English Words from 6 Latin Verbs of Motion

Learn these 6 Latin verbs of motion to help you recognize over 100 useful English words. Think

English Words from Latin Verbs of Motion: photo of straight & bent sunflower heads with examples of words from the Latin verbs for bending & stretching.

·         flect or flex= bend:  flexible, reflection (bending light back),

·         tend= stretch: extend and extensive, intense, tension, tendency

·         mov, mob, or mot= move: motion, mobile or immobilize, motivate, emotion, demote, promote, remote, removed

·         pel or pulse= drive/driven: compelling or compulsive, impel or impulsive, expel, propel, repel

·         press= push: express, expression, & expressive, repress, impress, depress, pressure

·         tract= pull: attraction, extract, retract, traction, tractor

See each word below for more examples and explanations. Then try the matching exercise to see how many words you can recognize and match to their meanings.

Flectere (-flect/flex)-- to bend:

  • Bending our arms or legs causes us to flex our muscles.
  • Lots of movement and exercise helps keep us flexible—able to move freely.
  • Soldiers in the Greek and Roman armies used shields to deflect arrows or other weapons—to bend their course away from the body.
  • Inflection means a change in tone when speaking, or (as a grammatical term) a change in the form or meaning of a word as affixes are added: deflect, flexible, and reflex (as well as the other words below) are all inflections of ‘flex.'
  • Reflections are caused by light being deflected or bent back from a very smooth surface like calm water or a mirror. To reflect is to reproduce that image, or to quietly think over what has happened. (“As he reflected on the events of the last year, he realized his attitudes had changed completely.”)
  • reflex is an automatic muscle response like jerking our hand away from a hot stove before we even feel the pain. A doctor tests reflexes by hitting a point just above the knee. If the lower leg jerks up, your reflexes are good.

Other inflections of flectere: flexibility, flexion, inflect, inflected, inflexible, inflexibility, reflect, reflective.

Movere- to move; (past participle: motivus), mobilis- moveable:

Motion words (from the root movere)-- including demote, emotion, immobility, locamotive, mobilize, motivate, move, promotion, and remote
  • Motion is movement.
  • We often say something ‘moves’ us when it touches our heart (affects our emotions.)
  • Something that ‘motivates’ us makes us want to do something-- moves us to action.
  • Commotion is a lot of movement with noise and confusion.
  • To demote someone is to move him down in rank; the opposite of ‘promote.’
  • To mobilize an army is to prepare it to move.
  • When someone breaks a leg, the doctors immobilize it to help it heal.
  • A remote location is far removed from city life and business.

 (Other inflections of movere: demobilize, demotion, emotional, immobile, immobility, mobility, mobilize, motive, moving, promotion, and remove.)

Pellere- to drive; pulsum- driven:  

  • To compel someone is to drive (force) him or her to take action.
  • To dispel is to drive away or eliminate clouds, darkness, or negative feelings: "The good news dispelled their anxiety."
  • To expel is to drive out. For example, in the U.S. a student who brings a gun to school will probably be expelled from the school (cannot attend classes there ever again.)
  • An impulse is an urge (within one’s own mind) to do something. Compulsion is similar, but stronger-- a feeling of being driven to do something. An impulsive person is inclined to act on impulses rather than thinking things through.
  • Propellers are the turning blades that move a boat or airplane forward.
  • Your pulse is the throbbing rhythm you can feel by pressing a spot over an artery (for example, just below your wrist.) A doctor or nurse will “take your pulse” to learn your pulse rate—the number of heart beats per minute. (Each beat causes the pressure increase you feel in your wrist.)
  • To repel is to drive something away. Insect repellant is repulsive to insects like mosquitoes—they don’t want to be around it, so you won’t get bitten (as much!)

More words from pellere: compelling, compulsive, compulsively, expulsion, impel, impulsively, propel, jet propulsion, pulsation.

Pressare- to Push Against or Press

  • To compress is to press tightly together. Compression bandages press tightly against a wound.
  • A depression can be a severe economic downturn OR feeling low (sometimes to the point of emotional or mental illness) OR a low place.
  • To express is to clearly communicate one’s feelings (push them out toward others). As an adjective, express means unusually fast and direct (delivery, train, etc.)
  • Something impressive is noticeable or admirable: “You gave an impressive presentation, even though you had very little time to prepare.” 
  • Oppression is mistreatment or harsh rule over other people.
  • To press is to push something (or someone: “When they heard rumors of layoffs, they pressed their secretive boss for more information.” In this case, they had to press rather than just ask because the boss didn’t want to tell them anything.)
  • To repress is to hold back OR to restrict freedom by governmental action.
  • To suppress is to push something under (often to put down a rebellion.)

Other words from pressare: compressible, depress, expression, expressive, impress, impression, oppress, oppressive, pressure, repression, repressive, suppression.

Tendere- to stretch

  • To attend is to be present at a gathering or to go there consistently. In the U.S., children attend school nine months of the year. Many professionals attend an annual conference, and marketers and buyers often attend trade shows.
  • Attention is mental focus.
  • To contend is to struggle with or against someone or something.
  • Distention is being stretched out of shape. If a person eats way too much, their belly may be so distended their clothes don’t fit.
  • To extend is to stretch out or lengthen. When people cannot finish a project on time, they might ask for an extension. From a mountain peak there is an extensive view.
  • To intend to do something is to plan and have a purpose to do it. If a person hurts someone’s feelings unintentionally, it means the hurt was not intended. In American courts, accidental damage (even manslaughter- accidental killing) is treated much less severely than intentional, premeditated damage or murder.
  • Intense means very strong. Intense sunlight can hurt your eyes; very intense emotions can drain a person (leave him or her exhausted.)
  • To intensify something is to make it stronger or more intense. (The word comes from tendere + facere- to make.)
  • intensive means with great effort: Summer school classes are short but intensive, as students must learn the same material in less time.
  • To pretend means to act like something or someone we are not: a possum pretends to be dead so predators will not attack it.
  • A tendency is an inclination to a certain kind of behavior: “She had a tendency to scream when she was upset.”
  • Tension is tightness (of muscles or feelings.)

Other words that come from tendere: attentive, attentively, contention, contentious, distend, extensively, extent, intensely, intensification, intensity, intensively, intent, intention, intentional, intentionally, pretense, pretension, pretentious, tend (to), tense, tensely.

Trahere (-tract)- to pull 

More words from Latin verbs of motion (pleeare and trahere): compulsive, expel, repellent, attractive, protracted, extract, tractor, etc.
  • Abstract words or thoughts are about ideas, things that cannot be touched, as compared to physical things that can be seen or handled.
  • To attract is to draw or pull toward something or someone, as a moth is attracted to light. An attractive person is good-looking.
  • A contract is a legally-binding business agreement. The verb to contract means to pull together or become smaller or tighter. Muscles contract or tighten as they work.
  • If some defect detracts from the beauty of a building (for example), it takes away from its value and makes it less desirable. “The dancer’s stumble detracted from an otherwise impressive performance.” A detractor is someone who criticizes or finds fault with someone else’s work.
  • To distract is to take someone’s attention away from his purpose.
  • To extract is to pull out (as minerals are extracted from the earth.) An extract is a substance taken out of something else—most often a medicinal drink made from an herbal (plant) base processed in alcohol.
  • A protractor is a tool for drawing circles. A protracted drought is a long dry period. In Congress they have protracted debates about controversial subjects—speeches and arguments that last way too long!
  • When a person realizes he has said or written something that is inaccurate or harmful, he should retract it-- take back what was said and admit he was wrong.
  • Subtraction is removing part of something. The mathematical process involves taking away numbers: 5-3=2. (“Five minus three equals two.”)
  • Traction involves pulling or resistance. Doctors put a patient with a broken leg in traction to pull his bones back into place.
  • A tractor is a machine that pulls things on a farm.

Other words from trahere: attraction, contraction, distractible, distractibility, distraction, extraction, retract, retractable, retraction, subtract.

Match These Words with Their Meanings

argumentative or quarrelsomecontentious
pressed down or feeling low
to organize a movement, often of troops
something that drives others away
easy to bend
press together tightly
a tightness (often of muscles)
something that pulls attention away
a purpose
to reproduce an image as a mirror does
to pull back
not able to move
feeling driven to do something
abuse of people by their rulers
to bend something away from its course
a strong disagreement or dispute
being drawn toward something or someone
underlying reason that moves someone to act
strength of feeling or force

These are just a few of the English words that come from Latin verbs. A majority of academic words in English-- and a large number of common words as well-- have Latin roots. Seeing the connections between roots and meanings can help you learn and remember them better. Want to try a few more? See

·         Important Latin Roots (including venire- to come and cedere- to go),

·         The Latin Root Ponere (to put or set), 

·         50 Word Roots from Latin (including ferre-to bring/ carry, gradi- to step, as in grade, gradual, degrade, jactare- to throw, as in eject,  portare- also to carry, volvere- to return: evolve, revolve, etc.)

·         Words from Classical Roots,

·         as well as List of Prefixes, Negative Prefix List, and others linked to the Roots and Affixes page below.

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

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