What Is a Root Word? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 Words
  • 0:46 Word Parts
  • 3:11 Word Roots
  • 3:12 Use of Word Roots
  • 3:52 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.

Words are arguably the basis of our entire language. However, understanding all the parts of words can be difficult. View this lesson to discover how we use root words.


Have you ever wanted to express an idea, but there was no real word for it? Did you make up your own word? Consider this phrase:

  • I'm happy since she's my best friend, but I'm jealous-ish that she won a new iPhone.

Of course jealous-ish is not a real word. However, in this case the person was not completely jealous, so she wanted to convey the idea of being partially jealous of her friend. Thus, she created her own word using a different word part.

This kind of off-the-cuff word creation happens all the time. In fact, it's been said that Shakespeare invented over 2,000 words in his various written works, many of which we still use today. The English language is very much alive and can adapt through the use of word parts.

Word Parts

So, what does all this have to do with root words? Well, roots are a type of word part. However, before we get into all that, we first need to review the other word parts.

The three types of word parts are affixes, roots and bases. An affix is a word part that is attached to a root or base. There are two types of affixes: prefix and suffix. A prefix is attached to the front of a word. Examples include pre-, re-, and un-.

A suffix is attached to the end of a root or base. Examples include -ion, -or, and -ing. The importance of affixes is that each one brings a specific meaning to the word as a whole. For instance, the prefix pre- means before. Thus, the word preheat means to heat beforehand. Keep the idea of affixes in mind as we delve further into root words.

Word Roots

Now that we have reviewed affixes, we can finally get into roots. A root is a word part that provides the basic meaning of a word. Roots and bases have this same function. However, there is one important difference: a base holds the basic meaning of the word, but can stand alone. Basically, a base could have affixes attached to it, but it does not have to. However, a root must have an affix, or another root, attached to it in order to make it a whole word. Here are some examples of bases and words using those bases.

  • port (portable/report)
  • use (reuse/usable)
  • turn (turntable, return)
  • view (reviewing, preview)

You can see that each of those examples can stand alone, but can also take on an affix. Now let's move onto to roots and use the word disruptive as an example to show how they work. The prefix for this word is dis-, and the suffix is -ive. The root then lies in the middle of the word, which is -rupt-. Can -rupt- stand alone as its own word? No, it cannot, so this is a root and not a base.

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