Using Affixes and Roots to Find the Meaning of Words

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  • 0:03 Latin & Greek Roots & Affixes
  • 0:25 Roots
  • 2:44 Affixes
  • 5:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Pablo Serna

Pablo has taught college Spanish at the University of Missouri and Central Methodist University, and has a master's degree in Spanish literature.

In this lesson, we will learn how to understand the meaning of words by breaking them down into the parts that form them. This requires knowledge of the Greek and Latin roots, and affixes, which are parts we add to roots to make new words.

Latin & Greek Roots & Affixes

The United States of America is well known as the 'Land of the Free' and a place where liberties are protected. Now, what is liberty?

To understand the meaning of this word, and a lot more, we can take a look at the parts that form them. In this lesson, we will learn how to increase our vocabulary by understanding the meaning of words through their Latin and/or Greek roots and affixes.


The root of a word is the minimum unit with meaning and cannot be broken down any further. 'Bio' is an example of a root. It has its own meaning, but when we add other parts, it forms more words with the same root, as in 'biology,' 'biography' and 'bionic.'

Here are some common roots you may be familiar with:

root language meaning example
bio Greek life biology
cele Latin honor celebrate
crac Greek govern democracy
dur Latin to hold durable
ethn Greek nation ethnicity
hydr Greek water hydrated
hyper Greek above hypertension
hypo Greek below hypotension
ign Greek fire ignite
leg Latin to choose legislature
liber Latin free liberty
micro Greek small microscope
multi Latin many multiple
neg Latin deny negative
simil Latin likeness similar
therm Greek heat thermometer

Affixes: Prefixes & Suffixes

Affixes are parts of words that can be added to words to change the meaning. Add the affix 'un' to the word 'real' = 'unreal.' Affixes can be added to words or roots. If affixes are added at the beginning, they are called prefixes. If they are added at the end of a word, they are called suffixes.

Look at this example:

Correct: From the Latin correctus, and it means 'free of error.'

What do you think the next one means?

Incorrect: We add the prefix 'in' from Latin that means 'not.' So 'incorrect' means: 'not free from error.'

Let's take a look at the first word we brought up:

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