Language Arts with Lyn Stone (St Monica's Wodonga)

Bases and Roots

Every word contains a base and every base comes from a root. Sometimes we no longer know what that root is. Sometimes we do. Sometimes etymologists argue over it. This is all fine.

Here is an example of a word, its base and the root of that base:

Word: ornithology

Base: ornitho- “bird, birds”

Ornitho- root: Proto-Indo-European (or PIE)- “large bird”. Other words from that root are eagleArnold and Arthur.


On that base we can build:

  • ornithologist (a person who studies birds),
  • ornithopod (short for ornithopod dinosaur, meaning a dinosaur with bird-like back legs), and
  • ornithopter (a flying machine that is designed to flap its wings).

Sometimes the words base and root get mixed up or used interchangeably (I have been guilty of that!). It helps to think about bases as in Lego, where you build things upon them, and root as something unseen unless you do some digging, like the roots of a tree.

Using the Online Etymology Dictionary ( will help with distinguishing bases from roots.

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