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Getting to the “Root” of SAT Words

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One of the major criticisms of the SAT is its fondness for archaic vocabulary words that are rarely, if ever, used in everyday English. So prevalent is this criticism that the vocabulary-centered “Sentence Completion” section is being eliminated from SAT Reading beginning in 2016. If you’re taking the SAT this year, however, you will still have to contend with so-called “SAT words.” While you should make every effort to enrich your vocabulary before taking the SAT, you will still encounter some words that you do not know. It is simply not possible to memorize every antiquated word that might appear on the SAT.

The good news is that there is a relatively simple technique that you can use to figure out the meaning of most SAT words: morphemes. By breaking a word down into its root, prefix, and suffix, you can make an educated guess about what that word means as a whole. In order to use morphemes effectively, you need to have a solid understanding of what the different components of words mean. To that end, here are the roots of some of the most common SAT words, their meanings, and examples of words that contain each. Familiarize yourself with these, and you’ll be well on your way to figuring out some of the most baffling SAT words.


Ag, act: do, act. Examples: agent (someone acting on behalf of someone else) and counteract (lessen the effect of).

Am: friend, love. Examples: amity (friendliness) and amorous (expressing feeling or love).

Bas: low. Examples: debase (make something inferior) and basement (lowest part of a building).

Cap, capt, cept: take, hold. Examples: capable (able to do something), captive (prisoner), and intercept (interrupt the progress of somebody or something).

Ced, cess: yield, go. Examples: cede (surrender) and procession (forward movement).

Cred: believable. Examples: incredible (beyond belief) and credentials (proof of identity or qualifications).

Curr, curs: run. Examples: current (happening now, direction of flow) and cursory (very quick).

Dic, dict: speak, say. Examples: indicate (point out) and contradict (disagree with).

Duc, duct: lead. Examples: induce (persuade to do something) and ductile (readily shaped or influenced).

Fac, fact, fect, fic: make, do. Examples: facile (simplistic, superficial, easy) factory (a place where things are made), infection (disease or contagion), and fiction (falsehood, something assumed to not be true).

Fer: bear, carry. Examples: fertile (able to produce/nourish/carry offspring) and confer (discuss).

Fort: strong. Examples: fortitude (strength) and fortify (to make stronger).

Gen: kind, race, birth. Examples: generate (create), generic (broad or nonspecific), and generation (group of contemporaries or creation).

Ject: throw. Examples: inject (insert) and projection (protrusion).

Loc: place. Examples: dislocate (put out of place) and local (nearby).

Man: hand. Examples: manufacture (produce something) and manual (done without automation or with one’s own hands).

Mit, miss: send. Examples: admit (confess, let in) and submit (yield, turn in).

Mort: death. Examples: immortality (never dying) and mortal (eventually dying).

Mult: many. Examples: multitude (large in number) and multifarious (diverse).

Mut: change. Examples: mutation (change in genetic material), transmute (change from one state to another), and immutable (unchangeable).

Nat: born. Examples: natal (relating to birth) and innate (born with).

Plic: fold, bend. Examples: complicate (make more convoluted or difficult) and implacable (unbending or unyielding).

Pon, pos: place, put. Examples: component (part or section) and compose (put together).

Port: carry, bring. Examples: porter (luggage carrier) and import (bring in from outside).

Scrib, script: write. Examples: describe (explain, depict, illustrate) and prescription (a written order for medicine or an authoritative recommendation).

Sequ, secut: follow. Examples: sequel (continuation) and consecutive (successive or uninterrupted)

Spec, spect, spic: look, appear. Examples: specimen (example or sample of something), prospect (possibility of something happening or the act of surveying), and conspicuous (obvious or standing out).

Stat, stab: stand. Examples: status (rank or standing) and stability (steadiness).

Ten, tain: hold, reach. Examples: tenant (occupant, renter, lessee), tension (strain or tautness) and retain (keep hold of).

Tract: draw. Examples: attract (pull toward) and extract (pull out).

Ven, vent: come. Examples: convene (assemble) and prevention (keep from happening).

Ver: true. Examples: veracity (truthfulness) and aver (allege something to be true).

Vert, vers: turn. Examples: convert (change/turn toward particular beliefs) and reverse (change something to its opposite, go backward).

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