Most Important Prefixes & Roots for the GRE

by Amma Marfo
Familiarizing yourself with prefixes and roots will help you make educated guesses.

Familiarizing yourself with prefixes and roots will help you make educated guesses.

The Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE can be intimidating. Unless you are a word whiz, you will probably come across some unfamiliar vocabulary. But there are tricks that can help you master your language skills. If you take the time to study some common word components, you may be able to decode the GRE’s unrecognizable terms.

Important Prefixes

Prefixes often found on the GRE include "ab" (meaning "away from"), "ex" ("out of" or "former"), "pre" or "pro" ("before") and "sub" ("under" or "beneath"). Knowing the meaning of these common prefixes can help you understand words frequently found on the GRE --- even ones you have never seen before. For example, you could infer that the word "abstain" has to do with staying away from something.

Common Roots

Knowledge of common roots will help you make educated guesses about the meaning of words and eliminate unlikely options on multiple-choice questions. Once you learn that "mittere" means "send," you may infer that "intermittent" has something to do with communication. Other common roots include "ver" (truth), "nom" (rule or order) and "tain" (hold). If you already know that the prefix “ab” means “away from,” you may assume that "abstain" means "away from holding." Indeed, someone who abstains from a vote doesn't wish to provide his or her opinion. Even if your guess does not result in a perfect match, eliminating options unrelated to a root word increases the likelihood of selecting the right answer.

Word of Warning

By memorizing common prefixes and roots, you can make educated guesses about the meaning of words you do not know. However, the process is not foolproof. Some roots have more than one meaning. For example, "pine" can mean "yearn for" or "waste away," and some prefixes look different (e.g., ad, ac, ad and al), but they share one meaning (to, toward or near). Some words can be deceiving, so memorize a few exceptions to common rules. Don't let a working knowledge of prefixes and roots make you complacent!

Tips and Strategies

When you come across additional prefixes and roots, jot them down. Top Test Prep, a tutoring and test prep company, also recommends creating lists of derivatives from common roots to familiarize yourself with definitions and exceptions. Comfort with and exposure to content is key to getting a great score on the Verbal Reasoning section, so make sure you review material often to increase your understanding.

About the Author

Amma Marfo is a Boston-area higher education professional and writer. She also writes for The Niche Movement, Talking Points Memo, and her personal site, The Dedicated Amateur.

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