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Getting to the Root of It: 5 Quick Steps to Learn a Little Latin and Greek

A few posts back, we talked about the benefits of Latin and Greek and how learning a little of either language can boost vocabulary scores and build a great base for pre-law or pre-med students. Every major standardized test you encounter will assess your vocabulary repertoire and comprehension in some way.

But few schools actually offer these languages, especially in high school. What can you do on your own to boost your vocabulary with Latin and Greek?

Here are five steps to get a grasp on ancient word roots. You can do this on your own or with a tutor.

1. Choose a vocabulary word to start with in English.

Let’s use the word “affirmation” from Top Test Prep’s 365 Most Frequently Tested Vocabulary Words.

2. Use an online dictionary to find the Latin or Greek word root.

A great dictionary for Latin and Greek derivatives is http://wordinfo.info/ — just go to the site, type in your word, and search.

The Latin root given is “firm.” The suffix, “ation” is listed as its own entry.

Open “firm” in a new tab. (Later, check out “ation.”)

3. Find the original meaning of the word root.

The original Latin meaning of “firm” is: “strong, firm; steadfast or unwavering in purpose, loyalty, or resolve.”

That makes sense, right? It might bring phrases to mind like, “A firm hand, firm resolve.” It might also make you think of “affirm, confirm” — which is exactly what this exercise hopes to do.

4. Make a list of the derivatives.

Based on word root “firm,” we see many derivatives: affirm, affirmable, affirmation, confirm, disaffirm, firm, firmament, infirm, infirmary, reaffirm, etc.

If you are a visual person or learn kinetically by writing things down, you might make a map or list of the derivatives.

Memorizing lists of words can help on tests. But your brain will grasp and retain more words if they are hooked into a web of connections rather than as lone marks on a list.

5. Check any of the derivatives if you are unsure of the meaning.

For example, why is “infirm” a derivative of a word that means strong and steadfast? Looking up the prefix, “in,” we learn that “in” means “not.”

In + firm = infirm

Not + strong = not strong


Practice a few on your own – soon the prefixes and suffixes will be natural knowledge to you. You’ll know “anti” and “ante,” “tude” and “oid.” The process of this exercise is important: English word >> root meaning >> derivatives. Simply memorizing word roots will not connect them to your vocabulary. Hopefully doing a few of these exercises – especially with the harder vocabulary words you come across – will help not only with remembering the meaning of specific words, but with general vocabulary expansion.  Happy deriving!

Top Test Prep is a leader in the standardized test and college admissions industries. For more information on how you can improve your exam scores and gain entry to the school of your dreams, contact Top Test Prep today by calling (800) 501-7737 or clicking here.

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