Influence Rank: 2nd
Scripps Usage Rank: 1st
Latin is the second most influential language in all of spelling. It is the main language of origin held by 8,914 (29.3%) of the 30,424 spelling and vocabulary words asked in Scripps National Spelling Bees or as additional words in regional competitions from 1991 to 2019.
Equally important, it’s the mother language of the Romance language branch, meaning it gave rise to French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian, among others. Resultantly, the words in these languages share many spelling patterns with Latin and mostly derive directly from Latin words. So, if you know your Latin roots, you can identify roots in any of the Romance languages with relative ease.
Once you’re advanced enough in Latin, you’ll even be able to spell and define correctly a large percentage of Romance language words without having to study them first. This reduces the amount of words you have to memorize by thousands and gives you a HUGE advantage over your competitors in both spelling and vocabulary.
So basically what I’m saying is it’s really, really important to know your Latin roots and rules like the back of your hand.
In terms of influence, Latin is overshadowed only by Greek, the language from which a huge proportion of Latin words themselves derive.
The following are ten observations I’ve determined to be some of the most basic and essential rules of Latin. The more observations you know and can consistently apply, the better
- you’ll be able to memorize Latin words when studying
- you’ll retain the Latin words you’ve memorized
- you’ll be able to accurately guess the spelling of Latin words you’ve never seen.
-us, -a, and -um are the most common Latin endings.
Latin uses f to make the /f/ sound (Greek uses ph, so only in Greek-derived Latin does ph appear).
In Latin, /ü/ and /yü/ are spelled u. In Greek (and therefore Greek-to-Latin words), eu is most common.
For both /i/ and /ī/ in Latin, i should be your go-to guess.
/ō/ is spelled with just o in Latin, and most other languages.
If a word is exclusively Latin, the /k/ sound is always spelled c (as in quidnunc). This is the case even if it’s before an e or i. Consider words like percipi, fecit, judicium, and civitas.
Latin will not use k or w unless the word has passed through another language.
In Latin, -d usually changes to -s- when a suffix is added. -t after a consonant usually changes to -s-; -t after a vowel usually changes to -ss-. For example,
allude > allusion
plaud > plausible
dissent > dissension
invert > inversive
admit > admission
emit > emission
Latin words pluralize predictably.
-us > -i
flocculus > flocculi
ocellus > ocelli
foederatus > foederati
laqueus > laquei
cestus > cesti
-a > -ae
patera > paterae
sequela > sequelae
amygdala > amygdalae
abscissa > abscissae
terebra > terebrae
-um > -a
datum > data
abecedarium > abecedaria
abomasum > abomasa
abstractum > abstracta
plaustrum > plaustra
__ > -es
analysis > analyses
naris > nares
flor > flores
furfur > furfures
species > species
colluvies > colluvies
*This only applies when the word comes from the Latin masculine noun suffix -us, not the past participle suffix ending -tus. Otherwise, it’s -es (comitatus > comitatuses).
-im is a common Latin adverbial suffix.
Exhaustive list of this root (Scripps ADORES asking these):
By the way, an exhaustive list is a complete list of every word in the dictionary with a specific trait. In this case, the list has all words containing the Latin root -im, which is an adverbial suffix.
Next, here’s ten Latin roots I’ve found to be among the most crucial to know. Check out stems quizzes page to test yourself.
-us/-a/-um (noun suffix) – -us is masculine, -a is feminine, and -um is neuter
-i/-ae/-a (pluralizer) – -i is masculine, -ae is feminine, and -a is neuter
-gen- (to create)
-cid-/-cide/-cis-/-cise/caedere (to kill/to cut) – examples:
-fer- (to bear)
-rogat-/rogare (to ask)
ad (to) – assimilates frequently – also appears as ac- (acculturation), af- (afformative), ag- (aggradation), al- (allision), ap- (appersonation), as- (asself), at- (attune), and a- (abase)
fact-/fac-/facere (to make)
- lacustr-/lacus (lake) – exhaustive list:
Finally, here’s a list of 100 challenging words whose main language of origin is Latin. This includes the most frequently used words in the history of the Scripps National Spelling Bee and its regional competitions. I’ve included a randomized version of the list to make it easier for someone to quiz you, and an alphabetized version of the list to help you be more organized in your studies. Here it is:
While learning everything on this page is a good start, it’s by no means enough if you want to win your regional bee or ascend to the highest levels of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. For that, you’ll need to be a Latin expert.
I’ve been developing an all-encompassing guide for Latin for several years now, and I believe I’m going to be able to release it to the public very soon. This guide has everything—including all Latin observations, roots, and words—you’ll ever need to know for spelling.
It has the exact same material I give to my students in my coaching program, and my students credit my language-based materials for helping them transform from novice, non-national level spellers to some of the world’s very best in less than a year.
Top: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Bottom: Cambridge Latin Course (4th edition)