When you speak or write, you use words that have roots, prefixes and suffixes. These word parts help define the word, and changing one word part results in a new meaning. You can also break down the words, finding each part, to discover the definition. Learning the role of prefixes, suffixes and roots, as well as how to combine forms, will help you increase your reading comprehension skills and improve your writing ability.


The root forms the main part of the word, providing the base meaning. The root can be thought of as the foundation of the word. A root may stand alone, such as in the word “clear,” or the root may require a prefix or suffix. For example, in the root “duc,” which means to lead, bring or take, you need to add a prefix or suffix to form a complete word.


Prefixes appear at the beginning of the word. This part of the word may help relate numbers, location or time. For example, the prefix “pre“ means “before,” and if you combine this with the root word “heat,” you will have the word “preheat.” You may use this in a sentence such as “Preheat the oven before baking the cake.” Other examples of common prefixes include “bi,” “un" and “anti.”


Suffixes come at the end of a root word and can make the root word into either an adjective, verb or noun, depending on the suffix chosen. For example, start with the root word “lead,” meaning to guide a person or go with them. This root is a verb, an action word. If you add the suffix “er,” meaning “someone who,” you get the noun “leader,” which means someone who guides.

In some instances, more than one suffix can be added to arrive at a necessary meaning. Add the suffix “ship,” which means “referring to,” to leader and this forms “leadership,” a word “referring to someone who guides.”


When identifying the parts of a word, begin by breaking them down. A dictionary may be needed when breaking down difficult or unfamiliar terms. To begin, look for the main meaning or foundation of the word and draw a box around this root. Check for a prefix in front of the root and underline this word part. Finally, look at the end of the word to find suffixes. There can be more than one suffix attached to the root, so circle each individual suffix. Keep in mind that all words have a root, but they may not have a prefix or suffix. If there is an unfamiliar term, write out the definition of each word part after identifying them, and this will help to determine the meaning.