GRE Vocabulary - Roots

Building GRE Vocabulary: Roots

Last updated on February 28th, 2019

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Assuming that you’re on your way to building a vast and impressive GRE vocabulary, let’s dive into understanding how to use root words to manage the enormous volumes of words that you will deal with during your GRE Prep.


Why is it important to organize the words you learn?

Contrary to what education in India might have us believe, the human mind is not really a great device to hoard massive amounts of unorganized information!

What it is meant for is processing, analyzing and making sense of things that it happens to chance upon. Our brains are constantly making connections; that’s what they’re wired to do – sometimes they even make connections that don’t exist!

So, the point is, if you want to remember what you’re learning, you must organize it in a meaningful manner.

Realizing this helps us approach GRE vocabulary building from a perspective that is more sensitive to what the brain needs. Meaninglessly pummelling your brain with seemingly disconnected words and their “definitions” does no good to encourage your brain into doing what you want it to do.


How do Root Words help to build GRE vocabulary?

  1. Roots help make connections between words you already know and the words you will eventually come to know. This ensures that you can remember a vast volume of words that share similar roots, even if they have quite different usages and meanings.


  2. Roots act like mnemonics. They help you remember words more effectively: even if you forget what the word means, you might still remember the “theme” and that might be all that is needed to make an educated guess during the exam!


  3. Roots can help you guess meanings. Roots help you learn new words that have related roots or share the same root. Similarly, when you come across new words, you might be able to guess the correct meaning if you know the meaning of the roots present in the new words.


Understanding Root Words

Many English words originate from Greek or Latin sources. Most times, these words carry a small part of the source word from the parent language that depicts the core concept: these parts are called roots.

Let me take you through some words and their roots along with some other words that share the same roots. You’ll realize how awesome roots are for building GRE vocabulary by the time you finish reading this post!

  1. Circum– The root “circum” means “around” (like circumference). Here are some words that stem from the root “circum”: 
    circumnavigate:  meaning to navigate or travel all around

    circumambulate:  meaning to amble or walk all around

    circumspect:  ‘spect’ means ‘to see’ (like spectator, spectacle); when someone is circumspect, he or she is very vigilant and cautious. Think of it as someone who always looks over their shoulders and behind them to ensure everything is fine – someone who is extremely cautious.

    circumscribe: ‘scribe’ means ‘to draw or write’. So, to ‘circumscribe’ means to restrict or limit something – to constrain. Think of it as drawing a circle around someone and prohibiting them from crossing it. You are constraining them to stay within that limit.

    circumlocution: ‘loqui’ means to talk. Circumlocution is to talk evasively and avoid the topic/issue at hand. It means to beat around the bush!


  2. Loqui– As an offshoot from ‘circumlocution’, we could explore the root “loqui” which means “to talk”. Some words of interest with “loqui” are:

    loquacious: Someone who is loquacious is capable of talking a lot: a very talkative person.

    eloquent: Eloquent people talk very effectively – they can convince others. They are characterized by their good use of language.

    soliloquy: Solo = single. Soliloquy, therefore, means the act of speaking to oneself.

    monologue: Mono = one. When just one person speaks (and no one else contributes) it’s a monologue.

    grandiloquence: Speaking loftily and bombastically – in a grand manner is what grandiloquence means. 

    magniloquence: Again, magniloquence means to speak pompously in a highly exaggerated manner.

    somniloquy: Like in the word insomnia – somn = sleep; somniloquy is the act of sleep talking!


  3. Fallibilis– In Medieval Latin, this means ‘liable to err, or to be deceitful’. Here are the words derived from this:

    fail: a word with a meaning we know all too well!

    fallible: capable of making mistakes or being wrong

    infallible: this word takes the prefix ‘in-’ which means ‘opposite of’, making it the obvious opposite of ‘fallible’, meaning incapable of failure or error.

    fallibility: this word takes the suffix ‘-ity’ which means ‘having the quality of’, so it means ‘the ability to fail or make mistakes’

As this last example demonstrates, studying roots helps you notice patterns among words, especially with prefixes and suffixes.

However, if you go about trying to guess the meaning of words based purely on their possible roots, you will be highly ‘fallible’!

A good way to avoid making mistakes in identifying roots is to use etymology to help you better gauge whether or not a word could have the root you think it might. Etymology also helps you understand words better by providing historical context, and context is very important.

Sometimes, the ability to recognize roots can help you make that critical educated guess on your GRE Verbal questions: it might be the difference between a wrong and a right answer!

A parting piece of advice – the etymological dictionary is a great reference point to help you understand the roots present in a word; also to find other words that use the same roots!