Knowing a few Latin word roots can really boost your English vocabulary. In 50 Word Roots from Latin, you can see a demonstration of how prefixes greatly increase the number of words that come from one basic root (using mittere as an example). Then there’s a list of 50 Latin word roots that contribute hundreds of words to English, along with a few examples from each root.
Now you can practice with some of those words, especially those most important for academic use-- words from the Academic Word List.
First, here are a few words that require extra explanation (or click here if you would prefer to practice first):
‘Precise’ is from caedere- to cut or kill (with forms -cise & -cide, as in suicide- literally to kill oneself). Precise originally meant ‘to cut short.’ (The related word ‘concise’ has kept that meaning: expressing thoughts briefly.) Over time the meaning of precise changed to ‘exact.’ So precision instruments are the tools needed for delicate or fine work: for cutting diamonds or surgery. To practice another form of precise, see the first practice paragraph.
Clinare means to lean. To incline is to lean toward someone or something (often to have an inclination in favor of a certain idea); to decline often means to ‘go downhill’ (get worse), but it can also mean to turn down or refuse an invitation. (He declined to get involved in school sports.)
Ferre is to carry or bring. Conference is to bring people together; differentiation is showing how things are different (carrying them apart in thought.) To infer is to figure something out from limited evidence. It is related to-- but not the same as-- imply below: one person implies a situation without stating it clearly; the other person draws a conclusion from what is said and makes an inference about it.
Jactare is to throw. An objective is a goal to work towards. As an adjective, objective means something that looks the same to everyone, as compared to subjective-- a person’s opinion or way of looking at things that may be quite different from someone else’s opinion.
To project can be to throw an image forward, as a movie projector throws a picture onto a screen or an actor projects his voice into the audience. However, most commonly a project is something a person or group plans to work on (throws an idea of doing something into the future.) To reject someone or something is to refuse to use or relate to them-- actually or more often metaphorically ‘throwing them away.’
A few words from plicare- (to fold) are very useful for discussing which information someone has clearly-- ‘explicitly’-- stated and what has only been implied. (To imply is to suggest an idea is true without using words that say it clearly. The adjective is ‘implicit.’) Implications of an idea or situation are things that someone can guess are true from what they have been told, even though the details have not all been expressed (“spelled out.”)
Statuere means to put or set. A constitution is the document that sets or determines the basic laws and structure of a nation or group. (A law that is not in agreement with it is unconstitutional.) To institute is to establish or start an organization. (If it’s an official one, it’s an institution, like a school or hospital or government agency.) To substitute is to replace one thing with something else that’s similar.
Tribuere is to pay or divide among: attributed- to give credit to someone, contribution-- what someone gives or adds to the group effort (money or time or ideas), distribution- to give out and divide money or goods between people
Volvere means to roll or turn around. To involve someone is to bring him or her into a group-- to make a connection. Evolution is gradual change over time; revolution is rapid, often violent change.
The remaining words to practice should be fairly obvious when you think of the meanings of their roots and the prefixes and suffixes added to them. (See List of Prefixes if you need help with them.) They come from these roots:
actum- an act
claudere- to close
finis- limit or end
legis, lex- law
mittere- to send
torquere- to twist
Use the words below to fill in blanks in the conversation. (I’ve used some words from other root pages as well, but words for the blanks are all from the roots given on this page.)
allocate, commitment, conference, constitutional, contribution, decline, definite, distort, evolving, explicitly, implying, inclination, include, institution, involved, legislation, objective, precisely, reaction.