Teaching Greek & Latin Roots to Enhance Vocabulary

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.

Latin and Greek roots run rampant in the English Language. This lesson discusses how to use roots and other word parts to give your students the ability to unlock the meaning of unknown words.

Word Parts

The English language consists of over one million words. Many words have been borrowed from other languages, including Latin and Greek. Teachers cannot possibly teach every word to their students. Instead, you must teach students strategies for defining unfamiliar words.

One such strategy is to use word parts, which are groups of letters with specific meanings. This strategy consists of teaching the meanings of word parts, and then applying those meanings to define unfamiliar words. Word parts consist of roots, which contain the central meaning of a word, and affixes, which are parts attached to roots. The two affixes are prefixes, which are attached to the beginning of the root, and suffixes, which are attached to the end of the root. Your students should also know base words, which are similar to root words besides one key difference. Bases can stand alone, whereas roots need a prefix or suffix in order to make a complete word.

Many of our commonly used words contain roots, prefixes, and suffixes that have come from Latin and Greek. Thus, teaching your students Latin and Greek word parts will help them deduce the meaning of unknown vocabulary.

Common Roots

Let's first look at some common Latin and Greek roots you can teach to your students. Look over the following lists of roots and their meanings.

  • Latin roots/bases = cent (hundred), circ (ring), oper (work), pass (step), port (carry)
  • Greek roots/bases = auto (self), hydr (water), meter/metre (measure), zo (animal)

These are just some of the Latin and Greek roots commonly used in English. To help your students learn these and many others, introduce the idea of word families. Word families are words that share the same base or root. For example, ''circle,'' ''circus,'' and ''circumference'' are all in the same word family as they share the same root, circ.

When teaching roots, a fun activity could be to make a game out of coming up with word families. You can split your class into teams, give each team a root, and see how many words they can think of in that word family. Also, have your students create word maps, which are webs that show how words are connected. Or, for younger grades, have your students create pictures of word trees like they would for a family tree. These word trees can be decorated and posted around the room.

When your students come across new vocabulary, have them create lists of other words in that word family. From this list, they can infer the meaning of new words.


After roots, expose your students to some common prefixes and have them do activities working with their meanings. Here's a list of some common Latin and Greek prefixes and their meanings.

  • Greek prefixes = bio (life), a/an (without), geo (earth), anti/ant (opposite), mono (one)
  • Latin prefixes = co (together), de (remove), pre (before), re (again), sub (under)

One activity you can do is to reuse lists of word families and challenge your students to explain how the prefixes change the meaning of each word in the family.


Also, teach your students common suffixes. Be sure to explain that suffixes change the part of speech of words, as this can help with defining new vocabulary. Here's a list of Latin and Greek suffixes, their meanings, and the part of speech they create:

  • Latin suffixes = able/ible (capable, adjective), ation (the process of, noun), fy/ify (to make, verb), ment (product of, noun)
  • Greek suffixes = ism (state of, noun), ize (to make, verb), ist (a person who engages in the act of, noun), logy (study of, noun)

Again, this is just a short list of the many common suffixes we use every day. When you teach suffixes, combine the lesson with a review on parts of speech and have students identify the part of speech of unfamiliar vocabulary.

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