Category Archives: Research, Resources, Helpful Websites

The Least You Should Know Abut Vocabulary: Building Word Roots

Increasing Your Vocabulary through Learning Word Roots:

“How did words get to be words? WHy, for example, is a hippopotamus called a hippopotamus and not a glipserticka? There’s a good reason. Since the animal looks a bit like a fat horse and spends much of its time in rivers, the Greeks combined their words for horse, HIPPOS, and their word river, POTAMOS, and called the animal a hippopotamus, a river horse.  And with only a one-letter change, the word as come down to us a hippopotamus.” – An excerpt from The Least You Should Know About Vocabulary: Building Roots

“Why use this book?”

To answer this question I will take an excerpt from the book.  “Learning to break words into their parts is perhaps the most important initial step in vocabulary building, this text helps students take that step and begin what should become an ongoing study of words.  Whether the text is used in the classroom or for self-help, the following features make it easy to use with little guidance.”

“How will we use this book?”

Roots in this book are organized alphabetically as the order of which you learn the roots is irrelevant.  Once students learn the roots, they will notice that they can find the meaning of other words.  Mastering even a few words under each root will give quite a boost to the students vocabulary.  Here is an sample root lesson that I chose from random from the book.  I have linked some words/phrase/titles in the root explanation section to websites that explain what the word means, such as the Pelopnnesian War because I thought they may be confusing.  I have also listed a summary of a few exercises that can be found at the end of every root word chapter.  Here is a link to just in case you want your own copy of the book (I recommend buying a used copy 🙂



Many words have changed their meaning over the centuries, some having changed so much that they mean almost the opposite of what they meant originally. Demagogue is an example.  First used a the time of the Peloponnesian War, the word demagogue (DEM people + AGOG leader) referred to a leader or orator who championed the cause of the common people of Athens in their fight against the aristocrats of Sparta. Gradually through the years, however, such leaders began pursuing their own interests rather than helping the people, and today a demagogue is a political leader who makes impassioned appeals to the emotons and prejudices of people to gain personal power.

Demagogue (dem’ uh gog) [Dem people + Agog leader] – Originally, a leader of the common people; now, a leader who stirs up the people by appealing to their emotions and prejudices to win them over quickly and thus gain power.  Interested only in gaining personal power, the candidate was a demagogue.

Democracy (di mahk’ ru see) [DEM people + CRAC to rule] people rule; government by representatives elected by the people. More countries are now choosing democracy.

Epidemic (ep uh dem’ ik) [EPI upon + DEM people] Upon the people; a disease or other abnormal condition spreading rapidly among many people.  The flu epidemic caused many absences from work.

Excersise 1 (summary) – The students are given sentences and must fill in the appropriate DEM word. (Words are listed in the DEM Root word word Bank)

Exercise 2 (summary) – Give the meaning of each root and a word in which it is found

Exercise 3 (summary) – Write several sentences in your vocabulary journal using some of the CRED, CUR, and DEM words you have learned.  Check the sentence given in the explanation of each word to make sure you are using the word correctly.

Dictionary Pronunciation Key

Here is the Dictionary Pronunciation Key.  This will aide you in figuring out how to pronounce words you find in the dictionary.  Click on Pronunciation Symbols (Once you are redirected to the site, you must click on Pronunciation Symbols.  If an ad comes up, just click on “Skip to results in the top right hand corner) to hear how each symbol is pronounced.  The symbols I have copied and pasted below can be found at “” Enjoy!

Pronunciation Key

Symbols Examples Symbols Examples
ā pat ô caught, paw
ā pay ôr core
âr care oi noise
ä father ŏŏ took
b bib ŏŏr lure
ch church ōō boot
d deed, milled ou out
ě pet p pop
ē bee r roar
f fife, phase, rough s sauce
g gag sh ship, dish
h hat t tight, stopped
ĭ pit th thin
ī pie, by th this
îr dear, deer, pier ŭ cut
j judge ûr urge, term, firm, word, heard
k kick, cat, pique v valve
l lid, needle w with
m mum y yes
n no, sudden z zebra, xylem
ng thing zh vision, pleasure, garage
ŏ pot ə about, item, edible, gallop, circus
ō toe ər butter