Help with Root Words: How to Identify Root Words

When you understand how to locate root words and determine their meanings, you'll be able to figure out the definition of new, unfamiliar words. Read on to find out more about root words and how they can help you decode.

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Identifying Root Words

What are Root Words?

A root word, also known as a base word, is a real and complete word. They can be used alone in sentences and have their own definitions. However, they can also be made into new words by adding on affixes. Affixes are word parts added to the front or end of root words to create brand new words. Affixes are also known as prefixes and suffixes, which will be described later.

Word Families

One way to recognize root words is to become familiar with word families. Word families refer to a group of words that share the same letter patterns. They can be used to not only identify certain words, but pronounce them correctly as well. Knowing word families can help you have an easier time identifying root words and increase your reading vocabulary. There are many different word families, but ten of the most common have been provided below.

  • -ack- back, rack, sack, pack, lack
  • -ake- rake, bake, sake, shake, make
  • -eat- meat, beat, seat, cheat, heat
  • -ice- nice, rice, spice, mice, slice
  • -ight- night, right, fight, sight, flight
  • -ock- clock, knock, flock, sock, rock
  • -ore- core, sore, pore, shore, more
  • old- cold, bold, sold, fold, told
  • uck- luck, buck, stuck, pluck, duck
  • unk- sunk, chunk, hunk, dunk, plunk


Prefixes are placed at the beginning of root words to create new words. The prefixes have their own definitions that are combined to the definitions of the root words they are connected to. When this connection is made, the meaning of the root word is changed. Therefore, learning prefixes and their meanings will help you identify the root words and determine the meanings of new words you encounter. Some common prefixes and their definitions are provided below with examples of how they connect to root words.

  • im- not
Immobile: Not mobile or not able to move.
  • re- again
Restart: To start again.
  • dis- not or opposite of
Disagree: Does not agree.
  • pre- before
Predetermine: To determine before or to make a decision before.


Suffixes are placed at the end of root words to create new words. Like prefixes, they have their own definitions that connect to the definitions of root words. When they are connected to root words, they change or enhance the root word's meaning. Some common suffixes and their definitions are provided below with examples of how they connect to root words.

  • er- one who
Planter: One who plants.
  • or- one who
Actor: One who acts.
  • less- without
Powerless: Without power.
  • able- can or can be
Doable: Can be done.

Break the Word Apart

Once you know the information above, to decode a word, you simply have to search those individual parts in the new word. After finding the parts, break the word down and isolate the root word from the affix. With the parts separated, you'll determine their individual meanings, and then combine the meanings to get the definition for the new word. In the example below, the new word is unreachable.

1. Break the word into the individual parts: un reach able. This word has both a prefix and a suffix.

2. Determine the individual meaning of each part.

Un = not
Reach = to get to
Able = can be

3. Combine the meanings. If this word was just reachable, we would know that it would mean able to be reached. However since the prefix un- has been added to it, we know that unreachable means not able to be reached.

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