Spelling & Word Patterns: Prefixes, Suffixes & Root Words

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  • 0:02 Word Parts
  • 0:36 Root Words
  • 2:16 Prefixes
  • 3:22 Suffixes
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

How do we form words in our language? What gives them definitions? Watch this video lesson to discover how word parts like prefixes, suffixes and root words make up words and affect their meanings.

Word Parts

Words are at the center of our language. They come together to create meaningful sentences to allow for communication. Word parts are units of letters with a specific meaning that combine to form words. Word parts can be a single letter or several letters grouped together.

Different word parts represent different ideas. How those parts are combined determines the definition of the whole word. In this way, using the same word part in different words can show common definitions. This lesson will discuss the three types of word parts and how each affects or changes meaning in words.

Root Words

The first type of word part is a root. Roots are defined as word parts that have no prefix or suffix. Without having learned those terms, this definition does not help us yet. For now, think of a root word as the base of a word that contains the central meaning. Prefixes and suffixes will be attached to the root in order to change the meaning. We'll get to that in the next sections.

It's important to know that some roots cannot stand-alone. This means those roots are not a word by themselves; they must have some other word part, either a prefix or suffix, attached to it to be a real word. For example, 'phon' is a root that cannot stand alone. The meaning of this root is 'sound.' An example of this root in use in a whole word is 'telephone.' A telephone transports sound to faraway places. The root 'phone' indicates the definition of the word will relate to sound. In reading that again, the root 'phon' indicates the definition of the word will relate to sound. Any other words with the root of 'phon' will also have definitions relating to sound.

An example of a root that can stand by itself is 'morph.' Alone, 'morph' means to 'change shape.' However, just because it can stand-alone does not mean it will never have other word parts attached to it. For example, 'amorphous,' which means 'having no shape,' uses the root 'morph'. Other examples of roots include 'corp,' 'graph,' and 'auto.'


The second type of word part is a prefix. A prefix is a word part that comes before a root. Prefixes are attached to the beginning of a root in order to change the meaning. In the example above, 'amorphous' used the prefix 'a,' which means 'not' to change the meaning of the root. 'Amorphous' changes the root 'morph' to make the new word have the definition of 'having no shape.'

Our language is full of prefixes that change the definition of words. A very common one is the prefix 're.' Add this to a root to mean 'do again.' Like 'restart' means to 'start again.' The same with 'rerun,' 'respond,' and 'restate.' Another example is the prefix 'in,' which also means 'not,' such as 'inconsistent,' 'incompetent,' and 'inconceivable.' Each of these examples changes the meaning of the word roots.

Some other prefixes include 'bi,' 'pre,' 'tri,' and 'im.' Think of words that use these prefixes to try to figure out the meaning of each prefix.

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