Multisyllabic words are sometimes challenging. Even if you don’t know exactly what “multisyllabic” means, you might have spotted a part of that word you do know. You recognize “multi” from the word “multiplication,” so you can infer or guess that the word means many syllables. Looking for familiar parts is the first step in a three-step strategy to unlock the meanings of unknown words. When you look for syllables you know, you are, in a sense, looking inside a word by analyzing its parts.

When you look inside a word, you will be looking for three kinds of word parts. The first is a root, the stem or base of a word, or a unit of language in its simplest form. “Meter” or “metr-“ is a good example of a root. Whenever you see it in a word, you know with a great degree of certainty that the word has something to do with measurements. For example, the diameter of a circle is a measurement of its width, and geometry is a class where you learn to measure circles and other geometric shapes. You will be able to access a chart in a later section of this lesson that contains the most common Greek roots.. Over half of all the multisyllabic words, words with more than one syllable, that you’ll encounter in the upper grades contain a Greek or Latin root, so it’s well worth the time you invest learning them.

Besides roots, the other two word parts to look for are called affixes. An affix is a part of the word that can be attached to the beginning or ending to give a word more meaning. In this lesson, you will learn about two kinds of affixes: prefixes and suffixes. Prefixes are affixed, or attached, before a root or base word, and suffixes are affixed to the end of a word. One of the best examples of a prefix is “pre-,” which means “before.” You can predict your food will turn out if you preheat the oven before you put your premixed food in it. A common suffix is “-or,” which means “one who does something.” An actor is one who acts, a director is one who directs, and a survivor is one who endures or continues to function in spite of opposition or hardship, such as the person who endures the most episodes on the reality television show “Survivor.” A list of the most common prefixes and suffixes has also been made available in a later section of the lesson.

Watch this video about how affixes can be used to break words apart and put them back together.