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Ministry of Education.

Classical Derivations

In academic and formal writing, it is common to find words that are derived from Latin and Greek. Because few school pupils have any understanding of classical languages today, it can be useful to explain to them the original meanings of some of the more common Latin or Greek stems and affixes. For example, Greek words relating to writing, graphos/gramma, help form a number of English words:

  autograph, photograph, telegraph, paragraph, biography, seismograph, stenographer, heliograph, choreographer, calligraphy, telegram, diagram, grammar.

Latin words relating to writing, scribere/scriptum, also help form many English words:

  inscribe, inscription, describe, description, scripture, script, scribble.

Students who have some knowledge of commonly found word origins are able to work out the meanings of a number of unfamiliar academic words.

Here are some useful word parts from Latin and Greek:

ante: before;
anti: against;
auto: self;
bene: well, good;
bi: two;
bio: life;
cent: hundred;
circum: round;
con, co: with;
contra: against;
cycle: wheel, circle;
de: down, from;
dis: not, opposite;
equi: equal;
ex: out of;
geo: earth;
homo: same;
in, im, il, ir: not;
inter: between;
mal: bad;
meter: measure;
micro: small;
mis: wrong;
mono: one;
mote: move;
non: not;
omni: all;
per: through;
peri: round;
phon: sound;
photo: light;
poly: many;
port: carry;
post: after, behind;
pre: before;
proto: first;
re: back;
scope: sight;
spect: look;
sub: under, below;
super: over;
tele: distant;
thermo: heat;
trans: across, over;
tri: three;
ultra: beyond;
un: not;
uni: one.

Knowing about these word parts is useful in helping with spelling. If you know that bene means good, it makes it easier to spell benefit or beneficial.

Sometimes we have different word parts that mean the same thing. This is because one comes from Latin and the other comes from Greek, as in the example of graph (Greek) and scribe (Latin) given above.

  From Latin From Greek English
  multi- poly- many
  bi- di- two
  omni- pan- all
  circum- peri- around
  contra- anti- against
  equi- iso- equal

It is especially useful to know Greek or Latin word parts relating to numbers.

  From Latin
  mille: a thousand millimetre, milligram, millenium
  centum: a hundred cent, centimetre, centennial
  decem: ten decimal, decimetre, decigram
  quinque: five quinquennium, quintuplet
  From Greek
  kilo: a thousand kilometre, kilogram, kilowatt
  hecto: a hundred hectare, hectogram, hectometre
  deca: ten decade, decagon, decathlon
  penta: five pentagon, pentagram, pentathlon

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Published on: 07 May 2009