Root Words & Scientific Vocabulary

Scientists give names to new discoveries, concepts, theories and inventions using classical Latin and Greek roots, prefixes and suffixes.  Since these languages are no longer spoken (they were replaced by modern Greek and Italian), meanings do not change.   For example, the ancient Greeks used the word therme to describe heat, and today we use the root therm to mean “heat” in a variety of English words such as homeotherm, thermometer, thermistor, ectotherm, poikilotherm, thermophilic, thermoregulation, thermochemistry, endothermic, exothermic, thermite, thermodynamics, thermoelectric, thermocouple, thermonuclear, thermal, isotherm, and thermocline.  A simple science root word can provide clues to numerous other words, greatly reducing the amount of memorization necessary to master this new vocabulary, and making it easier for people from different countries to understand! 

A knowledge of Greek and Latin root words can greatly enhance student understanding of scientific terms and provide a better understanding of English and other European languages.  Approximately 50% of all words in English have Latin roots, many of which are shared by Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian.   Learning scientific root words thereby helps one understand the vocabulary of a variety of languages, particularly English.  The activities in this chapter focus on scientific terms, but the roots are used in other words as well.  For example, the prefix anti- means against, or opposite as seen in the following scientific terms: antiseptic, antibiotic, antigen, antibody, antibacterial, antioxidant, anticodon, antacid, antinodes, antimatter, antiquark, antiparticle, anticline, and anticyclone.  This same prefix is used in many non-scientific terms as well, such as anticlimactic, antifreeze, antiperspirant, antidepressant, and antiterrorism.  Thus, an understanding of the roots introduced in this chapter helps one master both scientific and nonscientific terms and become more proficient in the use of language.

Building a Root Word Glossary

  1. Choose a difficult term in your discipline and enter in the appropriate column in the Root Word Glossary. Identify the prefixes, suffixes and roots and place in the appropriate columns 
  2. Identify the meanings of these terms.  You may use YourDictionary to accomplish this. 
  3. Provide additional examples of the use of each prefix, suffix or root word.  You may use OneLook to accomplish this.

Analyzing Scientific Terms

  1. Analyze the roots and determine its meaning; Visualization of this word.
  2. Building a slide show to illustrate analyses of scientific terms. 
    1. Example 1 - Scientific terms
    2. Example 2 - variety of terms