Basic Word Parts


In addition to reviewing the SAT High-Frequency Word List, what other quick vocabulary-building tactics can you follow when you face an SAT deadline?

One good approach is to learn how to build up (and tear apart) words. You know that words are made up of other words: the room in which you store things is the storeroom; the person whose job is to keep the books is the bookkeeper.

Just as words are made up of other words, words are also made up of word parts: prefixes, suffixes, and roots. A knowledge of these word parts and their meanings can help you determine the meanings of unfamiliar words.

Most modern English words are derived from Anglo-Saxon (Old English), Latin, and Greek. Because few students nowadays study Latin and Greek (and even fewer study Anglo-Saxon!), the majority of high school juniors and seniors lack a vital tool for unlocking the meaning of unfamiliar words.

Build your vocabulary by mastering basic word parts. Learning thirty key word parts can help you unlock the meaning of over 10,000 words. Learning fifty key word parts can help you unlock the meaning of over 100,000!

Common Prefixes


Prefixes are syllables that precede the root or stem of a word and change or refine its meaning.






ab, abs

from, away from

abduct lead away, kidnap

abjure renounce

abject degraded, cast down



ambidextrous skilled with both hands

ambiguous of double meaning

ambivalent having two conflicting emotions

   an, a


anarchy lack of government

anemia lack of blood

amoral without moral sense



antecedent preceding event or word

antediluvian ancient (before the flood)

antenuptial before the wedding


   against, opposite

antipathy hatred

antiseptic against infection

antithetical exactly opposite


   chief, first

archetype original

archbishop chief bishop

archeology study of first or ancient times



bicameral composed of two houses (Congress)

biennial every two years

bicycle two-wheeled vehicle



catastrophe disaster

cataract waterfall

catapult hurl (throw down)



circumnavigate sail around (the globe)

circumspect cautious (looking around)

circumscribe limit (place a circle around)

   com (co, col, con, cor)

   with, together

combine merge with

commerce trade with

communicate correspond with

coeditor joint editor

collateral subordinate, connected

conference meeting

corroborate confirm

   contra, contro


contravene conflict with

controversy dispute


   down, away

debase lower in value

decadence deterioration

decant pour off



dichotomy division into two parts

dilemma choice between two bad alternatives



diagonal across a figure

diameter distance across a circle

diagram outline drawing


   not, apart

discord lack of harmony

disparity condition of inequality; difference


   faulty, bad

dyslexia faulty ability to read

dyspepsia indigestion

   ex, e


expel drive out

extirpate root out

eject throw out

   extra, extro

   beyond, outside

extracurricular beyond the curriculum

extraterritorial beyond a nation’s bounds

extrovert person interested chiefly in external objects and actions


   above; excessively

hyperbole exaggeration

hyperventilate breathe at an excessive rate


   beneath; lower

hypoglycemia low blood sugar

   in (il, im, ir)


inefficient not efficient

inarticulate not clear or distinct

illegible not readable

impeccable not capable of sinning; flawless

irrevocable not able to be called back

   in (il, im, ir)

   in, on, upon

invite call in

illustration something that makes clear

impression effect upon mind or feelings

irradiate shine upon


   between, among

intervene come between

international between nations

interjection a statement thrown in

   intra, intro


intramural within a school

introvert person who turns within himself


   large, long

macrobiotic tending to prolong life

macrocosm the great world (the entire universe)


   great, million

megalomania delusions of grandeur

megaton explosive force of a million tons of TNT


   involving change

metamorphosis change of form



microcosm miniature universe

microbe minute organism

microscopic extremely small


   bad, improper

misdemeanor minor crime; bad conduct

mischance unfortunate accident

misnomer wrong name



misanthrope person who hates mankind

misogynist woman-hater



monarchy government by one ruler

monotheism belief in one god



multifarious having many parts

multitudinous numerous



neologism newly coined word

neophyte beginner; novice



noncommittal undecided

nonentity person of no importance


   all, every

panacea cure-all

panorama unobstructed view in all directions


   through, completely

permeable allowing passage through

pervade spread throughout


   around, near

perimeter outer boundary

periphery edge



polygamist person with several spouses

polyglot speaking several languages



postpone delay

posterity generations that follow

posthumous after death



preamble introductory statement

prefix word part placed before a root/stem

premonition forewarning



primordial existing at the dawn of time

primogeniture state of being the first born


   forward, in favor of

propulsive driving forward

proponent supporter



prototype first of its kind



pseudonym pen name


   again, back

reiterate repeat

reimburse pay back



retrospect looking back

retroactive effective as of a past date


   away, aside

secede withdraw

seclude shut away

seduce lead astray


   half, partly

semiannual every six months

semiconscious partly conscious

   sub (suc, suf, sug, sup, sus)

   under, less

subway underground road

subjugate bring under control

succumb yield; cease to resist

   super, sur

   over, above

supernatural above natural things

supervise oversee

surtax additional tax

   syn (sym, syl, sys)

   with, together

synchronize time together

synthesize combine together

sympathize pity; identify with

syllogism explanation of how ideas relate

system network



telemetry measurement from a distance

telegraphic communicated over a distance



transport carry across

transpose reverse, move across


   beyond, excessive

ultramodern excessively modern

ultracritical exceedingly critical



unfeigned not pretended; real

unkempt not combed; disheveled

unwitting not knowing; unintentional



undergird strengthen underneath

underling someone inferior



unison oneness of pitch; complete accord

unicycle one-wheeled vehicle


   in place of

vicarious acting as a substitute

viceroy governor acting in place of a king


   away, against

withhold hold back; keep

withstand stand up against; resist