Latin Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Latin was the language spoken by the ancient Romans. As the Romans conquered most of Europe, the Latin language spread throughout the region. Over time, the Latin spoken in different areas developed into separate languages, including Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. These languages are considered “sisters,” as they all descended from Latin, their “mother” language.

In 1066 England was conquered by William, duke of Normandy, which is in northern France. For several hundred years after the Norman invasion, French was the language of court and polite society in England. It was during this period that many French words were borrowed into English. Linguists estimate that some 60% of our common everyday vocabulary today comes from French. Thus many Latin words came into English indirectly through French.

Many Latin words came into English directly, though, too. Monks from Rome brought religious vocabulary as well as Christianity to England beginning in the 6th century. From the Middle Ages onward many scientific, scholarly, and legal terms were borrowed from Latin.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, dictionary writers and grammarians generally felt that English was an imperfect language whereas Latin was perfect. In order to improve the language, they deliberately made up a lot of English words from Latin words. For example, fraternity, from Latin fraternitas, was thought to be better than the native English word brotherhood.

Many English words and word parts can be traced back to Latin and Greek. The following table lists some common Latin roots.

Latin root Basic meaningExample words
-dict-to saycontradict, dictate, diction, edict, predict
-duc-to lead, bring, takededuce, produce, reduce
-gress-to walkdigress, progress, transgress
-ject-to throweject, inject, interject, project, reject, subject
-pel-to drivecompel, dispel, impel, repel
-pend-to hangappend, depend, impend, pendant, pendulum
-port-to carrycomport, deport, export, import, report, support
-scrib-, -script-to writedescribe, description, prescribe, prescription, subscribe, subscription, transcribe, transcription
-tract-to pull, drag, drawattract, contract, detract, extract, protract, retract, traction
-vert-to turnconvert, divert, invert, revert

From the example words in the above table, it is easy to see how roots combine with prefixes to form new words. For example, the root -tract-, meaning “to pull,” can combine with a number of prefixes, including de- and re-. Detract means literally “to pull away” (de-, “away, off”) and retract means literally “to pull back” (re-, “again, back”). The following table gives a list of Latin prefixes and their basic meanings.

Latin prefix Basic meaningExample words
co-togethercoauthor, coedit, coheir
de-away, off; generally indicates reversal or removal in Englishdeactivate, debone, defrost, decompress, deplane
dis-not, not anydisbelief, discomfort, discredit, disrepair, disrespect
inter-between, amonginternational, interfaith, intertwine, intercellular, interject
non-notnonessential, nonmetallic, nonresident, nonviolence, nonskid, nonstop
post-afterpostdate, postwar, postnasal, postnatal
pre-beforepreconceive, preexist, premeditate, predispose, prepossess, prepay
re-again; back, backwardrearrange, rebuild, recall, remake, rerun, rewrite
sub-undersubmarine, subsoil, subway, subhuman, substandard
trans-across, beyond, throughtransatlantic, transpolar

Words and word roots may also combine with suffixes. Here are examples of some important English suffixes that come from Latin:

Latin suffix Basic meaningExample words
-able, -ibleforms adjectives and means “capable or worthy of”likable, flexible
-ationforms nouns from verbscreation, civilization, automation, speculation, information
-fy, -ifyforms verbs and means “to make or cause to become”purify, acidify, humidify
-mentforms nouns from verbsentertainment, amazement, statement, banishment
-ty, -ityforms nouns from adjectivessubtlety, certainty, cruelty, frailty, loyalty, royalty; eccentricity, electricity, peculiarity, similarity, technicality

Latin and Greek Word ElementsGreek Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes
Latin and Greek Word Elements
Sources +