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Getting started on ancient Greek
Getting started on ancient Greek

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2 Suffixes

Some Greek words survive in English as suffixes – fixed patterns of letters at the end of English words. The word κράτος, for instance, means ‘strength’ or ‘power’, and lies behind the ending ‘-cracy’ in the word ‘democracy’, ‘rule by the people’ (δῆμος). Suffixes can be used to generate new English words, almost indefinitely.

Activity 3 Greek roots (1)

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Try to relate the English words to their Greek roots. If you are unsure of the meaning, use the translations of the Greek words underneath to help you.

  • aristocracy
  • democracy
  • gerontocracy
  • kakistocracy
  • kleptocracy
  • ochlocracy
  • plutocracy
  • theocracy
  • ἄριστος     the best
  • γέρων    old man
  • δῆμος    people
  • θεός       god
  • κάκιστος   worst
  • κλέπτης     thief
  • ὄχλος     crowd, mob
  • πλοῦτος    wealth


  • aristocracy, rule by the best (ἄριστος)
  • democracy, rule by the people (δῆμος)
  • gerontocracy, rule by old men, or the elderly (γέρων)
  • kakistocracy, rule by the worst people (κάκιστος, from κακός, bad)
  • kleptocracy, rule by thieves (κλέπτης)
  • ochlocracy, rule by the mob (ὄχλος)
  • plutocracy, rule by wealth or the rich (πλοῦτος)
  • theocracy, rule by god (θεός)

The suffix -cracy has also been combined with non-Greek words, creating terms such as ‘bureaucracy’ (from French) and ‘meritocracy’ (from English, ultimately deriving from Latin).

Here are three more suffixes with Greek roots:

  • ἀρχή     power, sovereignty. Suffix -archy
  • λόγος   word, thought, reason. The suffix -ology is used to indicate a field of study.
  • φόβος   fear. Suffix -phobia.

Activity 4 Greek roots (2)

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Relate the following words with their Greek roots. Do the Greek words provide a clue to their English meaning?

  • arachnophobia
  • agoraphobia
  • geology
  • haematology
  • hierarchy
  • monarchy
  • oligarchy
  • xenophobia
  • zoology
  • ἀγορά     marketplace
  • αἷμα     blood
  • ἀράχνη   spider
  • γῆ      earth, land
  • ζῷον       animal
  • ἱερεύς     priest
  • μόνος     alone, only
  • ξένος      stranger, foreigner
  • ὀλίγοι      a few


  • arachnophobia, fear of spiders (ἀράχνη)
  • agoraphobia, fear of open spaces (ἀγορά)
  • geology, the study of the earth (γῆ)
  • haematology, the branch of medicine concerned with diseases of the blood (αἷμα)
  • hierarchy, a system or classification for ordering groups or individuals (ἱερεύς)
  • monarchy, rule by a single person (μόνος)
  • oligarchy, rule by a few (ὀλίγοι)
  • xenophobia, fear of foreigners (ξένος)
  • zoology, the study of animals (ζῷον)

In most of these cases, there is a clear relationship between the English and Greek. But the derivation sometimes needs supplementing to explain the full sense of the English word.

The word ‘hierarchy’, for instance, unlike ἱερεύς, generally has no religious connotations. It does, however, imply a series of ranks (such as priest, bishop, archbishop), rising like a pyramid from a wide base to a narrow peak. For agoraphobia it helps to know that an ἀγορά (marketplace) was an outdoor, public space inside a city where Greeks met and interacted, socially as well as commercially. It would, we can assume, have been crowded and noisy.