Biography (n) – A written account of another person’s life
Helpful Hints: If you get confused between biography and autobiography, remember the prefix “auto” means “oneself,” as in something automatic, which works on its own. An autobiography is a written account of the author’s own life.
You May Remember: From unit 6, the GRAPH root means “to write,” so a biography is literally a “life-writing.”
Sample Sentence: Knowing that his skills as a writer were feeble, the actor hired a renowned author to write his biography.
Biodegradable (adj) – Capable of decaying naturally
You May Remember: OK, this one is awesome. Unit 6 told us that “DE-” means “down or away”, unit 12 gave us “GRAD,” which means “Step,” and unit 8 showed us that “-ABLE” is an adjective ending meaning “Able to”. So something biodegradable literally means that its life is able to “step down” – in other words, it is able to decompose back into nothingness.
Sample Sentence: The children wrote a letter to the CEO of the major coffee-shop corporation to encourage him to replace its styrofoam cups with something biodegradable and better for the environment.
Extravagant (adj) – Spending or doing more than is necessary
Synonyms: lavish, excessive
Antonyms: moderate, thrifty, cheap
Helpful Hints: This word often carries a negative connotation; it does not indicate “going above and beyond” but instead, “going too far” or “going over the top”
You May Remember: From unit 6, the prefix EXTRA- means “Outside”. Something extravagant “wanders outside” of what is normal or ordinary.
Sample Sentence: When his family was planning their vacation, the plans became more and more extravagant until it got to the point where none of them could afford to go.
Vagrant (n) – A person with no settled home, income or job, a vagabond (adj) – Nomadic, tending to roam from place to place
Synonyms: (n) vagabond, drifter, homeless person; (adj) transient, homeless
Sample Sentence: (n) The police started their morning by clearing the vagrants from the city square.
Sample Sentence: (adj) After selling their home and buying a Winnebago, the couple led a vagrant lifestyle, drifting from state to state at whim.
HYDRO- / HYDRA- Water
Hydraulic (adj) – Operated by employing water in motion
Helpful Hints: You may have heard of hydraulic brakes or hydraulic pumps. Those devices generate their force or resistance using compressed liquids. (For any words with this prefix, think of the word you probably know best: dehydrated = lacking water.)
Sample Sentence: The hydraulic brakes allowed the driver to stop the car.
Hydroelectric (adj) – Pertaining to the generation of electricity derived from moving water
Helpful Hints: You’ll see this word most commonly in the phrases “hydroelectric dam” or “hydroelectric power.”
Sample Sentence: In the 19th century, many farms relied on hydroelectric power generated by mills built upon moving rivers to power their machinery.
Irreverent (adj) – Disrespectful towards someone or something that is usually treated very seriously
Synonyms: flippant, cheeky, scornful
Antonyms: respectful, serious, solemn
Helpful Hints: You will see this word most often in the phrases “irreverent humor” or “irreverent jokes,” when someone makes light of a topic that people usually approach with a serious or somber attitude, such as religion or a tragedy like 9-11. (For any words with this root, think of the word “reverend,” used to address church officials.)
You May Remember: From unit 2, the IR- prefix means “not” – irreverent behavior is something “not respectful.”
Sample Sentence: The critics panned the movie for its irreverent humor, which mocked the physically handicapped.
Reverential (adj) – Characterized by a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe
Synonyms: respectful, admiring
Antonyms: disrespectful, impudent, contemptuous
Helpful Hints: This has a distinctly more positive connotation than “respectful.” If you are polite and do not gossip when speaking about someone, you are being respectful, but you would probably speak reverentially about the actions & traits of a personal hero.
Sample Sentence: The fans who once watched a game at the old Boston Garden still speak of the former building in an almost reverential awe, despite how poor the arena was.
PHIL / PHILO Love
Philanthropist (n) – a person who tries to help others and support worthy causes, usually by donating money
Synonyms: benefactor, donor
Helpful Hints: Dropping a quarter in a homeless person’s cup does not make you a philanthropist. The word is generally used for rich people who make major contributions to charities, museums, and the like.
You May Remember: In unit 9, we learned that the root ANTHROP means “Human” or “Man”, and unit 7 showed us how the suffix -IST means “One Who…” – put it all together and a Philanthropist is “One Who Loves Mankind”
Sample Sentence: The university was only able to construct the new planetarium due to a generous gift from an anonymous philanthropist.
Philosophy (n) – 1. The study of the truths and principles of being, knowledge or behavior 2. A personal set of principles or guiding rules to follow
Synonyms: 1. theory, underlying idea 2. belief, view, principles
Helpful Hints: Next time you want to question a teacher’s assignment, but you want to sound earnest and thoughtful, ask, “What is the philosophy behind having us memorize these definitions?”
Sample Sentence: Jere would not purchase coffee from Starbucks, as it went against his personal philosophy about what a cup of coffee ought to cost.
Substantiate (v) – To establish by proof or competent evidence
Synonyms: prove, show, validate
Helpful Hints: Think of substantiating an idea as giving the idea “substance,” putting something real and “substantial” behind it (or under it). You may have heard the phrase “unsubstantiated rumor” – that’s a story that has not been confirmed as true.
Sample Sentence: The file footage of the celebrity in the elevator helped substantiate the rumor that he was having an affair.
Subtle (adj) – 1. Not immediately obvious or comprehensible 2. Difficult to detect or analyze, often due to being delicate or highly refined
Synonyms: understated, fine (as in a fine line, as opposed to a thick one)
Antonyms: obvious, blatant
Helpful Hints: A “subtle hint” is one that only a few people will pick up on. It’s partially hidden, or under the surface. The ‘b’ is silent – this vocabulary word rhymes with shuttle.
Sample Sentence: Marjorie wasn’t usually subtle when she criticized her friends. Most of the time, she just came out and said exactly what she thought.
SYN- / SYM- / SYL- / SYS- With, Together
Symbiotic (adj) – Having an interdependent relationship
Synonyms: mutually beneficial
Helpful Hints: An example of a symbiotic relationship in nature, made famous by Finding Nemo: The clownfish consumes bacteria that is harmful to the sea anemone, while the anemone provides protection from predators to the clownfish. Both creatures mutually benefit from one another
You May Remember: From this same unit, BIO means “life” – so symbiosis means “Life, Together”
Sample Sentence: The two students had an almost symbiotic relationship: Anna helped Rolf understand his math class better, while Rolf could explain to Anna the major themes and symbols in the novels from her English class.
Synthesis (n) – The combination of smaller parts to create one unified whole
Sample Sentence: A strong thesis statement is the synthesis of all of the smaller arguments that you make in your essay.
Temperamental (adj) – 1. Moody, Irritable, Sensitive 2. Given to erratic behavior; Unpredictable
Synonyms: volatile, emotional, touchy
Helpful Hints: People can be temperamental if they are sensitive and easily upset, and a device can be temperamental in the same sense — an engine that won’t start if it’s raining, for instance.
Sample Sentence: The boss was temperamental, which made his employees hesitant to approach him; on some days he would be amiable, and on others, miserable.
Temporize (v) – To be indecisive or evasive to delay action; to put something off; to delay in order to “buy time”
Synonyms: equivocate, procrastinate, stall, drag one’s feet
Helpful Hints: This word sounds like it should mean to make something temporary. It doesn’t, but you can think of temporizing as remaining in a temporary state, an undecided state, for a long time.
Sample Sentence: Madeline’s friends had to temporize when they received the text that the surprise party wasn’t entirely set up on time, so they brought Madeline to an ice cream shop.