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Why You Should Learn Roots

Updated on May 19, 2022Grammar

Have you ever noticed how, in the English language, some small words sometimes appear in a lot of bigger words? Take the word “friend,” for example. If you notice someone who is acting friendly toward you, you might want to start a friendship, so you befriend her. You don’t want to be friendless, after all, but you also probably don’t want to befriend unfriendly people, so you save your friendliness for those who really deserve it. Those are six words based on a smaller one, and we call that smaller word a root word.

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How Do Root Words Work?

Let’s take a look at three of the words based on the word “friend”: befriend, friendly, and unfriendliness. The word “befriend” is made by adding “be” to the word “friend.” “Friend” is the root word here because it is the word we use as the base for creating a new word. We create the new word by adding the element “be.” “Be” is used as a prefix, an element added in front of a root word to change or expand its meaning, and sometimes even create a new word of a different class. So, from the noun “friend,” we get a verb, “to befriend,” which means to make someone a friend. We can also add elements to the end of a root word, as we did with “friendly.” The element “ly” changes the word “friend” into an adjective. We call an element we add to the end of a root word a suffix. Prefixes and suffixes are collectively known as affixes, and they can be added simultaneously to a root word, as in “unfriendliness.”

Are Root Words Really That Simple?

Actually, they are not. We used the root word “friend” as an example because it’s an English word that is very easy to understand. However, not all root words are of English origin. In fact, a lot of them come from Latin and Greek, and if you saw them without an affix, you might have a hard time guessing what they mean. Take the Latin root “ject,” for example. We see it in reject, eject, and interject. Those words can mean, respectively, throw away, throw out, and throw in between. We can see that “ject” has something to do with throwing things. In fact, it comes from Latin “jec,” which was a form of the verb “jacere” (to throw). Root words don’t have to be simple or obvious at all, but they are still well worth studying and learning.

Why We Need to Learn Root Words

Root words, especially those from other languages, tell us a lot about how a language evolved, how it is related to other languages, and what major historical influences caused it to change. For people who want to master a new language, learning root words is beneficial in different ways. Root words are sometimes called the primary lexical units. In other words, a root word cannot be further divided, and it is the most meaningful part of other words that it helps form. In the example we used at the beginning of the article, you didn’t have to know the exact meaning of all the words we constructed with the root “friend,” but if you knew the word “friend,” you could have figured out that the related words all have something to do with its meaning. Root words carry most of the meaning, and by learning them, we can better understand the whole language. The group of words created by adding to a root word are called a word family. By knowing a root word, or a base word, as they’re called when speaking in the context of word families, you will have a great base for learning the whole family. If you take some time to learn the most common affixes as well as root words, you’ll enrich your vocabulary more than you can imagine. Yes, from time to time you’ll create a combination that’s not usually used in English, but those small mistakes are well worth making if you think about how many new words you can use by simply knowing root words and affixes.

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