Taming the Beast Part 2: Using Word Roots to build GRE Vocabulary

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In our previous blog we discussed ways to make the GRE Vocabulary building process much less tedious by understanding how the, ever-so-famous, word-lists should be used!

Now, assuming that you’re on your way to building a vast and impressive GRE vocabulary, we’ll be discussing some ways to better manage the enormous volumes of words that you have, and will become acquainted with.

Why is it important to organize the words you have learnt?

Because, contrary to what education in India might have us believe, the human mind is not really a great device to hoard massive amounts of 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; it loves making connections – sometimes even ones that don’t exist! 🙂

This realization helps us approach vocabulary building from a perspective that is more sensitive to what the brain wants!


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.

Instead, here’s the answer to making vocabulary building way more effective and fun (for you and your brain) : Make connections!

While learning words, connections could be made the following ways – Word Roots, Visual and Phonetic Mnemonics, Word Maps, Inclines and Personalizations.

Let us look at one of the most effective – word roots!

Word Roots

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

For example,

In medieval Latin “fallibilis” means liable to err or to be deceitful (of course this word shares its roots with the word “fail” as well!)

The word fallible originates from this word.

The word infallible also originates from the same parent word. It amalgamates with the prefix in- (meaning: opposite of). The word infallible, therefore means incapable of failure or error.

Another word with the same root is fallibility, it uses the suffix  -ity which means “having the quality of”

Another example is the greek word “anhropos” meaning man/human being. Some of the related words in English are:

[Anthrop + logy (study of)] Anthropology: the study of humans and their societal relationships.

[Anthrop + morphic (form, shape)]Anthropomorphic: suggesting human characteristics for animals or inanimate things

[Mis (from miso : hate)+anthrop] Misanthrope: someone who dislikes people in general

[phil (loving, fond of,)+anthrop] Philanthropist: someone who makes charitable donations intended to increase human well-being


Roots help you notice patterns among words, but if you go about trying to guess the meaning of words based on their possible roots – you will find yourself getting into a lot of trouble.

Use Etymology, instead, to help clump together similarly themed words (based on the roots they share). This also helps you understand words better.

Sometimes being able to recognize the roots could help you make that decisive intelligent-guess on your Sentence Equivalence or Text Completion questions: this makes the difference between a wrong and a right answer!

Use the etymological dictionary; it is a great place to understand the roots present in a word, and also find other words that use the same roots!

Check out our next blog in the ‘Taming The Beast Series’, on using inclines to build vocabulary.

What do you find helpful in building your GRE vocabulary? Leave your comments below!

Need specific help with your GRE prep?

Explore GRE Course Options!