Vocabulary Development: Structural Analysis

Structural analysis is the process of breaking words down into their basic parts to determine word meaning. Structural analysis is a powerful vocabulary tool since knowledge of a few word parts can give you clues to the meanings of a large number of words. Although the meaning suggested by the word parts may not be exact, this process can often help you understand the word well enough that you can continue reading without significant interruption.

When using structural analysis, the reader breaks words down into their basic parts:

  • Prefixes – word parts located at the beginning of a word to change meaning
  • Roots – the basic meaningful part of a word
  • Suffixes – word parts attached to the end of a word; suffixes often alter the part of speech of the word

For example, the word bicyclist can be broken down as follows:

  • bi – prefix meaning two
  • cycle – root meaning wheel
  • ist – a noun suffix meaning ‘a person who’

Therefore, structural analysis suggests that a bicyclist is a person on two wheels – a meaning which is close to the word’s formal definition.

Consider the word part –cide. Though it cannot stand as a word by itself, it does have meaning: to kill. Think about the many words in our language that include the word part –cide. Knowing this one word part gives us knowledge about many words.

Structural Analysis: Common Word Parts

Following is a list of some common prefixes, roots, and suffixes along with their meanings and examples of words which use them. Use these word parts to help you approximate the meanings of unknown words.

Word PartMeaningExamples
Prefixes with negative meaning
a; annot or withoutatypical, anaerobic
Antiagainst; oppositeantifreeze, antibiotic
Disnot; oppositedisown, disconnect
in, imnotinactive, immature
il, irnotillegal, irresponsible
Miswrongmisspelled, misnomer
Nonnotnonessential, nonverbal
Unnotunavailable, undecided
Prefixes that change time
Postafterpostgraduate, postnatal
Prebeforeprecondition, predisposed
Reagain; backreactivate, reposition
Retrobackwardretrogress, retroactive
Prefixes that concern placement or direction
ab; aaway fromabduction; amoral
Circumaroundcircuit, circumference
Dedowndescend, deescalate
ex; exoout; no longerexit, expand, exorcism
Interbetweeninterview, intervene
Intrawithinintrastate, intravenous
Perthroughpermeate, perfume
Proforward; forprojection, promote
Subbelowsubnormal, submarine
Syntogethersynagogue, synonym
Superabovesuperhuman, supersonic
Transacrosstranscend, transport
Prefixes that relate to numbers
Monoonemonogram, monolith
Duotwoduet, duplex
Multimanymultiple, multinational
Unioneunicycle, uniform
Bitwo; twicebicycle, binary
Trithreetrimester, tricycle
Quadfourquadrant, quadruple
Polymanypolymer, polygon
Millione thousandthmillimeter, milligram
Centione hundredthcentimeter, centigram
Kilothousandkilometer, kilogram
Miscellaneous prefixes
Autoselfautomatic, autobiography
Biolifebiography, biology
Deaway; downdepress, detach
Demopeopledemographics, democracy
Disnot; no longer; awayDistance
Eugood; pleasanteuphonious, eulogy
Heterodifferent, mixedheterogeneous, heterosexual
Homoman; samehomogenous, homicide
Hyperexcessivehyperactive, hypersensitive
Hypobelow; underhypodermic, hypoglycemic
Macrolargemacrocosm, macroscopic
Microsmallmicrocosm, microscope
Nonnotnonbeliever, nonsense
Reback; againreturn, renegotiate
Semipartlysemicircle, semitransparent
Word PartMeaningExamples
Audito hearaudition, audience
Biolifebiology, bionics
Cideto killsuicide, homicide
Credto believeincredible, credibility
Dicto speak; telldictate, dictionary
Ducleadeducator, abduct
Graphwritegraphology, autograph
Logystudy ofpsychology, geology
Pathsuffer; diseasepsychopath, pathologist
Phobiafearclaustrophobia, agoraphobia
Phonosoundmegaphone, microphone
Portcarryportable, transport
Spectlook; seespectator, spectacles
Word PartExamples
Noun suffixes – usually mean the state of; the quality of
Anceattendance, disappearance
Cracydemocracy, theocracy
Cyconstancy, irrelevancy
Encepreference, inference
Fulgrateful, suspenseful
Ionagitation, migration
Ismtruism, spiritualism
ity/tysuperiority, loyalty
Mentastonishment, excitement
Nessgreatness, fitness
Noun suffixes that refer to a person
Abledurable, comfortable
Aryvisionary, secretary
Eenominee, employee
er/orteacher, instructor
Essactress, seamstress
Estfullest, happiest
Ibleincredible, feasible
Istpharmacist, egotist
Verb suffixes – usually mean characterized by
Atestimulate, consolidate
Ifyclassify, simplify
Izedramatize, capitalize

Attribution: Adapted from “Structural Analysis: Common Word Parts” from Vocabulary Development, Lethbridge College, eLearningCafe. License: CC BY.

Prefix, Suffix, & Root Words Practices

The English language contains an enormous and ever-growing number of words. Enhancing your vocabulary by learning new words can seem overwhelming, but if you know the common prefixes and suffixes of English, you will understand many more words. Mastering common prefixes and suffixes is like learning a code. Once you crack the code, you can not only spell words more correctly but also recognize and perhaps even define unfamiliar words. A prefix is a word part added to the beginning of a word to create a new meaning.

Exercise 1

Add the correct prefix to the word to complete each sentence. Write the word on your own sheet of paper.

1. I wanted to ease my stomach ________comfort, so I drank some ginger root tea.

2. Lenny looked funny in his ________matched shirt and pants.

3. Penelope felt ________glamorous at the party because she was the only one not wearing a dress.

4. My mother said those ________aging creams do not work, so I should not waste my money on them.

5. The child’s ________standard performance on the test alarmed his parents.

6. When my sister first saw the meteor, she thought it was a ________natural phenomenon.

7. Even though she got an excellent job offer, Cherie did not want to ________locate to a different country.

8. With a small class size, the students get to ________act with the teacher more frequently.

9. I slipped on the ice because I did not heed the ________cautions about watching my step.

10. A ________combatant is another word for civilian. A suffix is a word part added to the end of a word to create a new meaning. However, many times you will have to change the ending of the word to spell the word correctly.

Exercise 2

Add the correct suffix to the word to complete each sentence. Make sure to decide on what needs to be done to the word before adding the suffix.

1. My daughter had to drive my car today and I told her to be care________.

2. I like to hear the rain at night but I hope this morning will be sun________ than yesterday.

3. My favorite television show was cancel________.

4. Joshua might be regret________ not going on vacation with us.

5. The toy car came with a set of replace________ batteries.

6. I love Christmas time because there is usually some excite________ in the air.

7. Before the bank loan can be made the lender most provide the customer with approve________.

8. Before going grocery shopping last night, I had to choose between to different locations. I prefer________ the store closer to my house.

9. As the sun set, the dark________ was harder to maneuver in.

10.The instructor request that we find three scholar________ articles for our paper.

Answer to Exercises

1. Discomfort, mismatched, unglamorous, anti-aging, below-standard, unnatural, relocate, interact, precautions, noncombatant

2. Careful, sunnier, cancelled, regretful, replacement, excitement, approval, preferred, darkness, scholarly

Developed by Judith Wilde, PhD for Beta Group – Albuquerque, NM and Arlington, VA (rev 8/06). Reprinted by NCELA with permission. Multiple copies permitted for educational purposes and with this credit line.

Attribution: Adapted from “Working with Words: Which Word Is Right? Prefixes and Suffixes,” Writing for Success, by University of Minnesota, License: CC BY-NC-SA.