Determining Word Meanings

When a reader comes across an unfamiliar word, it’s important that they know techniques to understanding the word’s definition.

One way to determine a word’s definition is by looking at the prefix and suffix of the word. Although there are many words in the English language, many of those words share a common prefix or suffix.

The next lesson: False Analogy, both lessons are included in Practice Tests.

The following transcript is provided for your convenience.

So, by understanding the meaning of that prefix or suffix, the reader can then determine the likely meaning of the word.

So, one way to determine word meaning is structural analysis, and that’s by looking at the prefix, the root, and the suffix, all of a word.

So, take the word “unacceptable” for example.

Here, you have the root word, “accept“, because that can be a word in itself. And then, here, you have the prefix “un“, and the suffix “able“.

The prefix is always going to come before the root word, and the suffix is always going to come after the root word.

Now, notice I said the root word is the word that can stand alone. I understand that “able” can also stand alone and is a word, but in this case, it’s a suffix. So, if you saw “un” or “able” written by themselves, you would see it written like this.

That’s because the dash represents the word. So, here, since “un” is a prefix, the word comes after the prefix, and here with “able“, the word comes before “able“, because “able” is the suffix.

So, say you didn’t understand what “unacceptable” meant. Well, you could look “able“, and you know that means “able“, pretty much, and so, you know “acceptable” must mean “able to accept“.

Well, “un“, you know, means “not so“, from words like “unprofessional“, because “unprofessional” means “not professional“. It means the “opposite of“.

So, you know that “un” means “not acceptable“, something that’s not able to be accepted. So, thereby using the prefix and the suffix of the word, and knowing the meanings of those, the reader can determine the meaning of the word “unacceptable“.

Now, some words like “backward” don’t have both a prefix and a suffix. They just a suffix. So, “back” is the root word, and “ward” is the suffix.

So, say you didn’t know what “backward” meant, but you knew what the root word meant. You knew what “back” meant, but you remember the word “toward“, which also has the same suffix. And you know that means “going somewhere“, so you could get an idea that this suffix has something to do with direction. So, since you see the root word “back“, you know it means “going back to“.

So, that’s another example of how to use the prefix or the suffix to determine the meaning of the word.

And some words just have a prefix. This word, for example, has a prefix and a suffix, but no root word.

Here, “bio” is a prefix, and “ology” is also a suffix. And they share that “o“. And so, you could look at this and think, “Okay, I don’t know what this means, but I’ve seen the word ‘bio’ before in the word ‘biography’.”

Well, that’s a book about someone’s life, so “bio” must mean “life“, and then, what is “ology” mean?

Well, I’ve heard of ‘archaeology’, and so, that must mean the study of something, because you’re studying something. So, ‘ology’ means ‘the study of’.”

So, by knowing the prefix and the suffix, and what they mean at this word, you can conclude that this word most likely means “the study of life“.

So, it’s important to understand common prefixes and suffixes, so that you can determine the meaning of an unfamiliar word.

Practice tests help you remember. Take this mini-test to solidify your memory.
Mini-test: Determining Word Meanings [structural analysis] 

Look at the parts of the following words; then choose the best definition.

1.  immobile
2.  hydroponic


The next lesson: False Analogy, both lessons are included in Practice Tests.