What Are Base Words? | Examples & Definition

Sentence and word structure updated on  March 12, 2024 3 min read

A base word is the smallest part of a word that has meaning and can be used on its own. Base words can be expanded by adding affixes (i.e., prefixes and suffixes) to the beginning and/or end of the word, but they are also complete words that can stand alone.  

For example, “misguided” can be broken down into three parts:

prefix

base word

suffix

mis guide ed

“Guide” is the base word. It can be used on its own in a sentence and still make sense, and it cannot be broken down further into smaller parts. “Mis,” meaning “wrong,” modifies the base word “guide.” Finally, the “ed” ending is an inflection that indicates that the word is being used in the past tense or as an adjective.

What is a base word?

A base word is the most fundamental unit of a word that can be used on its own within a sentence. Base words carry their own meaning but can also be modified through the addition of prefixes (i.e., letters at the beginning) and suffixes (i.e., letters at the end).

For example, a word like “close” can function on its own in a sentence, or it can be expanded through the addition of prefixes (e.g., “enclose,” “disclose”) or suffixes (e.g., “closure”).

Since base words are words in their own right, they are usually recognizable. However, the addition of some suffixes to the end of the word can cause spelling changes to the base word. In base words that end with “e,” such as “fame” or “blaspheme,” the final “e” is dropped when adding the suffix “-ous” to form the adjectives “famous” and “blasphemous.”

Base word examples

Many base words can be joined with affixes to create more complex words.

Base word

Derived word

argue arguable
brace bracing
creep creepy
do redo
free freedom
guile guileless
harm harmful
help helped
hill hilly
love beloved
mount dismount
place placement
play playful
power disempowered
real reality
run overrun
sad sadden
use misuse
weak weaken
yellow yellowed

Base words vs root words

Base words and root words are similar, but there is an important distinction between these two terms. Like base words, root words refer to the most basic unit of a word. However, not all root words can be used on their own, whereas all base words must be able to stand alone in a sentence.

Many root words derived from Ancient Greek or Latin require the use of prefixes and suffixes to form complete words. For example, the Latin root word “pax” (“peace”) has evolved in English with words like “pacifist,” “Pacific,” and “pact.”

Base words and root words sometimes overlap. Examples of this include the Latin-derived word “court,” which is both a noun and a verb in English. At the same time, “court” can be modified through prefixes and suffixes to form new words, such as “discourtesy” or “courtly.” “Court” is therefore both a base word and a root word.

This table compares examples of root words and base words.

Base and root words

Word

Base word

Root word

Meaning

denote note note to note
eradicate radicate radic root
husband husband hus house
prepare pare pare to supply


Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Idioms

Parts of speech

Fallacies

Diamond in the rough

Irregular verb

Slippery slope fallacy

Idioms

Gerund

Sunk cost fallacy

Piece of cake

Infinitive phrase

Red herring fallacy

Better late than never

Infinitive

Appeal to authority fallacy

Salt of the earth

Adverb

Circular reasoning fallacy


What is the difference between a base word and a root word?

Base words are the smallest part of a word that can still stand alone in a sentence, such as “provide.”

Root words, on the other hand, cannot always be used grammatically on their own. Instead, some root words require the addition of prefixes and/or suffixes to become complete words.

For example, “provide” can be broken into “pro” (“before”) and “vide” (derived from the Latin “videre,” or “to see”).

How can I identify a base word?

Base words are often combined with prefixes and suffixes to create more complex words. In these cases, removing the prefixes and suffixes can reveal the base word.

For example, “delimit” leaves the base word “limit” after the prefix “de” is removed.

Importantly, all base words must be able to stand on their own in a sentence.

How are base words modified?

Base words can be modified in a range of ways through the use of affixes.

Affixes (i.e., prefixes and suffixes) serve a wide variety of functions in English, including to create nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs or to mark tenses, number, and so on.

Common prefixes include “pre-,” “un-,” “dis-,” “anti-,” and “hyper-.” Common suffixes include “-sion”/“-tion,” “-ness,” “-ful,” and “-ly.”

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Alexandra Rongione

Alexandra has a master’s degree in literature and cultural studies. She has taught English as a foreign language for a range of levels and ages and has also worked as a literacy tutor.

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