Ten Word Roots for the SATs

Today’s Top Ten is all about prefixes and suffixes. It’s really useful to know common word roots because they can help you guess what an unfamiliar word means. I can’t tell you the number of times that this has helped me figure out meanings on advanced tests and while playing Jeopardy. Here are some of the more common prefixes and suffixes that you should know.


Many people know that a phobia is a fear of something. Its counterpart is the word root ‘phil,’ as in –phile, -philiac, and –philic. It indicates a love of something. For example, I am a logophile, since I love words and wordplay. The word ‘philosophy’ uses phil as a prefix to indicate a love of wisdom. This root is used in many fields, including biology. A hydrophilic organism is attracted to water.


If you speak any of the Romance languages, you may be able to infer that this word root indicates something positive or favorable. Some good examples are beneficialbenefactor (a person who gives some form of help to another person or cause), and benediction (a blessing often given at the end of a church service).


‘Circum’ is usually found at the beginning of the word (a prefix), and it means ‘around.’  A good way to remember this is the word circumference, which is the measurement around a circle. Other good examples include circumnavigate(to go all the way around something, like the globe) and circumvent (to find a way around an obstacle).


‘Eu’ is a word root meaning well or good. If you remember only one of the items on today’s top ten, make it this one. Words like eulogyeuphemism, and euphoric are often used on standardized tests, and knowing that it means something positive can be very helpful when deciphering their meanings. For your reference, a eulogy is a speech praising someone who has recently died, a euphemism is a milder word used in place of one that may sound harsh or inappropriate (for example, calling a prostitute a ‘lady of the night’ rather than a hooker), and euphoric means extremely happy.


7231856472_ccda1116ed_m (1)‘Carn’ means flesh or skin. Some good examples are carnivore, reincarnation (to be reborn in a new body), and carnal (relating to physical needs, particularly sexual desires). The meat-eating carnotaurus is pictured here.


‘Gam’ is usually found at the beginning or middle of a word, and it means joined together. Gametes are the cells that unite during reproduction. If you have sexual relations (join together) with only one other person, you are monogamous. This is most frequently used in biology, and there are many words which use this prefix that do not apply, such as gamble or games.


‘Graph’ or ‘graphy’ is a very common suffix that can either mean writing or field of study in general. Photographybiography, and telegraph are all good examples of this suffix. The word ‘biography’ literally means to write about oneself, and of course a telegraph is a message.


‘Mono’ means one. I mentioned the word monogamous (to have sexual relations with one person) earlier, to illustrate that the prefix ‘gam’ means joined together. Knowing the roots ‘mono’ and ‘gam’ would be a great step toward figuring out this word’s meaning. Other words that use ‘mono’ include monotone (a sound, usually a voice, that doesn’t change in pitch or intonation), monocle (a single eyeglass – see the young swell below!), and monotheism (belief in one divine entity).


‘Fid’ is a useful word root to know because it’s found in a variety of contexts. A word with ‘fid’ in it has something to do with trust and loyalty. For example, fidelity is loyalty and support to a person, cause, or belief. A perfidious person is one who is deceitful and untrustworthy. And fiduciary is an economic and legal term. In the legal sense, it’s an adjective meaning ‘involving trust, especially with regard to the relationship between a trustee and a beneficiary.’


The French word for strong is ‘fort,’ and that’s how you can remember this root. A fortress is a military stronghold. Someone who has fortitude is courageous and brave. If you ‘fortify’ yourself, you’re mentally or physically invigorating yourself. For example, I may need to fortify my confidence with a strong drink before hitting the dance floor. Just make sure that the prefix is ‘fort’ and not ‘forth,’ which means forward or away.

Thanks for reading, and have a clear, concise, and correct day!

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