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Word Roots


In this video, we are going to talk about word roots. Now, you may have heard in your GRE research that you've done so far that word roots are great to learn vocabulary. Now, this isn't entirely true. And in fact, for the GRE, I would say it isn't true at all. What we target for beginners, especially people just learning English or maybe fifth, sixth, seventh graders who are trying to build up their vocabulary from childhood simple words to more advanced words.

And so what these students usually learn are roots, such as mal, cuz it's fun. If you stick mal which means bad in front of a word, it makes these other words something bad. So for instance, maladroit, adroit is a GRE word which means skillful, dexterous, really good at using your hands. Drop mal in front of it, it means bad.

So bad not skillful, not good at using your hands, or clumsy. Maligned, to say something bad about someone, malicious, to have evil intent, and that's great. Put the root there and everything is wonderful. Look at this, Magna. Magna means large.

Same thing magnanimous, animus means life like animate. If you enlarge life, that doesn't mean you have a great time at the party, but it means you are bighearted and kind and generous. You're likely to forgive people, you don't hold grudges. You're a nice guy, you're magnanimous or simply, magnified, make larger. But the point of this video is not to actually outline all these roots, but it's to show you that this whole idea of applying roots breaks down to the level of the GRE.

So after you get kind of beyond the vocab 101, and of course the GRE goes well beyond vocab 101, roots can actually kind of in your way can actually hurt you. Now first off, these many roots you see on the GRE only show up once. Such as erudite which means just teach someone, to make someone learn it, in terms of the root erudite, and an erudite is an actual scholar. So you have this root that only shows up once.

And so if you would have learned the root as well as the definition, it really wouldn't help you much. Because again, you can't apply erud the way you apply mal or mag. Other examples, desultory, desultory comes from a person who basically jump from horse to horse in the circus, function jumping, desul. Again, there's no other word that has that root.

So you're learning a root but you should just really, learn the definition. What does desultory actually mean? It means rambling, unfocused. And so you can see that sometimes, the roots stuff, even if you know the roots, they don't directly relate to the definition. And then histrionic, what happens here is we say, look, history.

And it sounds like history, and therefore we think histrionic means relating to history. Histrionic actually comes from histrionics which means that we're pertaining to an actor in Latin. Again, there is no other word in the English language, and surely not history, that has these definitions.

What it actually means though is not of it pertaining to actors, but theatrical in the sense that your reactions are overdone, overblown, melodramatic. And so again, the root doesn't quite match up and you don't even see the root again. And the word itself looks like another word that's not related to the root at all. So you can see now that the GRE, yes, they're kind of evil in the sense that they know that many English words are confusing.

They make people think it must mean this, when actually, it doesn't. And I will give you some more examples. You wanna be aware of taking something like his thinking, it must mean history. And here are some common pairs that people get wrong all the time. So just Ponderous vs Ponder and I'm gonna be focusing on ponder because I think many people know this word.

To ponder means to think something over carefully, to contemplate, so ponderous is someone who contemplates, contemplative. And that's actually incorrect. Ponderous means moving with great effort. You're weighed down. You don't move gracefully.

And so you can see that's different from ponder. But if you just, were going on your knowledge here and said, this looks like a root from this word, you'd actually be mistaken. Another example is prodigal and prodigious, some people know this word, not everyone, but some people know this word because of the Bible. There's this whole story about the prodigal son.

The prodigal son basically spent all his dad's money. He was wasteful. And now, we get this wonderful adjective prodigal which means wasting all your money. And the word prodigious shows up on the GRE and you say, hey, must be related to prodigal.

But it's actually not the case. So we get many similar looking words in English that you think would be related, but actually aren't related. And so sometimes we try to again extract these roots what we think are roots, but they're similar looking parts of the words that is pro and pro. But the meaning is actually very different.

So let's go on now to another aspect of roots. And I've been kind of bringing in a lot of bad news here with roots, but roots can make for good backstories, remember desultory? Well, desultory means jumping from horse to horse. Remember, that's a circus person. And hence if you jump from subject to subject or if you're not organized or working in a focused manner, you're desultory.

So this could be memorable in and of itself. Not necessarily a mnemonic but it's a good story that hey, this word comes from a person, I guess they actually have these people in circuses who jump from horse to horse. So once in a while, there's a good back story on it, and to find good back stories, you can go to online etymology dictionary which is at

Again, not all words have great back stories but once in a while, you'll encounter a few. And definitely on the Vocab Wednesdays, I will make note of interesting roots and words. And so if you wanna see Vocab Wednesday which is on YouTube or the blog, I encourage you to look there out sometimes.

Point out again these interesting back stories to words. Now, more good news, in fact, great news. Is that not all roots come at the beginning of a word like magnanimous, magna or even in the middle of the word. But they actually come at the end. These roots that come at the end are known as suffixes.

Now, the suffix is great because what it does is it does not change the meaning of the word. It only changes the part of speech. What do I mean by part of speech? Well, part of speech is the noun or the word as an adjective or in some cases, the word is even a verb.

So let's take a look here. You may have never seen this word before, magnanimity. However, based on something else, based on another word you've seen in this video, you should be able to figure out the definition of magnanimity. Because again, suffixes only come at the end. They only change the part of speech of the word, not the meaning.

So what does magnanim look like? Aha, it looks very similar to magnanimous, Which is an adjective. And if you can remember it, again, it means having a big heart, you're generous and you're kind. And so magnanimity, with the ity, is simply the noun form. And so again, recognizing how the words change at the end can save you a lot of points.

And in essence, can really double your vocabulary sometimes if you are familiar with the way that words turn from adjectives to nouns and vice versa. Let's take a look here, erudition, probably never seen this word before but you have seen erudite. Again, erudite is scholarly, you'll learn it. Erudition therefore, is the noun form, is and actually erudite, I should probably go back to that really quickly, because that can be potentially confusing.

Erudite can be either a noun or an adjective. An erudite is a scholar. And to be erudite, the adjective is to be scholarly. However, erudition is not the person who has the learning, but is learning or scholarliness itself. But again, notice it just changes here at the end, I-O-N.

Doesn't change the meaning, but it changes the sense, part of speech with erudition, maybe shifts it a little from the actual person to the knowledge itself. And then finally, maladroitness, if you remember from one of the first slides, maladroit, adroit comes from the word meaning skill. Add mal to the front, this is where roots are actually helping us out. And this mal means bad, so not skilled.

And then we add N-E-S-S to the end which again, comes at the end suffix only affecting part of speech. When you add N-E-S-S it changes an adjective into a noun and maladroitness is this quality of being clumsy. So basically clumsiness, now let's take one final word in parts of the speech category.

The word that we had that actually hasn't come up in this lesson video yet. And you may say, I've never seen that before. I see fun, is fun a root? No, fun is not necessarily a root. But again, we're dealing with parts of speech, therefore we're dealing with suffixes, therefore, we are dealing with the end of the word.

Funereal looks very similar to what other word, if you just kinda drop the last two letters, well, funeral. And so funeral is a noun. But if you wanna change that into an adjective, it's funereal. So if something is depressing, there's an atmosphere around you or if you're in a classroom or wherever you happen to be.

Again, if it's gloomy and depressing, then you could describe that as funereal. So again, key takeaway, the change comes at the end of the word. It usually doesn't change the meaning, it just changes the part of speech. That's where roots can really help you, kind of at the back of the word, not so much at the beginning or the middle of the word. Finally, it's gonna be a lot of these confusing words again.

I've tried to mention this as much as possible on the Vocab Wednesday posts, or in the videos. But even in our vocab e-book, I have all these confusing pairs, confusing trios, etc. And you should definitely go through that. But it's never exhaustive, and sometimes what's confusing for you may not be confusing for another person, or for even me.

So it's always a good idea to turn these confusing words that you encounter or that look similar but mean something different, turn these into flash cards. So you could always have them handy and really come up with ways to make sure that you separate the definition of one word from a definition of a word that may look similar, though, but is very different. And that takes us to the end here.

So I guess really to recap, roots aren't our magical savior. Typically, the GRE picks from words that look similar, as though they have the same roots, to throw us off. But in general, learn a few of the basic roots, if you don't know them already. Don't try to guess based on unknown information or two words that kinda look similar.

And finally, remember the ending, the suffix is gonna help you recognize a lot of words in different parts of speech.

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