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Anglo Saxon Roots and Prefixes

The English language consists of words borrowed from various languages over time, including Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon, and French. In this article, we will look at Anglo-Saxon roots and prefixes and how they are used in Modern English.

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Anglo Saxon Roots and Prefixes

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The English language consists of words borrowed from various languages over time, including Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon, and French. In this article, we will look at Anglo-Saxon roots and prefixes and how they are used in Modern English.

Anglo Saxon Roots and Prefixes Definition

Before we get straight into Anglo-Saxon roots and prefixes, let's first remind ourselves what roots and prefixes in English are.

A root is the base form of a word from which other words can be created by adding suffixes or prefixes. Root words often come from older languages such as Anglo Saxon or Latin.

Many words we use in English today originate from Anglo-Saxon roots.

A prefix is a selection of letters that have an associative meaning. Prefixes can be either single letters or a collection of letters that are added to the beginning of a word to alter its meaning and create a new word.

For example, the prefix 're-' can appear before some verbs to show that the action is repeated. Look at the words sign and resign. If we take the meaning of sign to be to sign a document, resign means to sign a document again.

Be careful not to get prefixes and suffixes confused. A suffix is similar to a prefix butt is added to the end of a word instead of the beginning. For example, -s is a common suffix added to the end of words to create pluralization (as in pigs or bags).

So now we've got those definitions out of the way, let's look at what Anglo-Saxon is.

What is Anglo-Saxon?

Anglo-Saxon refers to the variety of language used by the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons were a group of inhabitants of England during the Early Middle Ages (approximately 410 - 1066 AD), otherwise known as the Dark Ages.

You may also hear Anglo-Saxon being referred to as Old English.

Anglo-Saxon Roots and Prefixes

Anglo-Saxon roots and prefixes are word roots and prefixes that originate from the Anglo-Saxon language.

Anglo Saxon Roots and Prefixes, Anglo-Saxon ship, StudySmarterFig. 1 - The Anglo-Saxons were migrants from Northern Europe who settled in Britain.

Words with Anglo-Saxon Roots and Prefixes

Here are some words that are derived from Anglo-Saxon roots:

  • Burden (from the Anglo-Saxon root ber-)

  • Drift (from the Anglo-Saxon root drif-)

  • Loaf (from the Anglo-Saxon root laf-)

  • Tale (from the Anglo-Saxon root tall-)

Here are some words that have Anglo-Saxon prefixes:

  • re- (as in redo)

  • pre- (as in precaution)

  • dis- (as in disinterested)

  • over- (as in overstep)

These prefixes originated from Anglo-Saxon English and are still regularly used in English today.

Anglo Saxon Roots and Prefixes in Writing

There are many Anglo-Saxon roots and prefixes used in Modern English. Words derived from Anglo-Saxon roots are typically viewed as the "base level of English"1, with the more complex language derived from Latin, French, or Greek.

Anglo-Saxon roots and prefixes often appear in words used in more informal or relaxed registers, reaffirming the theory that Old English was never associated with prestige in the same way that Latin and French were.

Anglo-Saxon Roots and Prefixes, medieval table with scrolls, StudySmarterFig. 2 - In Anglo-Saxon times, elements of prestige such as education were associated with languages such as Latin and French while Anglo-Saxon was associated with more informal, day-to-day life.

List of Anglo-Saxon Roots and Prefixes

Let's look at some Anglo-Saxon roots with their meanings and examples of modern English words derived from those roots.

Anglo-Saxon root
Meaning
Examples
sla-to strikeslay, slap, slaughter, slice
hus-househusband, husbandry
wif-wifewife, midwife, housewife
kna-boy / maleknight, knave
cynn (kin-)offspring / familykin, kindred, kinship, kinsman
dear-valueddarling, dear, dearly, endearing
ster-to guide or directsteer, steering, stereotype, astern
ah-relief or understandingah, ah choo, ah well
tru-faithfultruth, true, betrothed, trust
tal-express in wordstale, tell, talk
wis- / wit-to knowwisdom, wise, witty, wit, witness
hev-use force to lift somethingheave, heft, heavy, upheaval

Now let's look at some prefixes from the Anglo-Saxon language, what they mean, and some examples of when they're used.

Anglo-Saxon prefix
Meaning
Examples
fore-before / earlierforesee, forecast, forewarn
un-not / oppositeunkind, unwelcome, unsightly
mis-something wrongmistake, misshapen, misfire
dis-without somethingdisbelief, disembodied, dishearten
in-in, on or notinput, insight, inlet, inmate
umbe-around / aboutumbecast, umbego, umbethink

Anglo-Saxon Words Are Still Used Today

Not many Anglo-Saxon roots are still used in the base form in modern language. Instead, most Anglo-Saxon roots have prefixes or suffixes added to create meaningful words. However, some Anglo-Saxon roots are still used in their base form such as:

  • kin
  • dear
  • wit
  • ah
  • spell
  • less

Some other Anglo-Saxon roots are almost used in their base form but have perhaps one extra letter to make them fit in with modern language better. Some of these are:

  • wife (from wif-)
  • steer (from ster-)
  • true (from tru-)
  • tale (from tal-)
  • wise (from wis-)
  • know (from kno-)

It's more common though that Anglo-Saxon roots have been altered into the words we know today. Let's have a look at some.

Examples of Anglo-Saxon Roots and Prefixes

Now that we've gone through Anglo-Saxon roots and prefixes, let's look at how we can identify their meanings with the help of some examples.

Example 1: unwise

If we look at the word unwise, we can divide it into a root and a prefix.

un - wise

prefix - root

Remember that the root carries the main meaning of the word, and the prefix can then change the meaning.

When searching for the meaning of the word unwise, we need to look at its root and prefix separately.

Root

Wise is from the Anglo-Saxon root wis- which means a show of experience or knowledge.

Prefix

From earlier, we know that un- as a prefix means not or the opposite.

If we put the meanings of the prefix and root together, we can determine that the meaning of unwise is without knowledge or experience.

Example 2: foresee

Let's follow the same steps to look for the meaning of foresee. First, let's split it into its root and prefix.

fore - see

prefix - root

It's easiest to look for the meaning by considering the meaning of the root first and then the prefix.

Root

See is from the Anglo-Saxon root seon, which means to see.

Prefix

The prefix is fore-. This means before or earlier.

What do you get when you put the meanings of the root and prefix together? To predict something early. Think of a weather forecast or a trend forecast - in both of these scenarios, events are predicted in advance of them occurring.

Example 3: distrust

Let's divide distrust into its root and prefix and then look at their meanings.

dis - trust

prefix - root

Here are the meanings of the root and prefix.

Root

Trust is from the Anglo-Saxon root tru, meaning someone or something is reliable or truthful.

Prefix

The prefix dis- means not or to be without something.

When this root and prefix are put together, distrust means without truthful reliability.

Try coming up with some other words that have prefixes and determine their meanings by splitting them into their root and prefix.

Anglo Saxon Roots and Prefixes - Key Takeaways

  • A root is the main part of a word that carries the base meaning.
  • A prefix is a morpheme (selection of letters or singular letters) that has an associative meaning which is added to the beginning of words to alter their meanings.
  • Anglo-Saxon roots and prefixes are elements of words that originate from Anglo-Saxon English (otherwise known as Old English).
  • Be careful not to confuse prefixes and suffixes - a prefix goes at the beginning of a word while a suffix goes at the end of a word.
  • You can decipher the meanings of words by splitting them into their prefix and root and then looking at the meaning of each and then putting them together.

References

  1. I. Singh. The History of English: A Student's Guide. 2005.

Frequently Asked Questions about Anglo Saxon Roots and Prefixes

A root is the base form of a word often derived from an older language. Anglo-Saxon roots are roots that come from the Anglo-Saxon language. Anglo-Saxon roots often don't make sense on their own in modern language and need prefixes or suffixes to be added.

Anglo-Saxon base words are words that are derived from Anglo-Saxon roots. An example is the word wise which is derived from the Anglo-Saxon root wis-, meaning knowledgeable.

A suffix is a letter or collection of letters that has an associative meaning which is added onto the end of a word to change the word's meaning. Anglo-Saxon suffixes are suffixes derived from Anglo-Saxon words.

Some words that are derived from Anglo-Saxon roots are:

  • burden (from the Anglo-Saxon root ber-)
  • loaf (from the Anglo-Saxon root laf-)
  • steer (from the Anglo-Saxon root ster-)

Not many Anglo-Saxon roots are still used in the base form in modern language. Instead, most Anglo-Saxon roots have prefixes or suffixes added to create meaningful words. However, some Anglo-Saxon roots are still used in their base form such as:

  • kin
  • dear
  • wit 

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Does this word have a prefix or a suffix?insight

What can also be referred to as Old English?

Which of these words isn't from an Anglo-Saxon root?

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