Seven Important Latin Roots

These seven Latin roots are the origins of a large number of English words. Most of their derivatives below are very common in academic writing. (Many of these words are also on study lists for the TOEFL and other tests.) 

Studying these words will also help you understand how prefixes and suffixes change the meaning and use of words. Word-building skills like these should make it easier to guess the meaning of other words you read. 

Take a quick look at these lists. If you think you know them, try the matching practice at the bottom first, then study any that you aren't sure about.

Some of the words -- most from ducere, in fact-- are not easy to guess from their roots. These words are so useful I included them anyway on the page (not in the practice)-- with explanations.

Words for roots for coming and going (from the roots cedere and venire); words like concede and convene.
Words for roots for coming and going (from the roots cedere and venire); words like concede and convene.

                      How to Use This Page 

The headings give each Latin verb in italic type and its English meaning. Beneath each root there are some English words derived from it, with their parts of speech and meanings. After these is a short list of similar words with related meanings. Beneath the lists is a matching game using some of the easier forms to guess from each root.

If you are looking for a larger list of Latin roots of common English words, see 50 Word Roots from Latin. Studying both pages (especially along with some of the other root and practice pages listed at the bottom of this page) can really increase your English vocabulary.

Why the Different Word Forms?

The forms of some of the English words are quite different from their Latin roots. (We get both success and succeed from cedere, deduct and deduce from ducere, etc.) This is partly because some Latin forms (especially the nouns or past participles) are very different from the verb infinitives.

For example, the past participle of vertere is versus, and we get English words from both forms. Other differences are due to changes over time from Latin to French and then into English.

The definitions here give only the most common meaning(s) of each word in simple language—tied to the root meaning of the Latin roots when possible. For more accurate definitions and other meanings, check a good dictionary. (Abbreviations for parts of speech: v.= verb, n.= noun, adj.= adjective, adv.= adverb, prep.= preposition.)

Cedere- to Go, Depart, or Yield

  • access, n.- ability to reach or use something (from ad + cedere)
  • concede, v.- to yield to (go along with) an opponent’s argument, at least in part
  • excessive, adj.- too much (going beyond what's wanted)
  • precede, v.- to go before or in front of
  • procedure, n.- the steps to follow in a complicated process
  • recession, n.- a diminishing, especially a weakening economy, though not as weak as a depression
  • succeed, v.- to achieve a goal
  • successive, adj.- events following each other
  • unprecedented, adj.- a first: without a precedent

Also important (from the above): accessibility, concession, exceed, exceedingly, excess, inaccessible, precedent, procedural, proceed, process, procession, recede, recessive, success, successful, succession.

Ducere-- to Lead

Definitions of deductive and inductive reasoning with silhouette of Sherlock Holmes following footprints.
Definitions of deductive and inductive reasoning with silhouette of Sherlock Holmes following footprints.
  • conduct, v.- to guide, or n.- behavior (the way one leads his life)
  • conductivity, n.- the ability to carry electric current (or heat or sound)
  • deduce, v.- to reason logically (draw conclusions from general principles about what to expect in specific cases)
  • deduct, v.- to take away from a sum of money (for example, to deduct childcare expenses from taxes due)
  • deduction, n. (from either deduce or deduct)
  • induce, v.- to cause or lead someone to act
  • introduce, v.- to present a person (or a new idea) to someone
  • produce, v.- to make something (lead it into existence), or n.- fresh vegetables and fruits for sale
  • product, n.- something that is produced
  • reduce, v.- to decrease (lower the amount)
  • reproduce, v.- to copy, or produce more (for example, of the same species)

Also: conductor, deductible, induction, production, productive, reduction, reproducible, reproduction, reproductive.

Quaerere- to seek (look for): 

  • acquisitive, adj.- wanting a lot of money or things
  • inquest, n.- an investigation into the cause of a death
  • inquire, v.- to ask about, look into
  • prerequisite, n.- a requirement that must be met before something can happen (You must meet all the prerequisites before you can take certain classes. For example, passing Algebra 2 might be a prerequisite for taking a calculus course.)
  • quest, n.- a search for something important
  • request, v.- to ask someone for something
  • requirement, n.- something that must be done
  • requisition, n.- an order for something needed

Also acquire, acquisition, inquire, inquiry, inquisition, question, require.

Tenere- to hold

  • abstain, v.- to hold oneself back from something
  • contain, v.- to hold something within.
  • content or contented, adj.- happy (desires that are limited or contained.)
  • detain, v.- to hold someone back or to prevent them from leaving
  • maintain, v. (from manus—hand + tenere)- to keep something usable or hold it in a good condition.
  • obtainable, adj..- able to get something.
  • pertain (to), v.-to belong or relate to
  • pertinent, adj.- related
  • retention, n.- keeping something
  • sustain, v. (from L. sub-- up from below + tenere)- to hold up or support (for a long time.)
  • sustenance, n. (Now used for food, since it sustains life.)
  • tenable, adj.- able to be held, reasonable (usually used for ideas.)
  • tenet, n.- a belief held to be true

Also: abstinence, container, containment, contentment, contents, detainee, detention, discontented, maintenance, obtain, retain, retainer, sustainability, tenacious, unsustainable, untenable

Venire- to come

  • convention, n.- a large gathering
  • event, n.- a planned happening
  • eventually, adv.- sooner or later
  • intervene, v.- to come between people, try to stop a dispute  
  • invent, v.- to create a new product or machine
  • prevent, v.- to stop from happening

Also: convene, eventual, intervention, invention, preventable, prevention.

Vertere- to turn

  • adversary- opponent
  • adverse, adj.- contrary or opposing;
  • convert, v.- to change something into something else (often to cause someone to change their beliefs), or n.- a person who has changed religions
  • diversion, n.- a break from the usual routine; entertainment
  • invert, v.- to turn something upside down or inside out
  • perverse, adj.- turned away from what is right
  • reverse, v.- to turn something around so it will go in the opposite direction, or adj.- the back of something, or backwards
  • revert, v.- to return to a previous condition or form.
  • subvert, v.- to work secretly to undermine or overthrow the government
  • transverse, adj.- lying across, sideways

Also: adversity, conversely, conversion, convertible, diverse, diversify, diversity, inverse, inversely, inversion, irreversible, perversely, perversion, pervert, reversible, reversion, subversion, subversive, version, versus.

Vocare- to call 
(+ vox- voice, & vocabulum- a word)

  • advocate, v.- to argue or plead for someone, or n.- one who pleads someone’s case [matching: to  speak in favor of someone]
  • avocation, n.- a strong interest or pursuit, like a non-paying job
  • convocation, n.- a group called together              
  • evoke, v.- to call up a memory, feeling, or response
  • invoke- to call on (or refer to in order to prove a point) 
  • invocation, n.- a formal prayer (usually calling on God to bless a gathering) 
  • irrevocable, adj.- cannot be undone (called back)
  • provoke, v.- to speak or act in a way that calls up  a negative reaction 
  • revoke,  v.- to call back or retract (a law or privilege)
  • vocal- relating to the voice (or with a loud voice: “a vocal protest.”)
  • vocational, adj.- relating to jobs

Also: convoke, evocative, provocative, provocation, revocable, revocation, vocabulary, vocally, vocation.

Matching Practice 

Instructions: Match the items on the right to the items on the left. The first one (contents) has been done as an example.

what is held inside somethingcontents
necessary before something else can be done
the possibility of making more (copies) of something
cannot be called back or undone
able to make (or do) a lot
to go over or beyond what’s expected
holding on to one’s plans or beliefs in spite of difficulties
the presence of many different types of people, species, etc.
a calling (occupation a person feels called to)
within reach, easy to get
difficult, opposing circumstances
a first event used as an example for what follows
getting involved in someone else’s problem or conflict
to speak in favor of someone
a search for information
to hold onto (keep) something
to come together

You can do a different kind of matching game (with almost all different words) at Roots Memory Game 1 (Quaerere), Memory Game 2 (Cedere) and Memory Game 3 (Vertere.) These "Memory" (or "Concentration") games require players to turn over two cards of twelve (or sometimes more) at a time, looking for matches. When the cards don't match, they flip back over. The players who remember matching card locations then can use their turns to choose (and win) those pairs.

It's a lot of fun, and a good mental exercise! It's also a great way to deepen the connections in your mind between words and their meanings.

To review the prefixes that can combine with Latin roots and help you understand the meanings of these words, go to List of PrefixesSee Word Families and List of Suffixes for the ways English words can change from verbs to nouns or adjectives, etc. (word derivations.)

For other Latin roots, see 50 Word Roots from Latin, Vocabulary from Classical Roots, and The Latin Root Ponere.

HomeRoots, Prefixes and Suffixes> 7 Important Latin Roots.

To review the prefixes that can combine with Latin roots and help you understand the meanings of these words, go to List of Prefixes.

See Word Families and List of Suffixes for the ways English words can change from verbs to nouns or adjectives, etc. (word derivations.)

For other Latin roots, see 

If you're interested in teaching roots, check out the inexpensive lessons and practice activities on Root, Prefix, and Suffix Worksheets.

HomeRoots, Prefixes and Suffixes> 7 Important Latin Roots.

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