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English Vocabulary Elements

A Course in the Structure of English Words

Third Edition

William R. Leben, Brett Kessler, and Keith Denning

Publication Date - 17 January 2023

ISBN: 9780190925482

368 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock


English Vocabulary Elements draws on the tools of modern linguistics to help students acquire an effective understanding of learned, specialized, and scientific vocabulary. This fully refined and updated edition helps develop familiarity with over 500 Latin and Greek word elements in English and shows how these roots are the building blocks within thousands of different words. Along the way, the authors introduce and illustrate many of the fundamental concepts of linguistics, sketch word origins going back to Latin, Greek, and even Proto-Indo-European, and discuss issues around meaning change and correct usage. Moreover, the volume adds new illustrative examples, self-help tests, and study questions. A companion website provides supplementary materials including an Instructor's Manual with an answer key. Offering a thorough approach to the expansion of vocabulary, English Vocabulary Elements is an invaluable resource that provides students a deeper understanding of the language.

New to this Edition

  • Revised chapters bring out key principles of word analysis
  • Includes updated and new illustrative examples
  • Incorporates new word study questions, exercises, and instructions that have been added to the end of each chapter
  • Technical chapters now include self-tests to help students check their progress


  • Fully revised third edition teaches students to recognize word elements that form the building blocks of English vocabulary
  • Accompanied by a companion OUP website with quizzes, supplementary exercises, and an Instructor's Manual with a complete answer key
  • Sketches the historical developments behind the current structure of English vocabulary
  • Includes chapters on the history of English, the constant nature of meaning change, and issues around correct usage

About the Author(s)

William R. Leben is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at Stanford University.

Brett Kessler is Associate Professor Emeritus in Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis.

Keith Denning was Professor of Linguistics at Eastern Michigan University.


"Leben, Kessler, and Denning have created a winning combination of the practical and the academic in English Vocabulary Elements, now in its third edition. This latest edition features a companion website that makes for a seamless and enjoyable learning experience for students looking to improve their English vocabulary through linguistic analysis." -- Mark Aronoff, Distinguished Professor of Linguistics, Stony Brook University

"English Vocabulary Elements is the best college-level introduction to English words and the system behind their structure and use that is available. College students, English teachers, and anyone interested in using English will benefit from this remarkably broad and thorough examination of the rich lexical resources of English." -- Suzanne Kemmer, Associate Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Sciences, Rice University

Table of Contents

    List of Figures
    List of Tables
    Symbols and Abbreviations

    1. The Wealth of English

    2. The History of English and Sources of English Vocabulary

    3. Morphology: The Structure of Complex Words

    4. Allomorphy

    5. Phonetics

    6. Regular Allomorphy; Numeric Elements

    7. Meaning Change

    8. Usage and Variation

    9. Latin and Greek morphology

    10. The Prehistory of English and the Other Indo- European Languages

    11. Later Changes: From Latin to French to English

    Appendix 1. Elements to Glosses
    Appendix 2. Glosses to Elements
    Further Reading and Research Tools