Roots and English Words

A root is the very simplest form of a word without any affix‏‎es or changes. It cannot be made any smaller and is sometimes known as the base word.

For example, take the word important. This consists of 3 parts:

im (a prefix) + port (the root) + ant (a suffix])

So the root of the word is simply: port.

Often you will find that the roots of many English words are Latin or Greek‏‎.

Roots in TEFL

In TEFL‏‎, you can talk about the simplest form of the word as being the root. If you come across a new word with your class it’s often helpful to ask the students to identify the root of the word to help work out what the word means.

Suppose, for example, the class comes across the word converse in a text and they do not know what it means. You can guide them to working out the root which, in this case, is verse.

Now, work with the class in finding other words featuring this root:

reverse, adverse, verse, diverse, conversation

and so on. Explain that the root, verse comes from Latin and means to turn. From this the meaning of the different words becomes apparent:

reverse – turn back

adverse – turn against

diverse – different (moving in different directions)

conversation – talking (one person speaks, then the conversation turns and another speaks)

and so on. You can work with the class explaining the affix con with examples (usually meaning against) and come up with a good guess as to the meaning of converse:

turning against

Getting your class used to working out the root of new words helps them understand more easily new vocabulary and helps learning.

Grammatical Roots

As well as roots providing the building blocks for vocabulary, word roots can also be used to build different grammatical constructions. For example, if you add -ed to a word root this usually makes the past form of the verb.

walk > walked

work > worked

and so on. Other changes to the root help form other grammatical forms of the word.

Again, helping your class identify the root of the word can help them understand what grammatical function the word plays.

Useful Links
Lemma‏‎ – this is the headword you will find in a dictionary; a lemma is derived from a root

Affix‏‎es – along with roots, the building blocks of words

The Etymology‏‎ of English – where words come from

Posted in Parts of Speech, Vocabulary & Spelling.

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