse to the idea. I wouldn’t even let my mother touch my favorite car, but I consented. I thought Mike might be my first true friend. He smiled, held the car above his head and smashed it on the ground. He was universally praised for his action. Even the teacher patted him on the back and told him that I had an unhealthy obsession with that toy car. Like I said, we’ve been adversaries ever since.

When I need to remember that vers means to turn, I usually think of an anniversary. If it’s your marriage anniversary, you have turned another year together.

Here are 20 words that just entered your passive vocabulary:

The next one up is

dictto say

You can probably think of some words that have the root dict, right?

I immediately think of a dictator, a ruler who speaks a lot and tells people what to do. Dictators have complete control over the people, so you better be careful and never contradict any of a dictator’s edicts. An edict is an official statement that tells you what to do. If you contradict the dictator’s edict then I predict that you will be in court. And, while you’re in court, I guarantee that the judge convicts. The verdict may be unfair, but you can’t say anything, or you may find yourself in jail forever, with nothing to do except dictate what is said in an audio version of a dictionary.

The root dict is everywhere. For me, I usually think of a dictator like Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini to help me remember this root.

Here are 40 words that just entered your passive vocabulary:


ducto lead

Can’t think of any words with the root duc?

Did I ever tell you that I was abducted by aliens? It’s true. One night, while I was in college, I had a bit too much to drink and passed out on the side of the road. When I woke up, I was surrounded by aliens conducting strange experiments on my body I thought they were going to look inside my reproductive system. However, they were actually trying to get all of the alcohol out of my body. They had a machine that acted like an aqueduct, leading waste out of my body and into a huge vat. These aliens weren’t scary at all. They led me around their ship, introduced me to some other aliens and we had a conducive conversation about reducing my alcohol consumption. I woke up back in bed and told my friends about the aliens. Everyone thinks that I just produced the story out of thin air, but, since that day, I haven’t had another sip of alcohol.

Okay, that was a strange one, I know, but I bet that you’ll remember it. When you need to remember that duc means to lead, just think of aliens abducting you and leading you into their spaceship. Scary!

Here are 60 words that just entered your passive vocabulary:

Are you starting to see how useful it is to study root words? I’ve spent almost a year researching, dissecting and selecting only the most important prefixes, suffixes and root words to study. In total there’s 219: 54 prefixes, 121 roots, and 44 suffixes.

Tired of reading? You can download the PDF version which includes The Top 20 Most Important prefixes suffixes and root words. It includes pictures, examples, and definitions for you to always have with you when you’re in need of some vocabulary assistance. Download your free ebook here:

Seven more to go and you’ve already learned 60 new words.

ferto carry

We talked about this before, right? Do you remember any words that include the root fer?

Moving is hard because you have to live in a totally different place. Some people move because their company transfers them to another location. That’s exactly what happened to my father when we moved from New York to Arizona. When my dad first heard the news, he was far from indifferent. He confessed to my mother, “ Arizona. The boss must be punishing me for something if he’s sending me to that infertile wasteland.” My father had his flaws, but my mother appreciated his directness. You didn’t have to infer much. If he didn’t like something, he’d say it. He loved New York and felt forced to move. His boss never called it a punishment, but instead referred to the move as “a great opportunity”. My father deferred the process for as long as possible. No matter how hard he fought, we all eventually migrated out of New York and into Arizona. Believe it or not, Arizona turned out to be amazing. My father was offered a position with a higher salary at a competing company. My mother loved the weather and I got a car! Arizona turned out to be awesome.

When I think of fer, I think of a ferry. For those who don’t know, a ferry is a kind of boat that carries or brings people from one location to another.

Here are 80 words that just entered your passive vocabulary:

And that carries us to the next root word. This one shows up a lot in academia.

gento produce

I didn’t think my parents ever imagined producing progeny quite like me. Before I came around, they already had two boys and were hoping I’d be a little girl. when they met me, their new baby son, they could care less about my gender. They were just relieved that I was healthy. My father was a smoker at the time, but my mother forced him to quit after she read about all of the harmful carcinogens in tobacco. In terms of looks, I got more of my mother’s genes than my father’s. We share the same eyes, nose, and chin. Obviously, I belonged to a different generation than my parents. They were interested in work and I was interested in playing video games. Sega Genesis was the first video game system I owned and I loved everything about it. I especially liked how you could die and regenerate. At grandpa’s funeral, I asked my parents if we could feed his corpse some magic flowers to help restore his life, like in the game, but they said those flowers were indigenous to the video game world and didn’t exist in real life. After that day, I decided to devote my life to finding a genuine cure for cancer.

Here are 100 words that just entered your passive vocabulary:

The next root word is so important:

grad/gressto step

What does step mean exactly? When you take a step, you move forward. So, when you see the root grad or gress, think of moving forward.

Let me tell you a story about an undergraduate student I once knew at Harvard named Deb. Deb had graduated from her high school with honors. She was the valedictorian, even. She didn’t just earn stellar grades in class but committed herself to making the school and community a better place. For example, she started a fundraiser to raise awareness about bullying and other acts of aggression that she saw in school. She gradually earned the respect of her peers, the faculty, and even the neighborhood. Deb had always dreamed of progressing from her small town high school to Harvard, but after just a few short months at this prestigious university, she turned depressed. She was a small fish in a big pond and could hardly keep up with her classmates. Her grades dipped. She found ways to digress from her studies. She hung out at local bars and spent a lot of free time at the mall. She regressed back to childhood antics and stopped showing up for class. When Deb returned home for Christmas break, so did her confidence. She decided after her small stint at Harvard that she would move back home and never leave again.

Here are 120 words that just entered your passive vocabulary:

The next root word on our list is:

graph/gramto write

This is another root that’s especially useful when you go to college because there are a lot of academic words and subjects that are connected to writing.

I was having a great time in college until I started my geography class. You see, most of the classes I took had something to do with writing. I was enrolled in the English Literature Program and I expected to take nothing but writing courses. My grammar was excellent. My prose was impeccable. I had even written a biography of one of the professors on campus, which was later printed by a major publisher. When the Literature Department’s new building was finally completed, I was asked to etch a short epigraph into the facade. To top it all off, other students came up to me and asked for my autograph on a daily basis. It was at this time, during my very last semester of school, that I entered Professor Tillman’s World Geography class. I could write an epigraph, but I couldn’t draw a diagram. I could barely draw a stick figure. Art was never my thing, neither was history, and Professor Tillman’s class had a ton of both. To make a long story short, I dropped out of college, pursued my career as a full-time writer and never regretted it. I still have no idea how to draw, and I don’t know a lick about world geography. That’s okay, right?

Here are 140 words that just entered your passive vocabulary:

Are you learning something new?

I bet you are. You’ve probably always known about root words and how they show up in many other instances, but you never thought to use them when expanding your vocabulary.

This next one is my favorite.

jectto throw

They say that slavery doesn’t exist anymore, well, whoever said that obviously never met my ex-girlfriend, Pam. She treated me like a slave. This isn’t a matter for conjecture. This is coming straight from someone who experienced the hell that is Pam the Girlfriend. When I first met this demon I was in a vulnerable place. I was 16 and had failed multiple exams. I felt dejected. My teachers never projected a happy future for me. The school administrators lumped me in a class with some other hopeless rejects that would never amount to much. One Friday night I went out, ready to drink away my sorrows, but little did I know that fate’s trajectory would lead me to Pam. I should have known she was bad news when she interjected in a conversation I was having with my friend. She had little consideration for any listener, but I respected her strength. I was usually too shy to speak in groups.  It was nice to be around someone who projected confidence no matter what the situation. My friends warned me, but I didn’t listen. It wasn’t long after we started dating when I was first subjected to her abuse. I called the police multiple times. Eventually, after we had broken up and I found her stalking around my house,  I issued a restraining order. Still, I don’t want to leave my house. I’m scared, but I have to go back to school if I want to graduate. I guess I have no choice. I just hope Pam’s not outside, ready to eject the life out of my body.

If you need a way to remember that ject means to throw, think of the word eject. Imagine you’re sitting in a fighter jet and your plane gets hit. It’s going to crash. Better push the eject button and throw yourself out of the plane before it crashes.

Here are 160 words that just entered your passive vocabulary:

Two more.

I bet you’ve seen the next one.

pathfeeling or disease

My mother never had any sympathy for me when I was sick. Every time I complained of a belly ache in the morning she thought I was lying. She wasn’t wrong. I wasn’t a pathological liar or anything like that, I just didn’t want to go to school. There was another boy at school, Jason, who I believed to be a psychopath. He’d stalk me around the hallways, push me into lockers and pull my underwear out from my pants and over my head. Gross! After years of torture, I had grown apathetic about the whole situation, but I still tried to fake an illness whenever possible. It never worked. My mom was a big believer in homeopathic treatment so she would brew some ginger tea, fill me up with vitamin C and send me off to school. There was one teacher, Mr. P, who empathized with my situation and let me stay in his classroom during break time so I could eat and rest in peace. There’s no happy ending to this story, unfortunately. I just had to suffer through Jason’s complete lack of empathy until I graduated.

Whenever I need to remember that path is connected to feelings and disease, I think of the phrase, “Sympathy for psychopaths”. If you have sympathy for psychopaths than you feel bad for people with a disease and you want to help.

Here are 180 words that just entered your passive vocabulary:

Are you still here?

Wow! I’m impressed.

So impressed that I’ll share the video connected to this lesson that you can check out too:

This last one you’re going to love.

Why?

Because you see it almost every day.

vid, visto see

When I was a kid, DVDs weren’t invented yet, so, instead, we watched videos. Nowadays, many parents feel too much television is bad for their kids, but my parents had no idea at the time. They let me watch TV for over five hours a day. Even if we had friends or family visiting the house, I’d stay glued to the television. I loved watching movies about superheroes. I wanted to have the power to fly, shoot fireballs or turn invisible. When I was 15, however, all that changed. My mother read a news article about the dangers of excessive television consumption on children and she revised her opinion. The article advised no more than two hours a day of television. I was furious, but my mother was serious. I improvised. I started staying at a friend’s house after school so we could watch TV together. At the time, I thought my mother had gone crazy, but now, as a parent, I always limit the amount of time my children watch TV. However, my daughter has started to stay at a friend’s house after school.

You did it. 

200 new words. 

Bam! 

What do you think?

Do you think these root words are useful?

Do you know any other roots that you think people should know?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below and download the PDF version of this lesson if you haven’t already so you can study these roots at home.

Stay hungry.

-Josh

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Vocabulary Ninja Word Parts List

Turn lonely words into word families. This is a list of 219 of the most important and common word parts. Only available at Vocabulary Ninja.

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