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Using Structural Analysis to Determine the Meaning of Words

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Instructor: Kara Wilson

Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Discover the importance of using structural analysis to understand unfamiliar words. In this lesson, we'll discuss how to divide unknown words into known pieces to comprehend their overall meanings.

Understanding Structural Analysis

Unfamiliar words are a lot like puzzles. When we come across a word we don't know or understand, it helps if we can look at it like it's a puzzle that can be broken apart into puzzle pieces. Structural analysis is dividing words into parts to discover what an unknown word means. Word parts contribute to the overall meaning of a word. Many words in the English language are composed of a root, a prefix, and/or a suffix.

A root word is a word that does not have a prefix or a suffix and is the base or core that can't be reduced into a smaller word form. A prefix is a letter or group of letters that is placed at the beginning of a word to change its meaning. For example, let's say you have the root word agree. Then, you add the prefix 'dis' (which means not or opposite of) to the word agree. That gives you the word disagree, which means to not agree.

A suffix is a letter or group of letters that come at the end of a word and change its meaning. Suffixes can indicate how a word is being used grammatically and what tense is being used. For instance, the word close becomes closed when you add the suffix 'd' to show that the action already took place and is over. The verb manage can change to a noun by adding the suffix 'ment' (which means a product or resulting state) to form the word 'management.' Although both prefixes and suffixes change the meaning of the word, the key to not getting the two confused is to remember that 'pre' means before and 'suf' means after.

The Importance of Structural Analysis

Studying roots, prefixes, and suffixes helps students:

  • Learn to break apart unfamiliar words in order to understand their overall meanings
  • Understand how prefixes and suffixes can change a word's meaning and how much of our language is constructed
  • Increase vocabulary and reading comprehension

Just by learning a few prefixes, roots, and suffixes, a world of new words linked to that one word part is introduced to that student. Take the prefix 'dis,' which means not, apart, or away. It's linked to a variety of words like disconnect, disappear, and dishonest.

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