College PrepSATSAT ReadingSAT vocab

SAT® Vocabulary Tips: Breaking Down Word Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes

SAT® vocabulary questions can be tricky, but if you can break down the root, prefix, and suffix of the word in question, the definition may become more apparent. Break the word down, and use the parts’ definitions to make a guess about the meaning of the whole word.

Here is a list of common root word definitions that can help you with SAT vocabulary: 

  • “ambu” means “move”
  • “andro” means “man” 
  • “anthro” means “human” 
  • “bellu” means “fight” 
  • “clam” means “shout” 
  • “clin” means “bend” 
  • “cred” means “trust”
  • “fract” means “break” 
  • “gnos” means “knowledge” 
  • “grad” means “to go”
  • “greg” means “group” 
  • “gyn” means “female” 
  • “her” means “to stick” 
  • “jac” means “to throw” 
  • “ject” means “to throw” 
  • “lum” means “light” 
  • “meta” means “change” 
  • “morph” means “shape” 
  • “narco” means “sleep” 
  • “oper” means “work” 
  • “pac” means “calm” 
  • “plac” means “calm” 
  • “phon” means “sound” 
  • “senti” means “emotion” or “feeling” 
  • “somn” means “sleep” 
  • “son” means “sound” 
  • “soph” means “wise” 
  • “spec” means “look” 
  • “term” means “end” 
  • “theo” means “god” 
  • “ven” means “come” 
  • “vid” means “to see” 
  • “voc” means “call”
  • “vol” means “will”

Here is a list of common prefix definitions that can help you with SAT vocabulary:

  • “A-/An-” means “without”
  • “Ab-” means “away”
  • “Ad-” means “toward”
  • “Anim-” means “mind” or “spirit”
  • “Ante-” means “before”
  • “Anti-” means “against” or “opposite of”
  • “Auc-” means “increase”
  • “Aug-” means “increase”
  • “Aud-” means “hear”
  • “Aur-” means “hear”
  • “Auto-” means “self”
  • “Ben-” means “good”
  • “Bon-” means “good”
  • “Circum-” means “around”
  • “Co-” means “joint” or “together”
  • “Con-” means “with”
  • “Contra-” means “against” or “opposite” 
  • “De-” means “separation” or “negation”
  • “Hyper- means “over” or “excess”
  • “Hypo-” means “beneath” or “below”
  • “Inter-” means “between” or “among”
  • “Intra-” means “within” or “inside”
  • “Ir-” means “not”
  • “Mal-” means “bad” or “wrongful”
  • “Post-” means “behind” or “after”
  • “Pre-” means “before”
  • “Pro-” means “forward movement” or “advancement”
  • “Se-” means “apart”
  • “Sub-” means “below,” “secondary,” or “part of”
  • “Super-” means “above” or “excess” 
  • “Syn-” means “with” or “together”
  • “Trans-” means “across” or “through”
  • “Ultra-” means “beyond” or “on the far side of”
  • “Vice-” means “in place of”

Here is a list of common suffix definitions that can help you with SAT vocabulary:

  • “-able” means “capable of”
  • “-ate” means “make” or “function”
  • “-cess” means “move” or “yield”
  • “-cede” means “move” or “yield”
  • “-cide” means “to kill”
  • “-cis” means “shorten”
  • “-ette” means “feminine role” or “smaller form”
  • “-ist” means “a person related to something”
  • “-logy” means “the study of something”
  • “-ology” means “the study of something”
  • “-ous” means “full of”

Here are some examples of how breaking down a word can help you find the definition for difficult SAT vocabulary questions. Sometimes, knowing the definition of just one part of the word can help you infer the entire word’s meaning.

1. Advocate

Breakdown this word, starting with the prefix “ad,” which means “toward.” The root of this word is “voc,” which means “call.” The suffix is “ate,” which means “make” or “function.” “Advocate” can be inferred to mean something or someone who calls function forward. While this is a jumbled definition of the word, you can use the breakdown to eliminate answer choices. 

2. Contradict

“Contra” means “against.” Even knowing one part of the definition, we can eliminate any meanings from the answer choices that do not have to do with “opposition.” 

3. Benevolent

The prefix “ben” means “good,” and the root “vol” means “will.” We can infer that the definition of this word is close to “good-willed.” 

4. Malevolent 

The prefix “mal” means “bad” or “wrongful,” and the root word “vol” means “will.” We can infer that the definition of malevolent is close to “bad-willed.”

Throughout the SAT exam, you will have to correct word choice, define word meanings, and make inferences using your skills with vocabulary definitions. You can practice breaking down the prefix, root, and suffix meanings through UWorld’s SAT Prep Course. Our practice exams, detailed question explanations, and performance tracking tools can provide you with experience and study tools. You can also find data to improve your weak points using these resources. Try them out to boost your scores and improve your confidence with the vocab on the SAT exam!