English - Vocabulary Builder


BENE is Latin for “well.” A benefit is a good result or effect. Something beneficial produces good results or effects. The Latin root can be heard in other languages as well: “Good!” or “Fine!” in Spanish is “Bueno!”; in French, it's “Bon!”; and in Italian, just say “Bene!”


1. Benediction: A prayer that asks for God's blessing, especially a prayer that concludes a worship service.

Usage: The moment the bishop had finished his benediction, she squeezed quickly out of her row and darted out the cathedral's side entrance.

2. Benefactor: Someone who helps another person or group, especially by giving money. 

Usage: An anonymous benefactor had given $15 million to establish an ecological institute at the university.

3. Beneficiary: A person or organization that benefits or is expected to benefit from something, especially one that receives money or property when someone dies. 

Usage: Living in a trailer in near-poverty, she received word in the mail that her father had died, naming her as the sole beneficiary of his life-insurance policy.

4. Benevolence: Kindness, generosity.

Usage: In those financially desperate years, the young couple was saved only by the benevolence of her elderly great-uncle.


AM comes from the Latin amare, “to love.” The Roman god of love was known by two different names, Cupid and Amor. Amiable means “friendly or good-natured,” and amigo is Spanish for “friend.”


1. Amicable: Friendly, peaceful.

Usage: Their relations with their in-laws were generally amicable, despite some bickering during the holidays.

2. Enamored: Charmed or fascinated; inflamed with love.

Usage: Rebecca quickly became enamored of the town's rustic surroundings, its slow pace, and its eccentric characters. 

3. Amorous: Having or showing strong feelings of attraction or love.

Usage: It turned out that the amorous Congressman had gotten his girlfriend a good job and was paying for her apartment. 

4. Paramour: A lover, often secret, not allowed by law or custom.

Usage: He had been coming to the house for two years before her brothers realized that he was actually the paramour of their shy and withdrawn sister.


BELL comes from the Latin word meaning “war.” Bellona was the little-known Roman goddess of war; her husband, Mars, was the god of war.


1. Antebellum: Existing before a war, especially before the American Civil War (1861–65).

Usage: When World War I was over, the French nobility found it impossible to return to their extravagant antebellum way of life.

2. Bellicose: Warlike, aggressive, quarrelsome. 

Usage: The more bellicose party always got elected whenever there was tension along the border and the public believed that military action would lead to security.

3. Belligerence: Aggressiveness, combativeness. 

Usage: The belligerence in Turner's voice told them that the warning was a serious threat.

4. Rebellion: Open defiance and opposition, sometimes armed, to a person or thing in authority. 

Usage: A student rebellion that afternoon in Room 13 resulted in the new substitute teacher racing out of the building in tears.


PAC is related to the Latin words for “agree” and “peace.” The Pacific Ocean—that is, the “Peaceful Ocean”—was named by Ferdinand Magellan because it seemed so calm after he had sailed through the storms near Cape Horn. (Magellan obviously had never witnessed a Pacific typhoon.)


1. Pacify: (1) To soothe anger or agitation. (2) To subdue by armed action. 

Usage: It took the police hours to pacify the angry demonstrators.

2. Pacifist: A person opposed to war or violence, especially someone who refuses to bear arms or to fight, on moral or religious grounds. 

Usage: Her grandfather had fought in the Marines in World War II, but in his later years he had become almost a pacifist, opposing every war for one reason or another.

3. Pact: An agreement between two or more people or groups; a treaty or formal agreement between nations to deal with a problem or to resolve a dispute.

Usage: The girls made a pact never to reveal what had happened on that terrifying night in the abandoned house.

4. Pace: Contrary to the opinion of. 

Usage: She had only three husbands, pace some Hollywood historians who claim she had as many as six.


CRIM comes from the Latin words for “fault or crime” or “accusation.” It's obvious where the root shows up most commonly in English. A crime is an act forbidden by the government, which the government itself will punish you for, and for which you may be branded a criminal. A crime is usually more serious than a tort, a “civil wrong” for which the wronged person must himself sue if he wants to get repaid in some way.


1. Criminology: The study of crime, criminals, law enforcement, and punishment.

Usage: His growing interest in criminology led him to become a probation officer.

2. Decriminalize: To remove or reduce the criminal status of. 

Usage: An angry debate over decriminalizing doctor-assisted suicide raged all day in the statehouse.

3. Incriminate: To show evidence of involvement in a crime or a fault. 

Usage: The muddy tracks leading to and from the cookie jar were enough to incriminate them.

4. Recrimination: (1) An accusation in answer to an accusation made against oneself. (2) The making of such an accusation.

Usage: Their failure to find help led to endless and pointless recriminations over responsibility for the accident.


PROB comes from the Latin words for “prove or proof” and “honesty or integrity.” A probe, whether it's a little object for testing electrical circuits or a spacecraft headed for Mars, is basically something that's looking for evidence or proof. And probable originally described something that wasn't certain but might be “provable.”


1. Approbation: A formal or official act of approving; praise, usually given with pleasure or enthusiasm.

Usage: The senate signaled its approbation of the new plan by voting for it unanimously.

2. Probate: The process of proving in court that the will of someone who has died is valid, and of administering the estate of a dead person. 

Usage: When her father died, she thought she would be able to avoid probate, but she wasn't that lucky.

3. Probity: Absolute honesty and uprightness. 

Usage: Her unquestioned probity helped win her the respect of her fellow judges.

4. Reprobate: A person of thoroughly bad character. 

Usage: His wife finally left him, claiming he was a reprobate who would disappear for weeks at a time, gambling and drinking away all his money.


GRAV comes from the Latin word meaning “heavy, weighty, serious.” Gravity is, of course, what makes things heavy, and without it there wouldn't be any life on earth, since nothing would stay on earth at all. This doesn't stop us from yelling in outrage when the familiar laws of gravity cause something to drop to the floor and break.


1. Grave: (1) Requiring serious thought or concern. (2) Serious and formal in appearance or manner. 

Usage: We realized that the situation was grave and that the slightest incident could spark all-out war.

2. Gravitas: Great or very dignified seriousness. 

Usage: The head of the committee never failed to carry herself with the gravitas she felt was appropriate to her office.

3. Gravitate: To move or be drawn toward something, especially by natural tendency or as if by an invisible force. 

Usage: On hot evenings, the town's social life gravitated toward the lakefront, where you could stroll the long piers eating ice cream or dance at the old Casino.

4. Aggravate: (1) To make (an injury, problem, etc.) more serious or severe. (2) To annoy or bother. 

Usage: She went back to the soccer team before the knee was completely healed, which naturally aggravated the injury.


LEV comes from the Latin adjective levis, meaning “light,” and the verb levare, meaning “to raise or lighten.” So a lever is a bar used to lift something, by means of leverage. And levitation is the magician's trick in which a body seems to rise into the air by itself.


1. Alleviate: To lighten, lessen, or relieve, especially physical or mental suffering. 

Usage: Cold compresses alleviated the pain of the physical injury, but only time could alleviate the effect of the insult.

2. Elevation: (1) The height of a place. (2) The act or result of lifting or raising someone or something. 

Usage: Her doctor is concerned about the elevation of her blood pressure since her last visit.

3. Cantilever: A long piece of wood, metal, etc., that sticks out from a wall to support something above it. 

Usage: The house's deck, supported by cantilevers, jutted out dramatically over the rocky slope, and looking over the edge made him dizzy.

4. Levity: Lack of appropriate seriousness. 

Usage:The Puritan elders tried to ban levity of all sorts from the community's meetings, but found it increasingly difficult to control the younger generation.