Latin in the English Language

last update: 13 June 2020

TV quiz shows, etc. are full of questions about the meaning of Latin words and phrases, and in particular those that have become embedded in the English language. In some cases understanding the Latin or Greek origin of a word can help find the answer.

Three bonus questions on terms that begin with the prefix ‘poly’:
In each case, give the term from the definition:
(a) In chemistry, the combination of several molecules to form a more complex molecule, usually by a step- or chain-growth mechanism?
(b) Music in two or more parts, each having a melody of its own? The term is widely used of the ringtones of mobile telephones.
(c) In geometry, a solid figure with many faces?

(a) What word, from the Latin meaning a case or chest for books or papers, is given to a holy or sacred place that is dedicated to a specific deity or saint, and often becomes a place of pilgrimage?

From a comparative form of the Greek word for ‘both’, what adjective denotes a chemical capable of reacting both as a base and as an acid, for example amino acids and the oxides of zinc and aluminium?

From two unconnected Greek words, what five-letter word links a punctuation mark used to separate clauses when the second expands or illustrates the first, and the main part of the large intestine, between the caecum and rectum?

Three bonus questions on a Greek letter:
(a) Which Greek letter is the symbol of chemical potential and also of the coefficient of friction?
(b) Mu also denotes a multiplicative function in number theory, named after which German mathematician, who gives his name to the surface with only one side and only one boundary component?
(c) The same letter can also represent a muon which, along with the electron, the tauon and the three neutrinos, is classified as what type of fundamental particle?

What Latin term referred to a soldier added to a legion after it had reached its full complement and also denotes, in biology, structures occurring in addition to the normal ones, and, in genetics, an irregularly occurring chromosome that may be absent from normal individuals?

  1. From the Greek for 'unguent', what five-letter term denotes a complex of molten silicates with water and gases formed within the upper mantle of the earth?
  2. Meaning 'said only once', what two-word Greek term denotes a word or word-form that is recorded only once in a text, in the work of a particular author, or in a body of literature? 

What four-letter prefix links: the name of the layer of the Earth's atmosphere between the stratosphere and the thermosphere; the land bling between the tigers and Euphrates rivers; and the geological era that includes the triassic and Cretaceous period? Answer

Page 72

Deriving its name form the Greek word for 'being', which branch of metaphysics concerns itself with the philosophical study of existence? Answer - Ontology

So there are Latin (and Greek)
roots, stems, prefixes, suffixes and phrases that can be found in English. This webpage will try to collect the most frequently used, i.e. the ones we should know and not some rare scientific or medical term of Latin origin.

A simple Latin
root in English might be voc, as in vocal or convocation.
stem is just a root often with a prefix or suffix to make it a fully understandable word, e.g. both tie and untie are stems, but voc above is not a full word.
A simple
prefix in English might be ante-, as in anti-inflammatory.
A simple
suffix in English might be -wise, as in otherwise.
Words can have both a
prefix and a suffix such as untouchable, where un- is the prefix and -able is the suffix with touch as the root.
A simple Latin
phrase used in English might be anno Domini.

A word of warning, there are a lot of lists of Latin roots on the Web, mistakenly include Greek root words, or just throw in plain prefixes or suffixes as well. Yet dictionaries are quite clear in differentiating between words of Latin and Greek origin (L./Lat. and Gr., and eventually Gr.-L.), and identifying prefixes (pref.) and suffixes (suff.).

When constructing these lists I was amazed at just how many words in English originate from Greek or Latin, some reports suggest that anything between ⅓ and ½ of all English words come from Greek or Latin.


Wikipedia has a
list of Greek and Latin roots in English. Let's start with just some of the more important ones we encounter everyday:-
ab-, a-, abs, au- away from/down/off - abstract, abstain, abrasion
acer-, acri
- bitter/sharp/pungent/sour - acrid, acrimonious, exacerbate
acr- height/summit/tip/top - acrobat, acronym, acropolis (acr- is a Greek root)
acu-, acut- sharp/pointed - acupuncture, acumen, acute, acutifoliate or having sharp-pointed leaves
aer- air/atmosphere - aerobic, aeronautics, aeroplane, aerosol (aer- is a Greek root)
aev-, ev- age - eon, eternal, longevity, medieval, primeval
ag-, ig-, act- do/go/move - act, action, agenda, agent, agile, cogitate, deactivate, mitigate, navigate, react, transaction
agr- field - agronomy (agr- is a Greek root)
, egir- field - agriculture
alg- pain - analgesic, nostalgia (alg- is a Greek root)
ali-, alter- other - alias, alibi, alien, alter, altruism
alph- a - alphabet (alph- is a Greek root)
am-, amic-, imic- friend - amiable, amity, enemy
ambi-, am-, amp-, ambo-, an- both/on both sides - ambidexterity, ambient, ambiguous, ambition, ambivalent, amputation
ambul- walk - ambulance, amble, preamble
andr- male/masculine - androgen, android, philander (andr- is a Greek root and includes Andrew and Alexander)
anim- breath/life/soul/spirit - animal, animation, anime
ann-, -enn- year - anniversary, annual, millennium, perennial
ant-, anti- against/opposed to - antagonist, antibiotic, antidote, antipodes (ant-, anti- are Greek roots)
ante-, anti- before/prior to/old - antediluvian, anticipate, antique, antiquity
aper- open - apéritif, aperture, overt
aqu- water - aquarium, aquamarine, aquarelle, aquatic, aqueduct (the equivalent Greek root word is hydro-)
arch-, arch-, archi- ruler - anarchist, archangel, architect, monarch (arch- is a Greek roots)
arist- excellence - aristocracy (arist- is a Greek roots)
art- art/skill - artefact, artificial, artisan
aster-, astr-
star - asterisk, asteroid, astrology, astronaut (astro- is a Greek root)
athi- prize - athlete, decathlon (athi- is a Greek root)
aud- hear/listen/sound - audible, audience, audio, audition, audit
aut-, auto- self/independently - autograph, automobile, autonomy, automatic (aut-, auto- are Greek roots)
avi-, au- bird - avian, aviation, auspicious

ba- is a Greek root producing English words such as acrobat, base, basic, basis, diabetic
bac- rod-shaped - bacteria
, bel- throw - is another Greek root in the English words anabolic, ball, ballistic, devil, emblematic, metabolic, problem, symbol
bar- weight/pressure - baritone, barometer, barycentric, isobar
ben- good/well - benefit, benevolent, benign, benefactor
bi-, bin-, bis- two - bicycle, biennial, bifocal, bigamy, binary, binoculars
bib- drink - beer, beverage, imbibe
bibl- book - bible, bibliographic, bibliophile (bibl- is a Greek root)
bio-, bi- life - abiogenesis, biography, biology, symbiosis, biome, bionic (bio- and bi- are Greek roots)
brev- brief/short - abbreviate, brevity, brief

cad-, cas- fall - accident, cadaver, case, casual, cheat, coincidence, decay, deciduous, incident
caed-, -cis- cut/kill - cement, chisel, concise, decide, excise, homicide, incise, precise, scissors
camer- vault - chamber, camera, comrade
can-, cant- sing - accent, canto, chanson, chant, charm, enchant, incantation
cand-, cend- glowing/iridescent - candle, cantor, incendiary, incense
cap-, capt- hold/take - captive, caption, capture, conception, intercept
capit- head - achieve, biceps, caddie, cadet, captain, chef, chief, recap
cardi- heart - cardiac, cardiology
cardin- flesh - carnage, carnal, carnivore, reincarnation
cent- hundred - centurion, centennial, percent
centr- center - centre, centaur, centroid, eccentric, epicentre (centr- is a Greek root)
centri- center - central, center, concentrante, concentric, centrifugal
ceram- clay - ceramic
chro- colour - achromatic, chrome, monochrome, polychromatic (chro- is a Greek root)
chron- time - synchronous, chronic, chronology (chron- is a Greek root)
civ- citizen - civic, civilian, civilisation
clar- clear - clarity, clear, declaration
clin- bed - clinic
col-, cult- cultivate/till/inhabit - agriculture, colony, cult, cultivate, culture, incult
contra- against - contraband, contraception, contradict, contrast
cor-, cord- heart - accord, concord, cordial, courage, discord, encourage, record
coron- crown - corona, coroner, coronet, crown
cosm- universe - cosmic, cosmology, cosmopolitan, microcosm (cosm- is a Greek root)
cost- rib - accost, coast, coastal
-cracy rule/government/authority - aristocracy, autocracy, democracy, plutocracy (
-cracy is a Greek root)
crea- make - creation, creative, creature, recreation
cred- trust/believe - accreditation, credence, credentials, credit, credulous, creed
cresc- grow/rise - accrue, concrete, crescent, crew, decrease, increase, recruit
crit-, crisi- judge/separate - crisis, critic, hypocrisy (crit- and crisi- are Greek roots)
cruc- cross - cross, crucifix, cruciform, cruise, crusade
crypt- hide - crypt, cryptic, cryptography, grotto (crypt- is a Greek root)
cur- care for - accuracy, curate, cure, curiosity, incurable, manicure, pedicure, procure, secure
curr-, curs- run/course - concur, corridor, courier, course, currency, current, discourse, occur
curv- bent - cavort, curb, curve
cycl- circle - acyclic, bicycle, cycle, cyclic, cyclone (cycl- is a Greek root)

damn- to inflict - condemn, damage, indemnify
de- down/remove - decay, decide, declare, decline, deduce, delete, decide, destroy
decim- tenth-part - decimal, decimate, dime
decor- ornament - decor, decorate
de- delete - delete, indelible
dem- people - democracy, demography, endemic, pandemic (dem- is a Greek root)
dens- thick - condensate, dense, density
despot- master - despotic (despot- is a Greek root)
dexter- right - ambidextrous, dexterity, dextrose
dic-, dict- say/speak/proclaim - benediction, condition, dictate, dictator, dictionary, edict, interdiction, predict, verdict
digit- finger - digit, digital
dipl- twofold - diploid, diploma, diplomacy (dipl- is a Greek root)
doc-, doct- teach - docile doctor, document, indoctrinate
dog-, dox- opinion/tenet - dogma, dogmatic, orthodox, paradox (dog-, dox- are Greek roots)
dom- house - dome, domestic
domin- master - bedlam, condominium, dam, danger, domain, dominate, predominate, dominion, dungeon, madam
don- give - donate, donor, pardon
dra- do - dramatic, drastic (dra- is a Greek root)
du- two - deuce, doubt, duel, duet, duplex, duplicity
duc-, duct- lead - abduct, deduce, induce, introduce, produce, reduce, seduce
dur- hard - durable, duration, duress, endurance
dyna- power - aerodynamic, dynamic, dynamo, dynasty (dyna- is a Greek root)

eco- house - ecology, economy, economics (eco- is a Greek root)
ed-, es- eat - comestible, edible, obese
ego- self - egocentric, egoism (ego- is a Greek-Latin root)
electr- amber - electric, electricity, electrolysis, electron, electronics, electromagnetism (electr- is a Greek root)
equ-, -iqu- even/equal/level - equal, Equator, equilibrium, equinox, equity, equivalence
equ- horse - equestrian
erg-, org- work - allergy, Argon, energy, ergonomics, metallurgy, organ, organism, orgy, surgeon (erg- and org- are Greek roots)
eth- custom/habit - ethics, ethos (eth- is a Greek root)
ex-, e-, ef- from/out - exclude, exist, exit, extend, extrude
extra- outside - exterior, extra, extraneous, extraordinary, strange
extrem- outermost/utmost - extreme

fa- say/speak - confess, fable, fame, fate, infancy, infantry, preface, profess
fac-, fact- do/make - affair, affect, benefactor, benefit, defeat, effect, efficiency, façade, face, facile, facilitate, fact, factor, factory, fake, feat, feature, manufacture, modify, office, perfect, profit, refectory, sacrifice, scientific, sufficient, surface
fail-, fals- false/deceive - default, fail, fallible, false, fault
feder- pact/contract - confederation, federal federation
femin- woman/female - femininity
fend-, fens- strike - defend, offend, offence
fer- to bear/carry - confer, differ, ferry, fertile, infer, offer, prefer, suffer, transfer
fid-, fis- faith/trust - confidence, faith, fidelity, infidel
fig-, fict- to form/shape - configure, disfigure, effigy, fiction, figment, figurine
fin- end - confine, define, final, fine, finish, finite, infinite, refine
firm- firm/strong - affirm, confirm, firm, infirm
fix- attach - affix, fix, fixture, prefix, suffix, transfix
flect-, flex- bend - deflect, flex, inflection, reflect, reflex
flu-, fluv- flow - affluent, fluctuation, fluent, fluid, flush flux, influence
form- shape - conform, deform, form, formal, formula, inform, perform, reform, uniform
fort- strong - force, fort, fortify, fortress
fund- bottom - found, foundation, fundamental, profound

gen-, gon- birth/race/kind - allergen, genealogy, genetic, homogeneous, hydrogen, pathogen (gen- and gon- are Greek roots)
gen- beget - gender, generate, generation, genital, gentle, genus, indigenous
ger-, gest- bear/carry - congest, digest, register, suggest
germ- sprout - germinate
glaci- ice - glacier
glori- glory - glorify, glory, vainglory
gno- know - agnostic, diagnosis (gno- is a Greek root)
gno- know - acquaint, cognition, connoisseur, ennoble, ignorant, nobility, noble, note, notice, notion, notorious, recognise, reconnaissance
grad-, gred- walk/step/go - aggression, degrade, degree, grade, gradient, gradual, progress, regress
gramm- letter/write - anagram, diagram, grammar, hologram, program, telegram (gramm- is a Greek root)
gran- grain - filigree, grain, granite, granular
grand- grand - grandeur, grandiose
graph- draw/write - autograph, epigraph, graft, graph, graphite, photograph, telegraph (graph- is a Greek root)
grat- thank/please - agree, congratulate, disagree, disgrace, grace, ratify, gratitude
grav- heavy - aggravate, aggrieve, grave, gravitation, gravity, grief, grievance
greg- flock/herd - aggregate, congregate, segregate (greg- is a Greek root)
gymn- nude - gymnastics (gymn- is a Greek root)
gyn- woman - gynaecology, misogynist (gyn- is a Greek root)

hab-, habit- have - ability, able, debile, debit, debt, due, duty, enable, exhibit, habit, habitat, prohibit
hal-, her- breath - exhale, inhale
heli- sun - heliocentric, helium
helic- something twisted - helicopter (helic- is a Greek root)
hemi- half - hemicycle, hemisphere (hemi- is a Greek root)
here-, hes- cling/stick - adhere, adhesive, coherent, hesitant, inherent
hier- holy/sacred - hierarch, hieratic, hieroglyph (hier- is a Greek root)
hod- way - anode, diode, episode, exodus, method, period (hod- is a Greek root)
hom- same - homogeneous (hom- is a Greek root)
homin- human - homage, hominid, human, humane, humanity, inhuman
honor- estime - honour, honorary
hort- garden - court, courteous, courtesan, curtain, horticulture
hospit- host - hospice, hospital, host, hostel, hotel
hydr- water - dehydrate, hydrate, hydraulic, hydrogen (hydr- is a Greek root)
hygie- healthy - hygiene (hygie- is a Greek root)

i- go - anion, cation, ion, ionic, ionise (i- is a Greek root)
intr- heal - podiatry psychiatry (intr- is a Greek root)
id- shape/form/picture - idol, idyllic (id- is a Greek root)
ide- idea/thought - ideology (ide- is a Greek root)
idi- own/peculiarity - idiom, idiot (idi- is a Greek root)
ign- fire - igneous, ignite, ignition
imagin- copy - image, imagine
in-, il-, im- in/on - illuminate, import, incur, intend, invite
in-, il-, im-, ir- not/un-(as in negate) - illicit, impossible, insane, irrational
infra- below/under - infrastructure, infrared
insul- island - insular, insulation
integr- whole/complete - integrate, integer, integral
inter- amount/between - intermission, intersection
intra- within - intramural, intravenous
is-, iso- equal/same - isograph, isometric, isotope (is-, iso- are Greek roots)
iter- again - iteration
itiner- journey - itinerary


Now we have important Latin prefixes:-
a- 'not' as in asymmetric meaning 'not' symmetric
acro- high - acrobatics, and acropolis from acro (high) and polis (city)
at least secondary - altered, and alter ego or alternative self
on both sides - ambiguous, ambidextrous
an- additional
ante- prior -
against/opposite - antibiotic, anticlimax (this is in fact a Greek prefix often mistaken for a Latin one)
auto- by oneself/itself - automobile from auto (self) and mobilis (movable)

bi- two - as in binomial meaning 'two terms'

co- together -
cooperation meaning 'working together'
contra- against/below - contraindication, contraband, contraception
counter- against - countermeasure, counter-strike, counter-terrorism, counterpunch

de- negate/remove - deactivate
di- two - dipole
dis- negate/remove - disappear, disable
down- down/reduce - downshift, down-under
dys- badly/wrong/negative - dysfunctional, disenchanted

extra- extend/beyond - extracellular means 'outside the cell', extra-long, extra-terrestrial, extra-marital

fore- before - foresight, forecast, forearm, foreclosure, forehand

hemi- half - hemisphere
hyper- beyond - hyper-inflation, hyper-realism
hypo- not enough - hypobaric chamber meaning low pressure

ig- not - ignoble, ignorant, ignore
il- within/toward/not - illegal
im- within/toward/not - imbalance, immaculate
in- within/toward/not - inactive
infra- below - infrared, infrastructure
inter- between - interact, inter-agency
intra- within - intracellular, intravenous
ir- within/toward - irradiate, irrational, irregular

macro- large-scale - macroeconomics, macro-biology
maxi- big - maxi-single, maxillary
meso- middle - meso-amercian
meta- self-referential - metadata, meta-study
micro- small-scale - micro-controller, microphone, micrometer, microelectronics
mid- middle - Mid-Atlantic
mini- small - miniature
mis- bad/wrong - misspelling, misanthrope, misapprehension
mono- one - monorail, monotheism, mono-lingual
multi- many - multiplex, multi-agent, multi-dimensional, multi-platform, multi-purpose

non- no/not - nonstop, non-aligned, non-destructive, non-fiction, non-fatal

octo- eight - octopus, October
over- excess/too much/on top - overcoat, over-achiever, over-acting, over-arm, over drive, over 21, overkill

Lots to do still


Now we have
important Latin suffixes:-

Not even started