Nothing pure about it–English I mean. After all, the British Isles were invaded several times, as when, during the 5th century, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes arrived, pushing out Celtic in favor of their Germanic tongue. Centuries later, Irish missionaries brought along the Latin alphabet—the one still in use today. Then, in 1066, William the Conqueror took over, and Latin-based French was woven into the mix. And, then, with the revival of classical study during the Renaissance, even more Latin and many Greek words joined in—making an impressive impact on our language, one that can help your child expand his vocabulary with minimal effort.

Let’s start with a multiple choice question: When coming across an unfamiliar word, your child: a) skips right over it; b) looks it up in a dictionary; c) asks someone; d) seeks out context clues; e) looks for known word parts. Actually, all can result in success. But sometimes a dictionary isn’t handy, sometimes there’s no one around to ask, and sometimes skipping only leads to more uncertainty. That leaves strategies like looking at context clues or analyzing recognizable parts of the word—primarily prefixes and roots. That last option can make a big difference.

Of the seven most often-used prefixes in English, un- comes to us from Old English, and en- and em- come to us from Greek. The other five are Latin. Moreover, those seven are found in more than 2,000 of our words. Makes sense to know them, don’t you think? Here, they are in order of prevalence: un- (not); re- (back/again); in-, im-, ir-, il- (not); dis- (not/do the opposite of); en-, em- (in); non- (not); and in-, im-, ir-, il- (in/into).

Now toss in a handful of Latin roots, such as –ject-, jact- (throw/hurl); mit-, miss- (send/let go); pell-, puls- (drive/force); and tract- (draw/pull), and you’ve got quite a word bank going. Just think about it: already there’s inject, reject, impel, dispel, retract, repel, repulsion, distract, intractable, remiss, dismiss . . . And, of course, un- goes with all sorts of base words. By knowing the meanings of these word parts, your child can pretty much figure out all kinds of word meanings. Here are a few more puzzle pieces that you and your child can mix and match; add appropriate suffix endings, too:

More Prefixes:               Latin Roots:
de- (down)                      -ced-, cess- (to go/move along)
ex- (out)                          -dic-, dict (to say/tell/speak)
mis- (wrong/badly)      -duc-, duct (to lead)
pre- (before)                  –port (to carry)
pro- (for/forth)             –pos- (to put/place)
sub- (under)                  -vert-, vers- (to turn/change)
trans- (across)              –voc- (to call/summon)

To develop what’s known as “word consciousness,” play some word games with these prefixes and roots:

1. CREATE-A-WORD: combine prefixes and roots with suffix endings to create words, define them, and double-check with a dictionary, which comes to us, by the way, from the Latin dic- and dict-, meaning speak..

2. CREATE-A-WORD, Part 2: combine prefixes and roots with suffix endings to create new and unheard of words and define them. No need to check the dictionary.

3. SNIGLETS: put prefixes, roots, and suffixes together to create never-before words for your child to define (misportation? subduction?)

4. Have your child highlight words in his readings with affixes and analyze them before checking a dictionary. Add these to a master list or word wall.

6. Leave your child notes filled with affixed words for practice.

Meanwhile, play all sorts of other word games, too–everything from Perquackey and Syzygy to Boggle, Balderdash, Scrabble, and Hangman. And don’t forget crossword puzzles, word searches, and Hangman. Put it all together and you’ve got vocabulary lessons without the angst. Enjoy.