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Common Greek and Latin Roots in English

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0
Latin roots
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

English is known to be a borrowing language, both from Germanic languages through northeastern invasions and from Latin languages through southern invasions. Romans (43 AD) and Christians (in the 600s AD), and then Normans (1066 AD), left an important footprint in the English language, bringing their original Latin and Norman French respectively.

The first wave of Latin influence began when the Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD and for nearly 400 years. They brought a rich language and civilization (roads, sewage and water supply), which are still preserved today in the form of city names (London, from Londinium, Manchester, from Mamucium) but also in the road network that connects Dover (Dubris) to London or London to Gloucester (Glevum). The Normans that settled in the early 1000s AD spoke a dialect of French, in particular the members of the nobility (kings and other high-society members). This went on until the late 15th century, although as early as in the 14th century most of the population had switched to English (even the noble circles). English became pretty much the language we know today by the end of the 15th century, pushed by a strong will to standardize it based on the London dialect of the time (the words “dialect” and “accent” were introduced at that time).

However, most of the Greek and Latin roots in English were introduced during and after the Renaissance, when travel and contact with other countries where the movement was flourishing was more intense. It also became necessary to introduce new words, and this is where Greek and Latin became very useful: they provided “bits” of words that could be mixed together to form words with a new meaning, such as “microscope” (derived from Greek roots “Micro-“: small, and “-skopein”: look, see). English is rich in this type of neologisms, especially since the Scientific Revolution.

We should always remember however, that Greek came before Latin, and that from 272 BC Romans started borrowing in Latin several Greek words (sumbolum for symbol or balineum for bath). Therefore, several of the Latin roots can also be found in Greek (especially for elements of art, culture and medicine that were not known or had no specific name in Latin at the time).

Here is a list of roots that will help understand where it all came from.

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Latin

  • Act: to act, do something, as in proactive, transaction or reaction
  • Ambi: both, as in ambivalent
  • Aqua: water, as in aquarium or aquaculture
  • Aud: to hear, as in audio or audition
  • Bene: good, as in benefactor
  • Cent: a hundred, as in percent
  • Contra/counter: opposite, as in counterpart
  • Dict: to say, as in dictation or dictionary
  • Duct: to lead or carry, as in induction
  • Fac: to do, as in factor
  • Flect, flex: to bend, as in reflect or flexible
  • Form: shape, as in reform or inform
  • Fort: strong or strength, as in fort or fortify
  • Fract: to break, as in fraction or refract
  • Ject: to throw, as in inject or reject
  • Jud: to judge, as in judicial
  • Mal: bad, as in malign
  • Mater: mother, as in materialism or maternal
  • Mit: to send, as in submit
  • Mort: death, mortal, inmortality
  • Multi: several or various, as in muliparametric or multivitamin
  • Pater: father, as in paternal or expatriate
  • Port: to carry, as in report or support
  • Rect: straighten, as in direct or correct
  • Rupt: to break, as in disrupt or corrupt
  • Scrib: to write, as in subscribe or scribe
  • Sect: to cut, as in intersect or sector
  • Sent: to feel, as in sensitive
  • Spect: to watch or see, as in inspection or spectrometry
  • Struct: to build, as in construction or structure
  • Tard: to be slow, as in retardant or tardy
  • Vid: to see, as in video
  • voc: to speak, as in vocalize or invoke

Greek

  • anthropo: related to man, as in anthropologist or anthopophagy
  • auto: self, as in automatic or automobile
  • bio: life, as in biomass, symbiosis or biography
  • chondria: small, granule, cartilage, as in mitochondria or hypochondria
  • chron: time, as in asynchronous or chronometer
  • cryo: cold, as in cryopreservation or cryostat
  • dyna: power, as in dynamo or dynamics
  • dys: bad, as in dysfunctional
  • glyph: to carve, as in hieroglyph
  • gon: angle, as in pentagon or goniometer
  • gram: written, as in grammar or parallelogram
  • graph: to write, as in photograph or graphic
  • gyne: woman, as in misogyny or gynecologist
  • hetero: different, as in heterogeneous
  • homo: same, as in homosexual or homonym
  • hydr: related to water,  as in rehydration or hydrophobic
  • hypo: below, as in hypoglycemia or hypochondriac
  • logy: science, study of, as in biology or philology
  • meter: measure, as in photometer or metronome
  • micro: small,  as in microscope
  • mis: hate, as in misogyny
  • mono: single, unique, one, as in monogamy or monomer
  • morph: shape, as in amorphous or morphology
  • myco, myceto: mushroom, as in saccharomyces cerevisiae (the yeast that produces beer) or mycology
  • nym: name, as in synonym or homonym
  • pharma: medicine, as in pharmacy or pharmacology
  • phil: love, as in philosophy or Philadelphia
  • phobia: fear, as in arachnophobia or agoraphobia
  • phon: sound, as in phonetics or telephone
  • photo: light, as in photolysis or photography
  • pseudo: false, as in pseudonym
  • psycho: spirit, as in psychology or psychopath
  • scope: see, as in microscope or scope
  • stat: to stand still, to be constant, as in stationary or thermostat
  • techno: science, skill, as in technology or technocrat
  • tele: from a distance, as in telephone or telepathy
  • therm: heat, as in isotherm or thermostat
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