Chapter 17: Compound Words in Greek

§110. Some Common Greek Combining Forms

The main objective of this chapter will be to introduce several standard forms that are often combined with other bases in English compounds derived from Greek. By learning a handful of these elements, we can demystify literally hundreds of English words. With even the limited Greek noun vocabulary now at our disposal, we’ll then have a precise understanding of many specialized compounds that might previously have seemed obscure or incomprehensible.

The following list of word-building elements consists, for the most part, of noun or verb bases to which have been added the abstract noun suffix -ια (-ia). The form -logia, for example, can be explained as λογ- + -ια. Unlike μανια, which existed as an independent noun, -λογια was used only as a combining form in Greek—always in the second position, as in θεολογια (the-o-log-ia, E theology). Quite clearly, -λογια should not be described as a suffix, though its derivative –logy may have assumed the status of a virtual suffix in the English language.[1]

In this list, the declension number of the noun base is often identified as (1), (2M), (2N), and (3); the 2nd declension is subdivided into -os (2M) and -on (2N) types.

1. -logia > English -logy: “study of”; “science of”
(1) ge-o-logy, cardi-o-logy, morph-o-logy, phon-o-logy, psych-o-logy, techn-o-logy
(2M) anthrop-o-logy, bi-o-logy, chron-o-logy, dendr-o-chron-o-logy, cosm-o-logy, ec-o-logy, necr-o-logy, ophthalm-o-logy, the-o-logy, top-o-logy
(2N) etym-o-logy, neur-o-logy, zo-o-logy
(3) anth-o-logy (here -logia means “collection”), dermat-o-logy, ethn-o-logy, gynec-o-logy, odont-o-logy
This is a brief sample of a huge class of compound derivatives.
2. -graphia > English -graphy: “writing”; “art or science of writing”
(1) ge-o-graphy
(2M) bi-o-graphy, dem-o-graphy, cosm-o-graphy, lith-o-graphy, top-o-graphy
(3) phot-o-graphy, chromat-o-graphy
cf. -graphos (> E -graph): cardi-o-graph, phot-o-graph
-gramma (> E -gram): cardi-o-gram, tele-gram
3. -metria > English -metry: “measurement”; “art or science of measurement”
(1) ge-o-metry
(2M) chron-o-metry
(3) phot-o-metry
cf. -metron (> E -meter): chron-o-meter; bar-o-meter, therm-o-meter
4. -nomia > English -nomy: “law”; “system of laws”
ec-o-nomy (< οἰκος); gastr-o-nomy (also agronomy, astronomy)
5. -mania > English -mania: “madness”
pyr-o-mania (also bibliomania, dipsomania, egomania, kleptomania, megalomania, monomania, nymphomania)
cf. -maniakos (> E -maniac, both adjective and noun)
6. -philia > English -philia: “love”: necr-o-philia, hem-o-philia
cf. -philos (> E -phile): angl-o-phile, franc-o-phile, bibli-o-phile, ped-o-phile
phil-: phil-anthropy, phil-o-logy (“love of words”), phil-o-sophy, phil-hellene
7. -phobia > English -phobia: “fear”
acr-o-phobia, agora-phobia, hom-o-phobia, hydr-o-phobia, necr-o-phobia, xen-o-phobia, claustr-o-phobia (L hybrid, < claustrum, “closed place”)
cf. -phobos (> E -phobe), “fearer”: angl-o-phobe, franc-o-phobe, xen-o-phobe
8. -skopos > English -scope: “instrument for viewing”
fluor-o-scope, gyr-o-scope, hor-o-scope, micr-o-scope, peri-scope, stere-o-scope, tele-scope, steth-o-scope, spectr-o-scope
cf. -skopia (> E -scopy): tele-scopy, arthr-o-scopy, etc.
9. -archia > English -archy: “rule”
hier-archy, patri-archy, matri-archy, mon-archy, olig-archy
cf. -archēs or -archos (> E -arch), “ruler”: patri-arch, mon-arch, etc.
arch- or archi-  (“chief”): arch-angel, archi-tect, archi-pelago
10. -kratia > English -cracy: “power,” “government,” “rule”
arist-o-cracy, dem-o-cracy, gynec-o-cracy, techn-o-cracy, the-o-cracy
cf. -kratēs (> E -crat): arist-o-crat, aut-o-crat, dem-o-crat, plut-o-crat, techn-o-crat, the-o-crat

You should not expect to understand at once all the examples given above. Those that are based on 3rd declension nouns will obviously make better sense after Chapter 18. Others involve adjective bases to be studied in Chapter 19.

  1. The same can be said of -graphy. A word like βιογραφια, which actually existed in ancient Greek, consists of the two bases βι- and γραφ-, the connecting vowel -ο-, and the abstract noun suffix -ια. Thus the derivative can be analysed as bi-o-graph-ia. However, most English compounds of this type were never Greek words, and look silly if written in the Greek alphabet.


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Greek and Latin Roots: Part II - Greek Copyright © 2016 by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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