In the book, Greek and Latin Roots- Keys to Building Vocabulary, Dr. Timothy Rasinski, and his co-authors state an amazing fact: 90 percent of English words with more than one syllable are Latin based. Most of the remaining 10 percent are Greek based. A single Latin root generates 5-20 English words. Another excerpt: Latin and Greek prefixes, bases, and suffixes are fairly consistent in their meanings and spelling patterns. Consequently, students can figure out the pronunciation and meaning of many new words by looking at their roots. They will understand the logic in the spelling pattern.
Knowing the logic in spelling patterns is the key to building vocabulary exponentially. For example, a student who knows the words ignore and recognize has a good start with diagnose, ignorant, cognition, prognosis, cognizant, gnostic, ignoramus, incognito, agnostic, and gnome. The shared letter pattern meaning “know, think, learn; wise, well-known” is altered in interesting ways by the prefixes, and the suffixes join in to establish the parts of speech. It’s critical that our students develop the eyesight to spot these details.
And it gets better. Spotting letter patterns means slowing down. Skimming is out. And, as explained by Dr. Abigail Konopasky, investigating roots promotes critical thinking. The key is starting early–around the 4th grade. This is when root words start showing up in large numbers. Lacking direct instruction in roots, many students will become habitual word skippers. This unfortunate habit can follow them through the upper grades, undermining reading comprehension and academic success. The good news is that the roots will always be there, ready to help. Let’s teach our students to become word tinkerers and masters of their own language!