Using Word Roots for Spelling Help Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011


A key to better spelling is to understand the meaning of words. A key to understanding the meaning of words is to understand the meanings of their parts. In this lesson, we'll explain the most basic part of words, the root.

A ROOT WORD is the most basic form of a word. It is the base from which another word is made and it is the part of a word that holds the most meaning. Every word either is a root or has a root. Roots combine with prefixes and suffixes (which are covered in Lessons 6 and 7) to make words.

Most roots come from ancient Greek and Latin words (such as dem, meaning people, for example), and many have become quite common in the English language. Let's look at an example. The root cycl, which means circle or wheel is used to form the words bicycle, motorcycle, and tricycle by adding the prefixes bi (two), motor (motor), and tri (three). Knowing what the root means will enable you to understand the meaning of a word and spell it more accurately and confidently. In the case of our examples, by looking at the root and the prefixes, you can see that bicycle can be broken down into its parts to mean two wheels. Similarly, tricycle means three wheels and motorcycle means motorized wheels.

It is important to understand roots and become familiar with them in order to fully understand how to spell well. Learning some of the most common roots will provide you with a foundation on which to build that knowledge.

TIP: Although some roots are words unto themselves—for example, finite and vast are both words and roots—most roots cannot stand on their own as words. Let's look, for example, at the root cred, which means believe. You wouldn't say that you cred in ghosts, even if you do, because cred doesn't stand on its own. When you add a prefix or suffix, such as in- and -ible to make incredible, then you have words. Now you can take the root, cred, and use it in your speech. "Seeing that ghost was incredible!"

Common Word Roots 

The following table lists many of the most common word roots, along with their meanings and examples of words with those roots. This list is provided to help you become familiar with the common roots. Don't be intimidated by the list! Yes, it is a long list. But you don't need to learn every root listed here. You simply need to start to recognize the most common roots and then you can begin to build upon that knowledge.

One way to tackle word roots is to pick 10 to 20 roots to review each week. Create flash cards based on the roots you've chosen and test yourself throughout the week, whenever you have free time. You'll be amazed at how quickly word roots start to make sense and become familiar to you.


Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Using Word Roots for Spelling Help Practice Exercises

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