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Confusing Greek and Latin Word Pairs

Greek and Latin Words Combined to Form Terms Especially in Biology and Medicine


Codex Argenteus

Codex Argenteus

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Do you know one "AL-" from the next? Even excluding our old math friend with its eastern influence (Al-gebra), there are plenty of terms beginning with al- used in English that may trick you. Perhaps you are already very familiar with AL-. How about BI-? Below I list confusing pairs (or triplets) of Greek and Latin roots. These pairs appear in English words, mostly in the scientific fields, and especially in words related to medicine.

Format: The Latin form comes first and is lower case. The GREEK form is all in caps. The - shows where other parts of the word are attached. The English definition(s) follow the -.

There are sometimes variant forms (listed before the English definition).

Let me know if you have other confusing word-root pairs to add to this list.

  • al- the phonological change from ad 'to' that occurs before an /l/
  • al- wing
  • ALL- other

  • ambul- to walk
  • AMBLY- dull

  • articul- joint
  • ARTHR- joint, speech sound

  • aud-, audit- hear
  • AUT- self
  • bull- bubble, blister
  • BUL- (BOUL-) will

  • bi- two
  • BI- life

  • bract- thin plate
  • BRACHY- short
  • BRACHI- arm
  • cent- hundred
  • CENTE- puncture

  • col- to inhabit
  • coll- neck
  • COL- colon
  • COLL(A)- glue

  • cord- heart
  • cori- skin
  • COR(E)- pupil of the eye

  • cre-, cresc-, cret- to grow
  • CRI- separate
  • dent- tooth
  • DENDR- tree

  • dorm- sleep
  • DROM- running
  • err- wander
  • ERG- work
  • hal-, halit- to breathe
  • HAL- salt
  • loc- place
  • LOG- word, reason, speech
  • medi- middle
  • mega- large, one million

  • ment- mind
  • ment- chin
  • MEN- moon
  • nar- nostril
  • NARC- stupor

  • nerv- nerve, vein of an insect wing or leaf
  • NEUR- nerve, nervous system, tendon

  • nod- knot
  • NOT- the back
  • ole- oil
  • OLIG- few

  • os-, or- mouth, opening
  • OSS- bone
  • palli- mantle, covering
  • PALI(N)- again, pack
  • PALE- (PALAE)- old

  • pati- pass- to suffer, to endure
  • PATH- disease, suffering

  • ped- foot
  • PED- (PAED)- child, instruction

  • pend-, pens- to hang
  • PEN- deficiency, lack
  • PENT(A)- five

  • plan- flat
  • plant- sole of the foot
  • PLAN- wandering

  • plex- to interweave, to braid
  • PLEX- stroke
  • PLEG- paralysis
  • scop- broom, brush
  • SCOP- to view

  • sep-, sept- to separate, wall
  • SEP- to rot

  • spir- to breathe
  • SPIR- coil

  • somn- sleep
  • SOM-, SOMAT- body

  • stercor-, sterc- excrement
  • STERE- solid, 3-d

  • sta-, stat- to stand
  • STA- to stand, to stop
  • terti- third
  • TETRA- four

  • tri- three
  • TRI- three
  • TRIB-, TRIP- rub, crush

Source: Bioscientific Terminology, by Donald M. Ayers 1972

A Look at Reader-Contributed Confusing Word Pairs

How Do You recognize the Root?

Affect vs. Effect

I.e. vs. E.g.

Also see these articles on words and word derivations:
  • Latin Words in English I
    English has lots of words of Latin origin. Some of these words are changed to make them more like other English words -- mostly by changing the ending (e.g., 'office' from the Latin officium), but other Latin words are kept intact in English. Of these words, there are some that remain unfamiliar and are generally italicized to show that they are foreign, but there are others that are used with nothing to set them apart as imported from Latin. Here are some such words and abbreviations.
  • Latin Words in English II
    (See preceding.)
  • On Translating Latin Into English
    Whether you want to translate a short English phrase into Latin or a Latin phrase into English, you can not just plug the words into a dictionary and expect an accurate result. You can't with most modern languages, but the lack of a one-to-one correspondence is even greater for Latin and English.
  • Latin Religious Words in English
    If you want to say that the prospects are bleak, you could say "it doesn't augur well." Augur is used as a verb in this English sentence, with no particular religious connotation. In ancient Rome, an augur was a religious figure who observed natural phenomena, like the presence and location to left or right of birds, to determine whether the prospects were good or bad for a proposed venture. Find out about more such words.

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