Terms and Language Origins Help
There are three ways we learn vocabulary:
- From the sound of words
- From the structure of words
- From the context of words—how words are used in communication
Therefore, when you encounter unfamiliar words, you should ask yourself:
- Does this word sound like anything I've ever heard?
- Does any part of this word look familiar?
- How is this word used in the sentence I just read or heard?
Word Parts—Prefixes, Suffixes, and Roots
You use prefixes, suffixes, and word roots every day, whether you realize it or not. These parts of words make up almost all of the words we use in the English language, and you will find that the meanings of many unfamiliar words become much more clear when you understand the meanings of the most common of these word parts.
A prefix is the word part placed at the beginning of a word. It is usually only one syllable, but sometimes it is more. Its job is to change or add to the meaning of a word. For example, you probably use the word review on a regular basis. What does it mean? Let's break it down. First, we can break it down into syllables: review. View means to look at, and the prefix re- adds to the meaning of the word. Re- means back or again, so by putting together what you already know, you can figure out that the word review means to look back at, or to look at again. Other common prefixes include in-, anti-, pre-, post-, un-, non-, con-, and dis-.
A suffix is a word part placed at the end of a word that signals how a word is being used in a sentence and identifies its part of speech. When you attach different suffixes onto the base of a word, they change the word's part of speech. For example, the word sterilize is a verb meaning to sanitize. As an adjective, it takes the suffix -ile and becomes sterile. As a noun, it takes the suffix -tion and becomes sterilization. The suffix changes the word's job in a sentence, and it also helps give you a clue as to the meaning of an unfamiliar word. You will learn more about suffixes and their meanings and jobs in Chapter 5.
The pieces of words that carry direct meaning are called roots. Many English words stem from ancient Greek and Latin words, and because so many English words have their source in certain recurring root words, knowing some of the most commonly used roots gives you access to many words at once. Thus, when you combine your knowledge of prefixes and suffixes with your knowledge of roots, you can figure out the meaning of many unfamiliar words. For example, the word root cogn- means to know. Words that include this root are recognize, meaning to identify as known, incognito, meaning unknown, and cognition, meaning knowledge. You can see how knowing the base of these three words, in addition to having knowledge of prefixes and suffixes, can really help you work out the meanings of unfamiliar words. You'll learn more about roots in Chapters 6 and 7.
As you are introduced to words throughout this book, take the time to break them down into prefixes, suffixes, and roots. It will help you remember them.
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