Knowing the Greek (and Latin) provenance of words we still use is very helpful when it comes to improving language skills and studying other languages because they are shared all over Western Culture and even inside the entire Indo-European family. It is also a wise idea to know them since all their numerous compounds become immediately understandable.
On this subject, I decided to create my own file, since the options I saw here and there were never really satisfactory. So, here are some Greek origin words we use in English, grouped by initial root.
This list is loosely organized in alphabetical order.
The word listed in brackets () contains the same Greek element but not at the beginning of the term.
The specific meaning of each singular word is for the reader to find out; it will be a fine and fun game, all the necessary knowledge is provided hereafter but inside the [ ] sometimes I provided the literal translation of an original composite word.
The three periods (…) mean that there are significantly more English words that share that particularly prolific Greek root (such as “cata”, “bio”, “auto”, “psycho”…) you can try to find the missing ones.
Of course, this list is NOT exhaustive, on the contrary, is very laconic and terribly incomplete, but it was conceived as an introduction to the study and analysis of language for high-school students. Furthermore, I decided to realize it only recalling words by means of memory; this, in order to prove how embedded the Greek language, is in our minds and speaking skills. I limited anatomy, numbers, chemistry, botany, medical terms, and any specialized vocabulary that relies almost exclusively on Greek, to the essential. Which left out interesting roots such as: telos “the end, fulfillment, completion”, phyll-, word-forming element meaning “leaf,” from Greek phyllo-, etc. but we cannot have it all, I guess.
Who is interested in the topic can easily enhance the list with a simple search on the web; while collecting more items, the knowledge, and understanding of English will definitely increase significantly.
The abbreviation PIE stands for: Proto-Indo-European. All the red text explanations come from Etymological Online Dictionary. When I considered it opportune I simplified the text or interpolated new data.
At the moment, there are 153 clusters and 400 different Greek-origin words.
Greek agonia “a struggle for victory.”
Agora “place of assembly, city market.”
Algophobia [fear of pain]-(Analgesic-Nostalgic…)
Greek algos “pain,” algein “to feel pain,” of unknown origin. Related to alegein “to care about,” originally “to feel pain.”
Greek alphabetos, from alpha 1st letter of Greek alphabet (beta is the 2nd). Gamma is the 3rd. The succession A-B-C is common to Latin, ultimately to Hebrew (Aleph, Beth, Gimel).
Greek amnesia “forgetfulness,” from a- “not” + mnesi- “remembering.”
From amphi “round-about, on both sides of, all around; about, regarding.”
Greek ana (prep.) “up, on, upon; up to, toward; throughout; back, backwards; again, anew,”
Greek andro- “man.”
Greek angelos, literally “messenger, envoy, one that announces,” in the New Testament “divine messenger.”
Antinomy-Antibiotic-Antibacterial-Antipasto [Before the meal]-Antioxidant…
Anti- Greek origin meaning “against, opposed to, opposite of, instead,” shortened to ant- before vowels and -h-.
Aphrodite,” Greek goddess of love and beauty.
Greek arkos “defense,” arkein “to ward off.”
Greek arkhon “ruler, commander, chief, captain,” noun use of present participle of arkhein “be the first,” thence “to begin, begin from or with, make preparation for;” also “to rule, lead the way, govern, rule over, be leader of,” a word of uncertain origin.
Aristocracy [Government of the best]
Greek aristos “best of its kind, noblest, bravest, most virtuous.”
Greek arithmetike (tekhnē) “(the) counting (art),” fem. Of arithmetikos “of or for reckoning, arithmetical,” from arithmos “number, counting, amount.”
Greek astro-, stem and combining form of astron “star,” which is related to aster “star,” from PIE root *ster- “star.” In ancient Greek, aster typically was “a star” and astron mostly in plural, “the stars.” In singular it mostly meant “Sirius” (the brightest star).
Greek a-, an- “not” (the “alpha privative”), from PIE root *ne– “not” (source also of English un–).
Greek athletes “prizefighter, contestant in the games,” agent noun from athlein “to contest for a prize,” related to athlos “a contest” and athlon “a prize,” which is of unknown origin.
Autonomous [Self ruled]-Autocracy-Autoimmune-Automobile-Autism…
Greek autos “self”.
Basil [King plant]-Basilisk [Little king]-Basilica
Greek basileus “king“.
Greek basis “a going, a step; a stand, base, that whereon one stands,” from bainein “to go, walk, step,” from PIE root *gwa- “to go, come.”
Greek biblion “paper, scroll,” also the ordinary word for “a book as a division of a larger work;” originally a diminutive of byblos “Egyptian papyrus.”
Greek bios “life, one’s life, lifetime.”
Greek episkopos “watcher, (spiritual) overseer.”
From kakos “bad, evil”.
Calligraphy-Calliope-Kaleidoscope [Observer of beautiful forms]
From kalos “beauty“.
Greek kata-, before vowels kat-, from kata “down, downward, down from, down to,” from PIE *kmt- “down, with, along” (source also of Hittite kattan (adv.) “below, underneath,” katta “along with”).
Greek kheiro-, combining form of kheir (genitive kheiros) “the hand,” from PIE root *ghes– “hand.”
Greek khronos “time, a defined time, a lifetime, a season, a while,” which is of uncertain origin. Chronos was a Greek God.
Greek khrōma “surface of the body, skin, color of the skin,” also used generically for “color” and, in plural, “ornaments, make-up, embellishments.”
From Greek (aster) komētēs, literally “long-haired (star),” from komē “hair of the head” (compare koman “let the hair grow long”), which is of unknown origin.
Greek kōmōidia “a comedy, amusing spectacle,” probably from kōmōidos “actor or singer in the revels,” from kōmos “revel, carousal, merry-making, festival” + aoidos “singer, poet,” from aeidein “to sing,” which is related to ōidē (see ode).
Cosmos-Cosmonaut [Sailor of the cosmos]-Cosmetic-Cosmology…
Greek kosmos “order, good order, orderly arrangement,” a word with several main senses rooted in those notions.
Greek krisis “turning point in a disease, that change which indicates recovery or death.”
Greek kyklon “moving in a circle, whirling around,” present participle of kykloun “move in a circle, whirl,” from kyklos “circle” (from PIE root *kwel– “revolve, move round”).
Democracy [rule of the people]-Demagogue-Demography…
Dēmos “common people,” originally “district.”
Greek dia “through; throughout,” probably cognate with bi- and related to duo “two” (from PIE root *dwo– “two”) with a base sense of “twice.”
Greek dogma (genitive dogmatos) “opinion, tenet,” literally “that which one thinks is true,” from dokein “to seem good, think” (from PIE root *dek– “to take, accept”).
Doxa “opinion, praise,” from dokein “to seem,” from PIE root *dek– “to take, accept.”
Greek drama (genitive dramatos) “action, deed; play, spectacle,” from drāo “to do, make, act, perform” (especially some great deed, whether good or bad), which is of uncertain etymology.
From dromos “a race course,” from dramein “to run,” from PIE *drem- “to run” (source also of Sanskrit dramati “runs, goes,” perhaps also Old English trem “footstep”).
Greek dynamikos “powerful,” from dynamis “power,” from dynasthai “to be able, to have power, be strong enough,” which is of unknown origin.
Greek enkephalos “the brain,” literally “within the head,” from en “in” + kephalē “head”.
Greek eskhatos “last, furthest, uttermost, extreme, most remote” in time, space, degree (from PIE *eghs-ko-, suffixed form of *eghs “out.”
Esophagus [What carries and eats]
Greek oisophagos “gullet, passage for food, from oisein, future infinitive of pherein “to carry” (from PIE root *bher- “to carry”) + -phagos, from phagein “to eat” (from PIE root *bhag- “to share out, apportion; to get a share”).
Greek esoterikos “belonging to an inner circle.”
Eugene-Euphony-Euthanasia [Good death]-Eulogy-Euphemism…
Greek eus “good,” eu “well” (adv.), also “luckily, happily” (opposed to kakos), as a noun, “the right, the good cause,” from PIE *(e)su- “good” (source also of Sanskrit su- “good,” Avestan hu- “good”).
Greek heureka “I have found (it),” first person singular perfect active indicative of heuriskein “to find”.
Greek adverb ektos “outside, out of; free from; exempt” (opposed to entos), used to form compounds in Greek (such as ektome “a cutting out”); related to Greek ek, ex “out,” from PIE *eghs “out”.
Greek genea “generation, race,” from PIE root *gene- “give birth, beget.”
From geo- “earth”. Gaia was a Goddess.
Greek gynaiko-, combining form of gynē “woman, female,” from PIE root *gwen– “woman.” Another word for “gynecology” was gyniatrics.
Greek glōssa (Ionic), glōtta (Attic) “a language, tongue.
Greek gōnia “corner, angle” (from PIE root *genu- “knee; angle”). See “genuflexion”.
Greek grammatike (tekhnē) “(art) of letters,” referring both to philology and to literature in the broadest sense, fem. Of grammatikos (adj.) “pertaining to or versed in letters or learning,” from gramma “letter”.
From Greek hēlios “sun” (from PIE root *sawel– “the sun”).
Helicopter [Spiral winged]
Greek helix (genitive helikos) “spiral” (see helix) + pteron “wing” (from PIE root *pet– “to rush, to fly”).
Greek hēmi- “half,” from PIE root *semi-, which is the source of Sanskrit sami, Latin semi- .
Greek haimato-, combining form of haima (genitive haimatos) “blood”. Compare hemo-.
Heptagon [Seven angles]
Hermaphrodite [Hermes and Aphrodite]
Hermes son of Zeus and Maia in Greek mythology.
Herpes-Herpetology [Study of creeping things (snakes)]-Serpent-Serpentine…
Greek herpeton “reptile,” literally “creeping thing,” from herpein “to creep” from PIE *serp- “to crawl, creep” (source also of Sanskrit sarpati “creeps,” sarpah “serpent;” Greek herpein “to creep, herpeton “serpent.
Greek heteros “the other (of two), another, different; second; other than usual.” It is a compound; the first element means “one, at one, together,” from PIE root *sem– “one; as one, together with;” the second is cognate with the second element in Latin al-ter, Gothic an-þar, Old English o-ðer “other.”
Greek heuriskein “to find; find out, discover; devise, invent; get, gain, procure”.
From hippos “horse” (from PIE root *ekwo– “horse”).
Greek homos “one and the same,” also “belonging to two or more jointly,” from PIE *somo-, from root *sem– “one; as one, together with.”
Probably from Greek and somehow related to hubris, Greek hybris “wanton violence, insolence, outrage,” originally “presumption toward the gods;” the first element probably PIE *ud- “up, out.”
Greek hydr-, stem of hydor “water” (from suffixed form of PIE root *wed- “water; wet”).
Greek hypnotikos “inclined to sleep, putting to sleep, sleepy,” from hypnoun “put to sleep,” from hypnos “sleep” (from PIE root *swep– “to sleep”).
Greek hypo (prep. and adverb) “under, beneath; up from under; toward and under,” from PIE root *upo “under.”
Greek idea “form; the look of a thing; a kind, sort, nature; mode, fashion,” in logic, “a class, kind, sort, species,” from idein “to see,” from PIE *wid-es-ya-, suffixed form of root *weid- “to see.”
Greek idios “own, personal, private, one’s own.”
Greek keras (genitive keratos) “horn of an animal.”
Greek kinetikos “moving, putting in motion,” from kinetos “moved,” verbal adjective of kinein “to move” (from PIE root *keie- “to set in motion”).
Lykos “wolf.” Italian “lupo”, Spanish “lobo”.
Greek lithos “stone, a precious stone, marble; a piece on a game board,” a word of unknown origin.
Greek logos “word, speech, statement, discourse,” also “computation, account,” also “reason.”
Greek makros “large, long” (from PIE root *mak- “long, thin”)
Greek magike (presumably with tekhnē “art”), fem. of magikos “magical,” from magos “one of the members of the learned and priestly class,” from Old Persian magush, which is possibly from PIE root *magh– “to be able, have power.”
Greek mantikos “prophetic, oracular, of or for a soothsayer,” from mantis “one who divines, a seer, prophet; one touched by divine madness,” from mainesthai “be inspired,” which is related to menos “passion, spirit,” from PIE *mnyo-, suffixed form of root *men- “to think.”
Greek mathēmatike tekhnē “mathematical science,” feminine singular of mathēmatikos (adj.) “relating to mathematics, scientific, astronomical; pertaining to learning, disposed to learn,” from mathēma (genitive mathēmatos) “science, knowledge, mathematical knowledge; a lesson,” literally “that which is learnt;” from manthanein “to learn,” from PIE root *mendh– “to learn.”
Meg-, word-forming element often meaning “large, great,” but in physics a precise measurement to denote the unit taken a million times (megaton, megawatt, etc.), from Greek megas “great, large, vast, big, high, tall; mighty, important” (fem. megale), from PIE root *meg– “great.”
Mesopotamia [Between two rivers]-Mesosphere-Mesomorph
Greek mesos “middle, in the middle; middling, moderate; between” (from PIE root *medhyo– “middle”).
Greek metron “meter, a verse; that by which anything is measured; measure, length, size, limit, proportion,” from PIE root *me– “to measure.”
Greek smikros “small, little, petty, trivial, slight,” perhaps from PIE *smika, from root *smik- “small”.
Greek misos “hatred,” misein “to hate,” of uncertain etymology, perhaps from a Pre-Greek word.
Greek mnēmonikos “of or pertaining to memory,” from mnēmōn (genitive mnēmonos) “remembering, mindful,” from mnēmē “memory, a remembrance, record, an epitaph; memory as a mental faculty,” from base of mnasthai “remember,” from PIE root *men- “to think.”
Greek monos “single, alone,” from PIE root *men– “small, isolated.”
Greek morphē “form, shape.”
Greek Mousa, “the Muse,” also “music, song,” ultimately from PIE root *men– “to think.”
Greek nautikos “seafaring, naval,” from nautes “sailor,” from naus “ship,” from PIE root *nau- “boat.”
Greek neos “new, young, youthful; fresh, strange; lately, just now,” from PIE root *newo-.
Greek goddess of victory (identified by the Romans with their Victoria), literally “victory, upper hand” (in battle, in contests, in court), probably connected with neikos “quarrel, strife, “neikein “to quarrel with,” a word of uncertain etymology and perhaps a pre-Greek word.
Nostalgic [pain of coming back]
Made up word. Nostos “homecoming,” from neomai “to reach some place, escape, return, get home,” Modern Latin, coined 1688 in a dissertation on the topic at the University of Basel by scholar Johannes Hofer (1669-1752).
Greek obeliskos “small spit, obelisk, leg of a compass,” diminutive of obelos “a spit, pointed pillar, needle, broach; obelisk; bar of metal used as a coin or weight,” a word of uncertain origin; according to Beekes, “clearly Pre-Greek.”
Octagon-Octopus [Eight feet]
From okta- form of okto “eight.”
From Greek ōidē, an Attic contraction of aoidē “song, ode;” related to aeidein (Attic aidein) “to sing;” aoidos (Attic oidos) “a singer, singing;” aude “voice, tone, sound,” probably from a PIE *e-weid-, perhaps from root *wed- “to speak.”
Odontology-(Megalodon [Big teeth]-Orthodontics)
Odon, from odous, “tooth”.
Greek oligos “few, scanty, small, little,” in plural, “the few;” a word of uncertain origin.
Mount Olympos, the mountain in Thessaly, believed to be the home of the greater Greek gods.
Greek ophthalmos “eye,” originally “the seeing,” a word of uncertain origin.
Greek optikos “of or having to do with sight,” from optos “seen, visible,” related to ōps “eye,” from PIE root *okw– “to see.”
Greek organon “implement, tool for making or doing; musical instrument; organ of sense, organ of the body,” literally “that with which one works,” from PIE *werg-ano-, from root *werg- “to do.” See “work”.
Greek Oriōn, Oariōn, name of a giant hunter in Greek mythology, loved by Aurora, slain by Artemis, a name of unknown origin, though some speculate on Akkadian Uru-anna “the Light of Heaven.” Another Greek name for the constellation was Kandaon, a title of Ares, god of war, and the star pattern is represented in many cultures as a giant (such as Old Irish Caomai “the Armed King,” Old Norse Orwandil, Old Saxon Ebuðrung). A Mesopotamian text from 1700 B.C.E. calls it The True Shepherd of Anu.
Greek orthos “straight, true, correct, regular,” from PIE *eredh- “high” (source also of Sanskrit urdhvah “high, lofty, steep,” Latin arduus “high, steep,” Old Irish ard “high”).
Greek palaios “old, ancient,” from palai “long ago, far back” (from PIE root *kwel– “far” in space or time).
From Greek pan-, combining form of pas (neuter pan, masculine and neuter genitive pantos) “all,” from PIE *pant- “all”.
Greek pathos “suffering” (from PIE root *kwent(h)– “to suffer”).
Greek pedo-, combining form of pais “boy, child,” especially a son, from PIE root *pau– “few, little.” The British form paed- is better because it avoids confusion with the ped- that means “foot” (from PIE root *ped–) and the ped-that means “soil, ground, earth.” Compare, from the same root, Sanskrit putrah “son.
Greek pelagikos, from pelagos “sea, high sea, open sea, main.
Greek pente “five” (from PIE root *penkwe- “five”).
Greek origin or formation meaning “around, about, enclosing,” from Greek peri (prep.) “around, about, beyond,” cognate with Sanskrit pari “around, about, through,” Latin per, from PIE root *per– “forward,” hence “in front of, before, first, chief, toward, near, around, against.”
Greek pharmakeia “use of drugs, medicines, potions, or spells; poisoning, witchcraft; remedy, cure,” from pharmakeus (fem. pharmakis) “preparer of drugs, poisoner, sorcerer” from pharmakon “drug, poison, philter, charm, spell, enchantment.”
Greek phasis “appearance” (of a star), “phase” (of the moon), from stem of phainein “to show, to make appear” (from PIE root *bha- “to shine”).
Greek pherein “to carry” (from PIE root *bher- “to carry,” also “to bear “.)
Greek philos “dear” (adj.), “friend” (n.), from philein “to love,” of unknown origin. Productive of a great many compounds in ancient Greek.
Greek -phobia, from phobos “fear, panic fear, terror, outward show of fear; object of fear or terror,” originally “flight” (still the only sense in Homer), but it became the common word for “fear” via the notion of “panic, fright” (compare phobein “put to flight, frighten”), from PIE root *bhegw- “to run”.
Greek phōnē “sound, voice,” from PIE root *bha- “to speak, tell, say.”
Greek photo-, combining form of phos (genitive photos) “light,” from PIE root *bha- “to shine.”
Greek ta physika, literally “the natural things.”
Greek planetes, from (asteres) planetai “wandering (stars),” from planasthai “to wander,” a word of uncertain etymology.
Greek Plouton “god of wealth,” from ploutos “wealth, riches,” probably originally “overflowing,” from PIE root *pleu– “to flow.” The alternative Greek name of Hades. See “pneumonia.”
Greek poetes “maker, author, poet,” variant of poietes, from poein, poiein “to make, create, compose,” from PIE *kwoiwo- “making,” from root *kwei- “to pile up, build, make”.
Greek polis, ptolis “citadel, fort, city, one’s city; the state, community, citizens,” from PIE *tpolh- “citadel; enclosed space, often on high ground, hilltop.”
Greek poly-, combining form of polys “much” (plural polloi), from PIE root *pele– “to fill,” with derivatives referring to multitudinousness or abundance.
From pneumon “lung,” altered (probably by influence of pnein “to breathe”) from pleumon “lung,” literally “floater,” probably cognate with Latin pulmo “lung(s),” from PIE root *pleu- “to flow.”
Protagonist [First actor]-Proton-Protein
Greek prōto-, from prōtos “first,” from PIE *pre-, from root *per–“forward” (hence “before, first”).
Greek psykhē “the soul, mind, spirit; life, one’s life, the invisible animating principle or entity which occupies and directs the physical body; understanding, the mind (as the seat of thought), faculty of reason” (personified as Psykhē, the beloved of Eros), also “ghost, spirit of a dead person;” probably akin to psykhein “to blow, cool,” from PIE root *bhes- “to blow, to breathe” (source also of Sanskrit bhas-).
Greek pteron “wing” (from PIE root *pet- “to rush, to fly”) + daktylos “finger” (see dactyl).
Greek pyro-, combining form of pyr (genitive pyros) “fire, funeral fire,” also symbolic of terrible things, rages, from PIE root *paewr “fire.”
Greek rhapsōidia “verse composition, recitation of epic poetry; a book, a lay, a canto,” from rhapsōdos “reciter of epic poems,” literally “one who stitches or strings songs together,” from rhaptein “to stitch, sew, weave” (from PIE root *wer– “to turn, bend”) + ōidē “song”.
Greek rhythmos “measured flow or movement, rhythm; proportion, symmetry; arrangement, order.”
Greek skopos “aim, target, object of attention; watcher, one who watches” from metathesized form of PIE *spek-yo-, suffixed form of root *spek- “to observe.” See Spectrum (Latin word) and Bishop.
From Greek selene “the moon; name of the moon goddess,” related to selas “light, brightness, bright flame, flash of an eye,” from PIE root *swel- “to shine, beam”.
Greek stadion “a measure of length; a race-course, a running track,” especially the track at Olympia, which was one stadion in length. It is said to be also the length you can cover throwing a weapon with your own strength. From it also: Space.
Greek strophe “stanza,” originally “a turning,” strephein “to turn,” strophaligs “whirl, whirlwind,” streblos “twisted,” stremma “that which is twisted.”
Greek syn (prep.) “with, together with, along with, in the company of,” from PIE *ksun- “with”. Like Italian and Spanish: “con”.
Tauros “bull, bullock, steer,” also the name of the constellation, from PIE *tau-ro- “bull.”
Greek tekhno-, combining form of tekhnē “art, skill, craft in work; method, system, an art, a system or method of making or doing,” from PIE *teks-na- “craft” (of weaving or fabricating), from suffixed form of root *teks- “to weave,” also “to fabricate.”
Greek tele “far off, afar, at or to a distance,” related to teleos (genitive telos) “end, goal, completion, result,” from PIE root *kwel- “far” in space or time.
From tetra- “four” (from PIE root *kwetwer- “four”).
Greek theatron “theater; the people in the theater; a show, a spectacle,” literally “place for viewing,” from theasthai “to behold” (related to thea “a view, a seeing; a seat in the theater,” theates “spectator”) + -tron, suffix denoting place.
Theos “God” (from PIE root *dhes-, forming words for religious concepts).
Greek theōria “contemplation, speculation; a looking at, viewing; a sight, show, spectacle, things looked at,” from theōrein “to consider, speculate, look at,” from theōros “spectator,” from thea “a view” (see theater) + horan “to see,” which is possibly from PIE root *wer- “to perceive.”
Greek thanatos “death,” from PIE *dhwene- “to disappear, die,” perhaps from a root meaning “dark, cloudy” (compare Sanskrit dhvantah “dark”).
Greek thesis “a proposition,” also “downbeat” (in music), originally “a setting down, a placing, an arranging; position, situation,” from reduplicated form of PIE root *dhe- “to set, put.”
Greek tomos “slice, section”, from temnein “to cut,” from PIE root *tem- “to cut.”
From Greek tragodia “a dramatic poem or play in formal language and having an unhappy resolution,” apparently literally “goat song,” from tragos “goat, buck” + ōidē “song”.
Greek xenos “a guest, stranger, foreigner, refugee, guest-friend, one entitled to hospitality,” cognate with Latin hostis, from PIE root *ghos-ti- “stranger, guest, host.”