Structural analysis is the process of breaking words down into their basic parts to determine word meaning. Structural analysis is a powerful vocabulary tool since knowledge of a few word parts can give you clues to the meanings of a large number of words. Although the meaning suggested by the word parts may not be exact, this process can often help you understand the word well enough that you can continue reading without significant interruption.
When using structural analysis, the reader breaks words down into their basic parts:
- Prefixes – word parts located at the beginning of a word to change meaning
- Roots – the basic meaningful part of a word
- Suffixes – word parts attached to the end of a word; suffixes often alter the part of speech of the word
For example, the word bicyclist can be broken down as follows:
- bi – prefix meaning two
- cycle – root meaning wheel
- ist – a noun suffix meaning ‘a person who’
Therefore, structural analysis suggests that a bicyclist is a person on two wheels – a meaning which is close to the word’s formal definition.
Consider the word part –cide. Though it cannot stand as a word by itself, it does have meaning: to kill. Think about the many words in our language that include the word part –cide. Knowing this one word part gives us knowledge about many words.
In English, there are really only suffixes and prefixes (part of a larger class called affixes). Other languages have things called infixes. They go in the middles of the word. Piano, pianisimo, pianisisimo, etc.
English only has one infix:
- “get it to-freaking-gether”
To further develop this skill, refer to the convenient reference sheet Structural Analysis: Common Word Parts, for a list of some common prefixes, roots, and suffixes along with their meanings and examples of words that use them.
Put It to Work
For practice of this skill, try the Structural Analysis Exercises from Lethbridge College.
Although structural analysis is a technique that can be used by anyone, there are definitely certain disciplines that use it more extensively. The medical field, in particular, uses terminology grounded firmly in structural analysis. Check out the following sites to learn some common word parts found in the medical field:
- Building Medical Terms: The Digestive System. This site helps you build and learn terms related to the digestive system.
- Medical Terminology from SweetHaven Publishing Services
- Medical Terminology Systems, Sixth Edition Audio Exercises. This site helps you learn a variety of word parts related to medical terminology.
- Medword Resources Medical Terminology Basics. This site contains lists of medical prefixes, suffixes, combining forms, crossword puzzles, and more.
- Medical Terminology at Sheppard Software