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Using A Dead Language To Help With Word Meanings And Increase Vocabulary

Updated on January 11, 2013

Learning A Little Latin Works Wonders

Increasing your vocabulary might sound like a chore (and a bore), invoking visions of high school vocab quizzes and the like. If you use this method, however, you might be better able to figure out the meanings of unfamiliar words, thereby increasing your vocabulary without having to use a dictionary. You also might have some fun in the process.

You probably have heard that much of the English language (And Spanish, French, German, Italian, etc.) was derived from Latin, the language spoken in ancient Rome. In fact, many words and prefixes, such as post, circum, sum, inter, trans, et al (et al is Latin for "and others") are exactly the same both in English and in Latin. Moreover, if you learn 50 or so Latin roots, you ultimately will be able to determine the definitions of hundreds of English words ( and those of other languages, if you so desire).

In order to find the root of a Latin word, remove word endings such as -o, -um, -ia, -um,-s, -is, -ia, -us, -is,-x . For example, the Latin word relinquo means " to abandon." Remove the -o , and you're left with relinqu. Any time you see a word containing those letters, you automatically know that the word means something similar to "abandoning" or "giving up." Hence, if you relinquish something, you're "giving it up." Let's try another one. (This one's easy.) The Latin word trans, meaning "across," is its own root and translates straight to English. So if you're traveling transcontinentally , you literally are traveling "across a continent."

It helps to memorize the Latin root words in groups of 10 or 15, so let's begin with these. (I'll show the entire word; the root will be in italics . Remember, sometimes the entire word serves as the root.)GROUP I:

  1. relinqu o- to abandon 6. mon eo- to advise 11. permit to- to allow
  2. copi a- abundance 7. post - after 12. soci us- firend; ally
  3. trans - across 8. contra - against 13. respond eo- to answer
  4. consil ium- advice 9. auxil ium- help; aid 14. circum - around
  5. omni s- all 10. adven tus- arrival 15. rog o- to ask

Now.try these exercises to help you become familiar with the roots:

a. Take the root of the Latin word meaning "to advise," add a prefix starting with "a" and a suffix ending with "h", and form the English word that means "to advise against; to warn".

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

b. Substances that are against the law are _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.

c. An all - knowing narrator in a story is _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _;

d. If you abandon an idea, you _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ it. (Hint: Drop the last letter of the Latin word and add three more letters.)

e. Take a Latin root (a short one), add a prefix beginning with "i" and a suffix ending in "e," and form and English word that explains what a detective does to a suspect:

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _(s)

Wasn't that at least a little bit fun? Okay, here's the next group.GROUP II:

16. impet us- attack 21. mal us- bad 26. i mpediment ia- baggage

17. ante - before 22. incipi o- to begin 27. post - behind; after

18. inte r- between 23. corp us- body 28. forti s- brave

19. frater - brother 24. negoti um- business 29. voc o- to call

20. port o- to carry 25. princip eps- chief; main 30. delig o- to choose

f. If you are brave enough to keep trying after many failures, you have a lot of intestinal _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.

g. Technologically, the _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ allows communication between two people.

h. A brotherhood , or society of men, is called a _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.

i. Your calling , or your choice of career, is known as your _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.

j. If you physically (bodily ) hit your children you are engaging in _ _ _ _ _ _ _ punishment.

Are you getting the idea? Next group: GROUP III:

31. civi s- citizen 36. urb s- city 41.ven io- to come

32. imperium - a command 37. vinc o- to conquer 42. patr ia- country

33. multitud o- crowd 38. mor s- death 43. cupidit as- desire

34. faci o- to do; to make 39. host is- enemy 44. sati s- enough

35. mal us- evil 40. fide s- faith 45. pater - father

k. An area of a large city is known as an _ _ _ _ _ area.

l. A country which cannot be conquered is in _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.

m. All the rights you have as a citizen are your _ _ _ _ _ rights.

n. The state of being faithful to someone is known as _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.

o. Someone who is evil is a _ _ _ev_ _ _ _ _ person.


46. senti o- to feel 51. pugna - a fight 56. prim us- first

47. f ugi o- to flee 52. pe s- foot 57. amic us- friend

48. porta - gate 53. magn us- great 58. manu s- hand

49. audi o- to hear 54. ten eo- to hold 59. dom us- home

50. ver o- in truth 55. gen us- kind; type 60. sci o- to know

p. The first few grades in school are known as the _ _ _ _ _ _ _ grades.

q. Someone who enjoys fighting is a _ _ _ _ _ ci _ _ _ person.

r. Someone who flees from the authorities is a _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.

s. Someone who holds onto an idea and refuses to let go is a _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ person.

t. The English word that means truth is _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.

How did you do? Do it get easier as you went along? Answers are below.

Once you've learned these 60 Latin roots, you should be able to figure out the meanings of many English words... without having to use a dictionary. In fact, many of my students who initially balked at "having to learn Latin in English class" returned years later and noted that learning those root words had come in very handy, particularly in situations like defining unfamiliar words on the SAT tests. Who said Latin was a dead language?!


a. admoniish b. contraband c. omniscient d. relinquish e. interrogate f. fortitude g. internet h. vocation i. fraternity j. corporal k. urban l. invincible m. civil n. fidelity o. malevolent p. primary q. pugnacious r. fugitive s. tenacious t. veracity


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    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      That's sad. Someday, however, I am sure that there will be a revival as people see a need to know these important roots!


    • PatriciaTL profile image

      PatriciaTL 6 years ago from Lehigh Valley

      Thanks, J. S. I really enjoyed studying Latin when I was in high school and have used what I learned countless times since then. Unfortunately, most school districts, at least in our area, have bought into the "dead language" school of thought and have dropped Latin as a course offering.

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Great Hub! I always regretted not taking Latin in High School. You have done a wonderful job of breaking it down here. Thanks!