An effective approach to understanding unfamiliar words is to decipher them part by part. The strategy is useful when reading content-specific material as well as when reading test questions, times when dictionaries may not be helpful or available.

To decipher unknown words, one must become familiar with common prefixes, suffixes, and root words. Knowing what these word elements mean is often helpful in deciphering the meanings of unfamiliar words. Familiarity and proficiency with the word parts come with practice.

It is advantageous for students to become familiar with this strategy because it is very effective when one encounters an unfamiliar word during an exam. In this case, one is not able to consult a dictionary, and the test question may not be long enough to provide adequate context for predicting the meaning of the word. Deciphering word elements may be one's only alternative.

I've attached links to some lists of common word elements (suffixes, prefixes and root words). Click on the blog title to go the list site
Five Steps to Using Word Parts/Elements

1.Identify the unknown word.

2.Break the word up into smaller parts. Say the word aloud to help detect syllables and word parts. Look for a familiar prefix, a suffix, and/or a root word.

3. Consult the list of word parts to find the meanings of the prefix, suffix, and/or root word. Make up your own list of additional word parts that are specific to the subject you are reading. For example, biology students may need to develop their own list with common suffixes like "-cyst" or "-blast" and prefixes such as "neuro-" and "endo-".

4.Use the word parts to predict the meaning of the word.

5.Check your deciphering against the context of the word.

Look at the posts on Context Clues and Transition Words for more information.