Greek and Latin Roots: “L” Base Words

More classical base words again, this time ones that start with “L.” Please keep in mind that these are base words, rather than prefixes or suffixes. We’ll come to those in a later post (though there are already some preliminary posts under the “affixes” tag). If you want to review the rest of the base words we’ve covered so far, here are the posts to go over:

Base Meaning Example
lab take syllable
labor work laborious
later side unilateral
lav wash lavatory
leg, lig, lect pick, read legible, eligible, collect
leo(n) lion leonine
libr book library
lingu language linguistics
liter letter literate
lith stone monolith
loc(at) place local, location
locut, loqu speak, talk elocution, eloquent
log word, reason, study logic
luc, lumin light lucid, luminous
lud, lus play, trick, mock elude, illusion
lup wolf lupine

Using Memrise on the Web

Another member of the spaced repetition flashcard family, Memrise isn’t quite as versatile as Anki, but it does offer more flexibility than Babadum. Memrise has a web interface and a free smartphone app. The two aren’t really integrated with each other, so I’ll come back to the app another time.

ETA: since I last wrote this, I either figured out how to use Memrise properly or they made some changes, because now my web account and my mobile account seem to be synchronized. More on the mobile version at a later date!

Today I just want to talk about the web-based program and familiarize you with it. Once you get into it, Memrise is pretty straightforward, but it can take a little getting used to. It took me some getting used to, at any rate!

Getting Started

You can sign up for Memrise with Google, Facebook, or email. I dislike using Google and Facebook for everything, so I chose a throwaway email address. When I later decided to try the smartphone app, however, I was unable to log in with my already-created account, which was annoying.

After you create your account, you’ll be greeted with a homepage that looks something like this:

Memrise home page.
Memrise home page.

On the left you can see your account summary, including the points and trophies you’ve earned. There’s also a countdown clock until the end of the day (midnight local time), and an option to sign up for Memrise Pro. It doesn’t look like much to start with until you sign up for a course, at which point the homepage is your portal into daily practice.

Memrise home page after you start a course.
Memrise home page after you start a course.

After you select a course, the Memrise homepage will helpfully show your progress on your homepage as well as give you suggestions for users you can follow—these are people taking the same or similar courses.

You can set Memrise to a limited number of languages in your account settings: English, German, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, and Chinese. You access this portion by clicking on the blue portrait on the right-hand side of the blue toolbar and selecting “settings.”

Memrise account settings: selecting a language.
Memrise account settings: selecting a language.

The not-entirely-intuitive thing is that changing the language in your settings only has an effect on the site interface, not the content. If you don’t speak any of the above languages, don’t worry: there’s still plenty of content for you!


The meat and potatoes of Memrise is the courses. These are like decks in Anki. Each course is a list of words or phrases; some courses are put together by Memrise staff, while others are put together by Memrise users. Some users are individuals, some are teachers, and some are other organizations. It’s very common to find Memrise courses based around a particular textbook. If you’re taking an English course, you might want to see if someone’s created a course based on the book you’re using. Saves you the time of creating an Anki deck or a Memrise course yourself!

Memrise will, initially, suggest popular courses for you to take, right on your home page. If you want to see a more detailed list, select the “courses” tab (that’s the one in the middle) in the blue toolbar.

Memrise courses homepage.
Memrise courses homepage for Chinese speakers, including the most popular courses among Chinese speakers.

Once on the “courses” home page, you can select your native language (or preferred study language) on the left, under the “I speak” pull-down menu. As you can see, this list is much more exhaustive than languages available in your profile settings.

Memrise course language selection.
Memrise course language selection. Here you can see the English courses available for Korean speakers. The top three are courses created by Memrise, while the bottom three are courses created by the users (left to right) Mr.Kimchi, EasyAcademy, and newgosto.

When you find a course you want to take, just click it. You’ll be taken to the course’s homepage, which has an outline of the different lessons as well as a scoreboard. If it looks like something you want to study, just click the big green “start learning” button!

Diving In

Once you start a particular course, the course home page, much like your personal Memrise home page, will tell you how you’re doing.

Lesson progress in a Korean course on Memrise.
Lesson progress in a Korean course on Memrise. You can see that I’m in the middle of Lesson 4, and that I’ve looked at 54 out of 1568 words so far. Only 30 of those words are in long-term memory.

Within a course you will have a few activities based around vocabulary and phrases, similar to the games in Babadum:

  1. Hear the L2 word and select the L1 translation (multiple choice).
  2. See the L1 word and select the right recording of the L2 translation (multiple choice).
  3. See the L1 word and select the right L2 translation (multiple choice).
  4. See the L1 word and provide the right L2 translation (written).
  5. Hear the L2 word and write what you hear (dictation).

I’ve noticed that different courses will have different activities. The French 1 course for English speakers includes videos of native speakers, which is lacking in the above Korean course, for example. But all of the activities are taken from this pool of five.

Unlike Babadum, you’ll periodically have “cards” that involve no challenge or activity; they exist simply to introduce the new vocabulary.

New French vocabulary in Memrise.

If you find yourself struggling with a particular word, you can elect to choose or create a “mem,” an image to help you remember the word, by selecting “Help me remember this” at the bottom. The lightning bolt is a premium option (allows you to mark a word as “difficult”), while the “no” button next to it tells Memrise to ignore this word because you already know it or don’t want to learn it. As you correctly answer questions about the word or phrase, the image in the circle will transform from a hand planting a seed, to a plant stem, to a flower. Seeds are new words, while flowers are words you know quite well.

You can set daily goals for a particular course: point amounts that are equivalent to 5, 15, or 45 minutes a day. Note that you can earn points either by learning new words or by reviewing the words you’ve already learned.

On Review

Memrise is based on the spaced repetition philosophy. If you delve into any particular lesson in a course, you’ll see a countdown with each word. This is a countdown to when you need to review the word to help maximize retention.

Detailed information about a lesson in a Korean Memrise course.
Detailed information about a lesson in a Korean Memrise course.

Here you can see that I’ll need to review most of this vocabulary in around 23 days, though I have two words that I should review right now.

Note that Memrise will not automatically remind you of the words you need to review; you choose between reviewing and learning new words at your own pace. To review words, select the blue “review” button. The review button will always have how many words you have left to review. It’s my preference to move on to new words when I don’t have any words left to review, but your mileage may vary.


Memrise has a few limited social features: you can follow people, but following seems limited to seeing their scores on your homepage. There are also groups, but these are private and invite-only. Like following someone, being a member of a group allows you to compete with other group members in terms of scores, and that’s about it.

Courses once had their own forums; now all interaction between members seems to happen on a separate community page. I wish I could tell you more about the forums, but at this moment in time I’m unable to log in. They certainly look lively and robust. Note, however, that the forums center around Memrise and Memrise courses, rather than language exchange.


Memrise has a few features that are only available to paying members. You can purchase membership in bundles of 1 month, 3 months, or a year. Obviously, the larger the bundle, the better the unit price. A year-long membership is a little less than $5 US per month. Do I think it’s worth it? Hard to say. The ability to focus on difficult words is definitely a plus; while other people are enthusiastic about your learning patterns stats, I don’t know how important those actually are when it comes to improving your language acquisition.

That wraps up the basics of using Memrise! I’ll be back with a later post on how to get the most out of Memrise in your language studies, but until then feel free to ask any questions or share any tips/corrections here or on Twitter.

Greek and Latin Roots: “I,” “J,” and “K” Base Words

Time for our next installment in this tour through classically derived English vocabulary: base words starting with “I,” “J,” and “K.” (There aren’t too many of each, so I decided to combine them.) If you want to review previous letters, you can refer to the links below:

Remember, these are all base words. I’ll tackle classical affixes (prefixes and suffixes) in a later series.

Base Meaning Example
i(t) go transient, exile
iatr doctor pediatrician
ig(u), ag, act drive, go ambiguous, agile, action
jac, ject throw eject
kilo thousand kilogram

Book Review: Snowfall

Author: Andy Coombs

Genre: Horror

My GoodReads rating: 4 stars

Average Goodreads rating: 4 stars (mine is the only rating!)

Language scaling: High beginner / low intermediate (A2/B1)

Plot summary: Fourteen-year-old Reka and her family try to escape a natural disaster in New Zealand.

Recommended audience: This book is from a larger Swedish series (Polar Fish) written for younger ELLs (target audience: 12 and up) and published by the Natur och Kultur foundation here in Sweden. That said, the text is entirely in English, so there’s nothing particular here for Swedish ELLs.

In-depth thoughts: The English in Snowfall (and in the rest of the Polar Fish books) is quite simple, so intermediate and advanced learners might not find it particularly challenging. But the story was still quite good; even as an adult native English speaker I was engaged (and didn’t even see the plot twist coming). This is a great choice for a young learner with a penchant for horror movies and scary stories. (Though there is some salty language at one point.)

This is one of many middle grade/young adult English novels I picked up for a song at a library sale, and one of a few different ELL/young reader-specific series represented. Polar Fish in particular seems to be a little old and discontinued, but you can still find the books here and there.


Quick Tips for Using Quotes in Essays: Entire Sentences

Last time I brought up quotes, I talked about how to incorporate short phrases and clauses into your writing. Generally speaking, I would say that using a handful of words here and there is a more elegant solution than quoting an entire sentence wholesale, but sometimes nothing but a copy-and-paste job will do.

If you want to include an entire sentence from the source, rather than just selection, things are a little simpler. (A little.) You no longer have to worry about ellipses, brackets, or grammatical correctness. Your biggest issue is punctuation.

If you are introducing the quote with a complete sentence (“Abrams described the results of a recent quantum physics experiment in his latest paper.”), you should introduce the quote with a colon (:).

Abrams described the results of a recent quantum physics experiment in his latest paper: “Some photon wave-particles which traveled at faster-than-light speeds were of particular interest.” (2016)

If you are introducing the quote with a short introductory phrase (“According to Abrams . . . “), you should introduce the quote with a comma (,). Something like this:

According to Abrams, “Some photon wave-particles which traveled at faster-than-light speeds were of particular interest.” (2016)

Be careful not to mix the two together. Something like this:

Abrams described the results of a recent quantum physics experiment in his latest paper, “Some photon wave-particles which traveled at faster-than-light speeds were of particular interest.” (2016)

or this:

According to Abrams: “Some photon wave-particles which traveled at faster-than-light speeds were of particular interest.” (2016)

would be incorrect.

The trade-off, in my opinion, is the quality of the writing. There are certainly instances where quoting the entire sentence is effective (or even necessary), but there are many instances where it’s much more appropriate to highlight a phrase or a couple of words, or to simply paraphrase or summarize the original source. Regardless, make sure to cite the source! You wouldn’t want to be accused of plagiarism, after all.

Greek and Latin Roots: “H” Base Words

Somehow we’ve made it to “H” in our tour of classically derived English vocabulary! Again, these are all bases: the foundations to which we add affixes to form words. Affixes are coming in a later post. If you’d like to review past letters, use the links below

Base Meaning Example
habit dwell, keep inhabit
hal(e) breathe inhale
haute high “haute couture”
(h)em, hemat blood anemia, hematology
hemer day ephemeral
hemi one half hemisphere
hepta seven heptagon
her, hes stick, cling adhere, cohesive
hexa six hexagon
hor(o) hour horoscope
horr frighten horror
hum damp earth humidity
human human being, mankind humane
hydr(o) water hydrant
hypno sleep hypnosis

Book Review: The Sparrow

Author: Mary Doria Russell

Genre: Science fiction

My GoodReads Rating: 3 stars

Average GoodReads Rating: 4.17 stars

Language scaling: High intermediate and above (B2+)

Plot summary: In 2019, humans finally receive and decode extraterrestrial messages. The aliens aren’t too far away, so The Society of Jesus sends an expedition to meet them. Things do not go as planned.

Recommended audience: Science fiction fans who are also interested in the humanities, particularly comparative religion, anthropology, and/or linguistics.

Content warning: Sexual assault; violence against children

In-depth thoughts: What Russell does best in The Sparrow is world building. She’s clearly given a lot of thought to both of the distant alien races, in terms of evolutionary biology as well as culture. World building is something I’m usually very picky about, so praise from Caesar is praise, indeed.

As far back as 1996, Russell also had a pretty good sense of what sort of technology we would have in 2019. We might not be mining asteroids in three years, let alone going on interstellar missions, but I think (and hope!) we’ll be surprised by what SpaceX will accomplish. Meanwhile, in 2016, tablets are already ubiquitous. How prescient!

That said, there were some flaws. Like a lot of science fiction, the characterization suffered a bit. Many of them are only vaguely described; others who are more fully fleshed out have significantly out-of-character moments. This would be okay, except that some of those moments are important plot points. Whenever that happens in a book, it always feel like the author is shoehorning a character into a certain role rather than letting the story develop naturally. There are a couple of plot points that I felt were glossed over, though these are apparently addressed in the sequel, Children of God.

Overall, I enjoyed it and I appreciate the thought and work that Russell clearly put into it. I would definitely recommend this for any science fiction fan, though with the warning that towards the end, things get quite brutal.


Greek and Latin Roots: “G” Base Words

We’re trucking right along in this overview of classical base words! Our next installment is the letter “G.” If you want to review previous letters, you can refer to the list of links below:

Base Meaning Example
gam marriage monogamy
ge(o) earth geography
gen(er) be born, give birth, produce genius, generation
ger(ont) elderly geriatric
glob globe, sphere globular
gnos(t) read, know diagnose
grad, gress step, go gradual, congress
graph, gram write, draw photograph, telegram
greg flock, herd gregarious, congregate
gyn(ec) woman misogyny

Quick Tips for Using Quotes in Essays: Short Phrases

An essential part of high-level academic writing in any field is properly citing and quoting your research. There are lots of great resources already out there on different citation methods and how to avoid plagiarism; today I want to talk about how to properly integrate quotes into your writing. This entry will focus specifically on quotes that short phrases and less-than-complete sentences and clauses. Longer selections require slightly different strategies; I’ll be covering them in later posts.

Writers, both native and non-native English speakers, seem to struggle with how to include short selections into their writing. Hopefully this post will demystify the process a little bit — it’s actually quite simple, once you get the hang of it.

By far, the most common problem I see is something like this:

Scientists on the project were excited that “some photon wave-particles which traveled at faster-than-light speed.” (Abrams, 2016)

Can you spot the problem here? What’s the grammatical misunderstanding the author has that’s led to the problem?

Scientists on the project were excited that “some photon wave-particles which traveled at faster-than-light speeds.” (Abrams, 2016)

Here’s the big secret: when you want to integrate part of a sentence from your source into your own writing, you need to make sure that your entire sentence still works grammatically. One little word, like the above “which,” can throw a monkey wrench into things and turn what you thought was a proper sentence into something else (here, it’s a non-restrictive clause). You’ve probably already figured out how to fix this little boo-boo:

Scientists on the project were excited that “some photon wave-particles . . . traveled at faster-than-light speeds.” (Abrams, 2016)

Sometimes, authors (correctly!) alter the original quote, but they fail to indicate that they have made alterations. This is a no-no; you should always let the reader know that you’ve made changes, even small ones, to the original material. A quick refresher on the two tools you need for this job:

  • ellipsis: used to indicate words or phrases omitted from the original quote, whether for brevity or for grammar; consists of three periods with  a space between each one. ( . . . )
  • square brackets: used to indicate characters, words, or phrases altered or added to the original quote for the sake of orthography, grammar, comprehension, or readability. ([])

For example, let’s say that the original quote from that Abrams paper was something like this:

Some photon wave-particles which traveled at faster-than-light speeds were of particular interest.

(I know it’s not the most elegant example. Sorry.)

To do things 100% by the book, our citation would have to look something like this:

Scientists on the project were excited that “[s]ome photon wave-particles . . . traveled at faster-than-light speeds.” (Abrams, 2016)

Or like this, if you’re not a fan of the square brackets look:

Scientists on the project were excited that some “photon wave-particles . . . traveled at faster-than-light speeds.” (Abrams, 2016)

There is an aesthetics argument for avoiding square brackets as much as possible, as they have a tendency to slow the reader down. Here, the sentence can be recast without them, but sometimes that’s not possible.

If you’re not comfortable with omitting text in this way, or if doing so somehow significantly changes the meaning of the original, then you need to reword your writing. Sometimes this is tricky; in my fictional example above, however, it’s pretty straightforward:

Scientists on the project were excited about some “photon wave-particles which traveled at faster-than-light speeds.” (Abrams, 2016)

There are usually two or three different ways to recast a sentence in this way. If you’re having trouble figuring out how, a colleague (or professional editor) can often have the distance and perspective needed to see how to proceed.

Mystery solved! Hopefully, anyway. If you have any questions about this, or would like me to look over your work to check for these kinds of errors, you can contact me on Twitter or with the form over there on the right.

Happy citing!