This questions was inspired by this one. I'm also in the process of making a language, to pair with a writing system I created.

I'm a stickler for consistency (language and consistency don't go together well) and I want to focus on the most important parts of my language before I spread out. So my idea was to come up with root words and their meaning and then adapt them in a similar fashion. The only problem is that I have yet to find a source that has a list of important/necessary root words for a language.

Does anyone know where I could go to find a list of necessary roots for words?

Note - What I mean by that is words, prefixes, or suffixes that are very important to a language. For example, lum-, which means light or shed light on. Word with it are luminance, illuminating, or illu

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    $\begingroup$ @dot_Sp0T Root words are a linguistic concept. They are a word that does not have a prefix or a suffix and are the primary word of a word family. $\endgroup$ May 12, 2016 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ @XanderTheZenon - I was able to find a list of Greek and Latin roots. I'm not sure if you're looking for more than this. $\endgroup$ May 12, 2016 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ @WhataTiberius oh well here comes the language barrier. In German they're called Stammwörter (trunk words) thus I didn't make the connection. Thanks for clearing that out. Alas the second part of my comment still stands as is: Someone makes up some word and a wordfamily branches form it $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    May 13, 2016 at 5:45

7 Answers 7


For basic words - I guess Swadesh list could be useful. It lists ~200 words that are assumed to be basic and universal (it's mostly used to study evolution of languages).

Prefixes and suffixes seem to be used differently in different languages (if used at all). But, according to this, negation is the most common prefix, and prefixes often indicate amount or completeness.


I'm kind of embarrassed to post the same answer as I did for your previous question. Nonetheless, the book I mentioned before, The Conlanger's Lexipedia has a lot about root words too. Not just Latin and Greek but languages more unfamiliar to English speakers such as Mandarin and Quechua. There is discussion of how imaginary human and non-human cultures might derive words from different roots in different ways.

sSquyu-denatRozhenfelder-Mark ueykhbrzkat.

NEG-1p DECL GEN-"Mark Rosenfelder" list.suckle-PASS.PL

I am not on Mark Rosenfelder's payroll.

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    $\begingroup$ Did I ask a previous question? I mean, I'm absentminded, but I think I'd remember. $\endgroup$ May 13, 2016 at 4:05
  • $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon, ah, yes, sorry for the confusion. For we of the Mind it is difficult to remember that your puny human language makes such a fuss about distinguishing between individuals. $\endgroup$ May 13, 2016 at 5:39
  • $\begingroup$ Is that you're way to admitting you're mistake? FYI, if we were so puny and pathetic, "then why do I see fear in your eyes?" $\endgroup$ May 13, 2016 at 17:29

As an addition to what @Charles and @Roux have mentioned, I suggest that you think about elements that are essential to your culture.

For example, if it is a coastal area, it is more likely that you'll have different roots for sea related words (e.g., one root referring to a choppy, dangerous sea and another root referring to calm seas).

A culture far from the sea may have only one root for any large body of water, whether it's salty or not.

Moreover, if your culture migrated from a hinterland onto a coastal area, it may have assimilated words for sea from the languages of neighbouring, coastal cultures, ending up with two or three words to refer to the sea which are all from different origins and, therefore, have different roots.

My suggestion is to use the lists already suggested and create a corpus that makes sense for your culture, adding or taking out concepts.


The meaning

I've found myself that generating words is perhaps the most difficult but also the most philosophically rewarding part of constructing a language.

All of the other answers in to this question are correct in some way worth pursuing. Roots can really tell the origins of a language. We know part of what Indo-European culture and technology was because of common root words. We know some of the cultural origins of Uralic speakers based on common root words.

The number of root words in a language can also vary. English has tons of them since it lacks the morphology to generate (certain) concepts from others, whereas Eskimo languages have much fewer root words (Central Alaskan Yup'ik has only a couple thousand), since most ideas can be explained through suffixing a root. I might also add that concepts can be explained by phrases, which is what many languages also do.

My recommendation is to think of what culture you're trying to portray when generating root words for its language. It's kind of a personal thing, I find, with a lot of interpretation and artfulness to it.

It may also not be absolutely necessary to come up with all the root words at once and then try to generate them. What I often do is when I need a word, try to first come up with one using existing roots, then if I can't find existing roots, come up with other root words to generate my new derivated word from.

For example, if I need a word for fireplace and need it, I might rationalize that I want it to be comprised of the words for "fire" and "pile" as it's a pile of burning wood.

If I don't have the words for "fire" and "pile", I might decide to make them roots or even compound words themselves. What is worth considering when deciding if a word is a root word, a compound, a derivation or a phrase is whether or not the meaning of it can (or should) be explained through existing concepts. So a fire might not be directly explainable, at least to a child or a layman, but a fireplace is a place you make fire.

The form

You mentioned that you liked consistency, so I decided to tack on this section to the answer about the inconsistencies of roots and how they can often be consistent on a deeper level which may be harder to read.

A common misconception is that roots are complete words. This is not necessarily the case. Roots do not need to ever show up as words in a language. They can be less than or more than a complete word.

Take for example the English word "rhythm". In its basic noun form, it is pronounced "rith-um", with two syllables. When it however takes the suffix "-ic", it becomes "rhythmic" without the schwa sound before the M. This is because the root is the Greek loan word Ρυθμός - rhythmos, a masculine noun which never shows up in Greek without a suffix. In English, however, grammatical case suffixes are dropped (as English doesn't use them) but the root rhythm as it is spelled is unpronounceable in its root form, according to English phonology.

Another good example is the root for kebab in Turkish, which is kebab. However, words in Turkish cannot end on voiced consonants, so the word for kebab in Turkish is kebap. Whenever it takes a suffix, the P turns back into a B, for example:

Kebabım. - My kebab.

A root can be as simple as a single consonant, so long as your language has rules to turn such roots into words. Roots may also overwhelmingly be of one class of words, for example the vast majority of words in Japanese are nouns and even more roots are nouns.

Roots for for a certain word class may also reflect the grammar of that word class too. In Arabic, most verb roots are 3 consonants and the grammar is what order they come in and which vowels they have. For K-T-B, we have:

Kitāb. - Book.

Kutiba. - It is written.

Yaktubu. - He writes.

Another way to make roots create interesting behavior is to give them "ghost phonemes". What I mean by that is a sound, which may not even show up in any word using it, but modifies how suffixes behave.

Say we have a two suffixes; -sene and -bo, and two roots: ne and ke(n), with the (n) being our ghost phoneme. What I've decided (n) does in this case is voice voiceless fricatives and turn voiced stops into nasals.

So when added together, they behave like this:

Nesene - Nebo

Kezene - Kemo

This is quite often how irregularities work in natural languages. A previously existing phoneme disappears from the language but the behavior of the phonemes around it remain affected by it in some way, creating interesting and seemingly irregular results.


Remember that the people who actually speak a given language don't think about the grammar of that language or the derivation of words from "roots" (which is a construct of linguists); they are simply aware of the similarities between the words that have similar meanings. And since words can be borrowed or altered in meaning, without a similar replacement of the other words that "derive" from the same "root", don't flagellate yourself over consistency.

What I'm doing for my own tale is that I write out all of the dialogue in my native language (English, but that's not important), and then starting with the first sentences, I simply come up with some gabble that sounds like actual talk. I then assign the different sounds to different pieces of this phrase.

For instance, two young people (a boy and a girl) come into the apartment, short of breath. The girl's father sees them in an agitated state and asked "What has happened?" in his native tongue.

I turn this into some gobbledygook: "Sing kledemag?" is the Romanization of what the man actually says. I assign sing to what, decide that kle is the verbal prefix for a single event of undefined time that has already completed as the time of speaking, and demag becomes the verb to happen.

I could just as easily have made kle a passive construction, and demag to have do or make or cause as the verb.

Her response is "We were kissing," which I render as "Davai ippits" in her actual speech. Davai is the pronoun for we, and I decide that it refers to the speaker and some third person, and excludes the person being spoken to. Then for ippits (which is intended to be onomatopoetic), i- refers to an activity that was ongoing at some point in the past, and -ppits referring to kissing.

The father replies "That must have been some kiss," as which point I remember to include the prefix kle in the phrase carrying the meaning of must have been, since the tense and mood of the verb seems to be the same as in the first sentence.

And so on.

After a while of doing this you'll have a small working vocabulary, at which point you should take stock about how this thing is growing. Resolve any inconsistencies great enough to interfere with a native's understanding of speech in that language, and make sure that the correlation between words and concepts in the constructed language is different from your native language, so that if the same word in English covers two different concepts, the same two concepts are not thus united in your conlang.

  • $\begingroup$ Weird conversation. $\endgroup$ May 17, 2016 at 14:07

As a starting point, you might consider Indo-European vocabulary. It gives a list of PIE kinship terms, names for classes of people, pronouns, particles, numbers, names for body parts, names of animals, basic adjestives, etc. This should also help you to see how these were combined into words.


American Heritage has a list of Indo-European roots


Perseus dictionary lookup allows searching in Latin, Greek, Arabic, Old Norse, or English, for words containing, beginning, or ending with particular forms. Here's a result for words containing --man-- in Greek


  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site Teresa. $\endgroup$
    – James
    May 19, 2016 at 13:18

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