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3.2: §110. Some Common Greek Combining Forms

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    8450
  • 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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