Get to the root of the words


Do you find yourself in a muddle while cramming up those ambiguous scientific terms? Here are some tips to make the arduous task of learning these terms more enjoyable

Most people like Science but are intimidated by high sounding and hard-to-pronounce words that they encounter while learning the subject. These words/terms are not just new, they are also long and difficult to spell. If only there was a better understanding of root words, understanding Science itself would be a lot simpler. Unfortunately, we pay little or no attention at all to many scientific terms.

Why do we have such complicated words in Science?

Traditionally, people who studied Science also had to learn the classical languages of Greek and Latin. Therefore, it was only natural that people coined many technical terms in either Greek or Latin. While it is impossible, even unnecessary, to learn these languages to understand Science today, a glimpse at some of the root words will go a long way in helping increase our knowledge bank.

How does knowing the root word help?

When we know what certain root words mean, no matter what we deal with, our understanding of the subject gets better. In short, knowing certain root words, will only increase our comprehension of it and will propel our love for the subject too.

Common root words

Given below is a set of some common root words. Learning them will help understand Science better.
*Student learn about animals that belong to the Arthropod group. Although, many text books state that it means, jointed legs, not many actually break the word to give a better understanding of the word. ‘Arth’ means ‘joint’, ‘pod’ means ‘leg’, ‘ites’ means ‘pain.’ I am sure you get it now. Arthritis means ‘joint pain’, ‘arthropod’ means ‘jointed legs’, and ‘tripod’ means ‘three legs’ (tri means three).

*It is important for children to break a word into its constituents when they cannot understand the meaning. ‘Arium’ is a Latin word. It is usually used as a suffix. It means ‘connected to.’ We know many words with the term ‘arium’ in it – planetarium, aquarium, etc.

*Have you heard of the word ‘meta?’ Meta is a Greek word meaning transformation or change. It is used in many words as a prefix. So we get, metamorphosis (where ‘morph’ is again a Greek word that means ‘shape’). Now, we can certainly tell what metamorphosis means.

*‘Vor’ is another word that finds itself in many of our commonly used scientific terms like insectivore, carnivore, herbivore, voracious.

The word means, ‘to eat greedily.’

*Ever wondered why so many unconnected words have the same prefix, such as diameter and dialogue? The prefix ‘dia’, a derivative from Greek, means ‘across.’
*Photograph, photon, photo — all have the prefix ‘photo.’ It obviously leads to the understanding that ‘photo’ corresponds to ‘light.’

*The word ‘ambi’ in Latin means ‘both’, so, we have, ambidextrous and ambivalent. However, ‘amphi’ also means, both, but in Greek, (example – amphibian)
*‘Chroma’ and ‘chlor’ both are Greek words. While chroma is colour, chlor is green.

Therefore, it becomes simpler to understand the meaning of words like photochromatic and monochrome. Photo (light) chromatic (colourful) or mono (single) chrome (colour).

*‘Circum’ is a Latin word for ‘around.’ From this root word we get words like, circumnavigate, circumference, etc.

*‘Endo’ is Greek for inside. Hence, we have, endoderm (‘derma’ is skin in Greek hence, dermatologist), endothermic (‘therm’ is heat in Greek so, thermometer)
There are scores of other words that are from Greek and Latin, that we use, not just in Science but also in English. Explore more of these words and discover a whole new world of science with better understanding.

Here are some websites, that can help you understand the matter better:


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