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Words You Need To Know

Words from Greek

The words in this list are all related to words that were used 2500 years ago! English gets an important part of its vocabulary from the language of ancient Greece. Classical Greek, as it is called, is quite different from but closely related to the language spoken in Greece today. The ancient Greeks provided the foundation for many important ways of looking at the world and for living in society that are still important today; that is one reason their language has remained so influential. It is still used today, for example, when scientists need a word to describe something newly created or discovered.

Now You Try

Here are a few more Greek words with their pronunciations and definitions. After each definition is an explanation of what a part of the word means. See if you can think of other words in English that contain the same Greek word part, spelled in the same way.

Example

apathy \ˈa-pə-thē\ n lack of feeling. The path part of this word comes from the Greek word for "feeling." Some other words you might think of: empathy, pathology, sympathy, and telepathy.

  1. 1. analysis \ə-ˈna-lə-səs\ n separation of something into its parts. The lysis part of this word means "loosening" or "breaking up" in Greek.

    The words provided for these exercises are among the most common ones; you may have thought of others.

    catalysis, dialysis, paralysis

  2. 2. android \ˈan-ˌdrid\ n a robot that looks like a human. The andr part of this word comes from the Greek word that means "man."

    The words provided for these exercises are among the most common ones; you may have thought of others.

    androgynous, misandry, androcracy

  3. 3. diatribe \ˈdī-ə-ˌtrīb\ n bitter or abusive writing or speech. The dia part of this word means "through," "across," or "apart" in Greek words.

    The words provided for these exercises are among the most common ones; you may have thought of others.

    diadem, diagonal, diagram, diaphragm

  4. 4. isobar \ˈī-sə-ˌbär\ n a line on a map connecting places that have the same barometer reading. The iso part of this word means "equal" in Greek words.

    The words provided for these exercises are among the most common ones; you may have thought of others.

    isopropyl, isosceles, isotherm, isotope

  5. 5. pentathlon \pen-ˈtath-lən\ n an athletic competition consisting of five events. The pent/penta part of this word comes from the Greek word that means "five."

    The words provided for these exercises are among the most common ones; you may have thought of others.

    pentagram, pentagon, pentameter, Pantateuch, Pentecost

  6. 6. polygon \ˈpä-lē-ˌgän\ n a drawn figure that encloses a space and has straight sides. The gon part of this word means "angle" in words from Greek.

    The words provided for these exercises are among the most common ones; you may have thought of others.

    decagon, hexagon, heptagon, pentagon, nonagon, octagon, orthogonal

  7. 7. thermal \ˈthər-məl\ adj related to, caused by, or involving heat. The therm part of this word appears in other words from Greek involving heat.

    hyperthermia, hypothermia, isotherm, thermometer

Spelling Tip

In a few words from Greek, e appears at the end of a word and has long e sound \ē\: Some examples are acme, apostrophe, and hyperbole.

Spelling Tip

A \k\ sound in English often represents a sound from Greek that we don't actually use, and the most common spelling of this sound in English is ch: See anachronism, arachnid, character, chronic, chronology, dichotomy, hierarchy, matriarch, melancholy, patriarch, synchronous, notochord, tachometer, and gynarchy.

Spelling Tip

The most frequent sound that y gets in words from Greek is short i (\i\) as in acronym, calypso, cryptic, cynical, dyslexia, eponym, homonym, myriad, Olympian, synchronous, synergy, synonym, synopsis, syntax, symbiosis and polymer.

Spelling Tip

A long i sound (\ī\) in a word that comes from Greek is sometimes represented by y, especially after h, as in hydraulic, hydrology, hygiene, hyperbole, hyphen, hypothesis, dynamic, cynosure, gynarchy, xylophone and pyre.

Spelling Tip

In ancient Greek, the letter phi (pronounced \fī\) represented a breathy or "aspirated" version of the sound that is represented in English by f. Speakers of Roman-alphabet languages did not have this sound or a corresponding letter, so they substituted the \f\ sound but memorialized the original sound of phi by using ph to spell it. As a result, the English \f\ sound almost always appears as ph in words of Greek origin. Consider, for example: amphibious, apostrophe, cacophony, diphthong, epiphany, euphemism, hyphen, metamorphosis, metaphor, periphery, phenomenon, philanthropy, philately, philhellenism, spherical, topography, xylophone, and zephyr. Hundreds of words in English derived from Greek show this spelling.

Spelling Tip

The letter o is the vowel most often used to connect two Greek word elements. If the connecting vowel sound is a schwa (\ə\) as in xylophone, notochord, orthodox, ergonomic, geoponics, and asthmogenic and you must guess at the spelling of this sound, the letter o is a very good guess. The non–study-list words hypnotist, geometric, and electrolyte are among the many, many words made of Greek word elements connected by o.

Spelling Tip

The \j\ sound is always spelled with g in words from Greek. Why? When the \j\ sound appears in words of Greek origin, it does so as an anglicized pronunciation of a root originally pronounced with a hard g. Note that no j appears in any of the words on this list!

Spelling Tip

A schwa in words from Greek is occasionally spelled with y: See analysis, etymology, misogynist, odyssey, and zephyr.