Etymology Resources: Tracing English Words Back Through Greek, Latin & Beyond

Thank you brother Tim! -A

Over the past couple years I’ve started to collect old dictionaries & other etymological reference materials. I wanted to put together a guide to save others some time.

The Online Etymology Dictionary

The Online Etymology Dictionary is always a great read. You can pull up detailed etymological definitions for most all English words and there are lots of hyperlinks where you can trace other related words. It’s usually the first result when you search google for a word’s etymology.

Here’s the dictionary’s entry for the word “Recognize”:

Check out the related word section at the bottom of the page for more insights and associations with other words and Latin/ Greek roots, etc. Here’s what you can see under Recognize for example:


Wiktionary is a great free resource that has most English words with the etymological history and definitions

For example for the word “magic”:

After reading many etymological definitions I started to understand how much Latin is embedded into the English language. This made me explore the benefits of starting with the most relevant Latin words, comparing and contrasting all of the English words they yielded. Burning the etymological candle at both ends. This turned into a similar approach for understanding English better through common Greek and Proto Indo-European roots and the English words they each spawned.

Chambers Dictionary of Etymology

This book is my go-to for quick summaries of English words’ etymological definitions. It’s great if you have an English word in mind or if you just want to flip through until something catches your eye. 1,300 pages packed with insights. The book is a triumph. It’s very accessible for beginners and I prefer how it writes out what many other books use acronyms for. Such as L=Latin, G=Greek, OE=Old English, PIE= Proto Indo-European, etc. The original is available for free online although there do seem to be considerable improvements in later editions:

Two examples from the original book on

Always consult the abbreviations section for these types of entries, usually at the first few pages of the book. For example, from the original Chambers Dictionary of Etymology: (note the languages in the second section)

Alexander Reid’s Dictionary Of The English Language

This book contains two really important parts: an etymological dictionary of the English language & a list of etymologically important root words from Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, etc..

Available free online:

Print versions also available:

Dictionary Of Latin And Greek Origins

There is a really helpful book by Bob and Maxine Moore called ‘Dictionary Of Latin And Greek Origins’ to learn about groups of English words categorized by their Latin and Greek ancestors. There is a long index at the end with a quick lookup table for many English words. Unfortunately the lists of English words per ancient root are not as extensive as I would like. It’s not the perfect reference but it adds a lot of value to your library and can be acquired very cheaply.

List of Latin words with English derivatives

This is one of the most interesting, insightful webpages on the internet:

On the left is the original Latin word and on the right the English derivatives. Not all rows are equally interesting and it’s a long page. I recommend scrolling down looking for interesting English words on the right. Also, when there are a lot of English spin-off words, that’s usually an indicator it’s of historical significance.

Here’s a similar page with just Latin verbs, their meanings, and the English words that spawned off:

A Manual of Etymology: Containing Latin and Greek Derivatives, With a Key, Giving the Prefix, Root, and Suffix

A really enlightening old book in reprint and for free online is A Manual of Etymology: Containing Latin and Greek Derivatives, With a Key, Giving the Prefix, Root, and Suffix

Link to online version:

My favorite parts of the book are where it goes through older Latin and Greek words and lists out some pertinent English words. The prefix section if also very helpful. It’s a well curated list that packs a bigger punch than the “List of Latin words with English derivatives” article aforementioned.

Valpy’s ‘An etymological dictionary of the Latin language’

An incredibly informative Latin etymological dictionary called ‘An etymological dictionary of the Latin language’:

List of Greek Morphemes Used in English

An interesting concept, though incompletely executed, this Wikipedia page goes through different Greek elements, defines them and shows how they were integrated into English words

A Dictionary of the English language:

Free online resource “containing the pronunciation, etymology & explanation of all words authorized by eminent writers : to which are added a vocabulary of the roots of English words and an accented list of Greek, Latin, and scripture proper names

Read free here:

A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary Of The English Language By Ernest Klein

Full unabridged version from 1966 is available online here:

Another similar book by the same researcher: A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary Of The English Language By Ernest Klein

A New English Dictionary On Historical Principles [Philological Society]

A great book for digging into the history of English words with lots of additional insights. Hopefully this will be more available in the future in print versions as the online version is a bit tough to navigate.

De Vaan’s “Etymological Dictionary of Latin and Other Italic Languages”

De Vaan’s “Etymological Dictionary of Latin and Other Italic Languages” is a pioneering work and a fascinating resource to delve deep into the history of Latin words and elements:

Origins by Eric Partridge

Origins by Eric Partridge is a very interesting book. There is no index of words, instead everything is listed alphabetically and a lot of the words tell you to “see” other sections of the book. English words are grouped together in cohesive sections with all the relevant words from across all the different languages. I like to flip through looking for large sections that have a lot of English words as often times it’s because of a pivotal Latin or Greek root that is permeated throughout English.

Here is an interesting section from ‘Origins’ for force and related words

The extended version of the Oxford etymology dictionary is also interesting. It can be found online here:

Abridged Etymology Dictionaries

Here are a few quick reference dictionaries that are good entry points to the genre. I’d recommend going for the longer books such as 2,000 page dictionaries. I hope one day an invaluable 500 page etymology book does emerge, but I don’t think it will take the form of an ‘abridged etymology dictionary’.


American Heritage also has a good series of dictionaries. Make sure you get unabridged versions of these types of dictionaries. They are more expensive but superior for etymology research.

Greek and Latin dictionaries are always helpful to have for cross-referencing definitions for ancient words you encounter. The Greek alphabet takes work to grapple with for newcomers

The Cambridge Greek Lexicon is a great collection of greek definitions across 2 hardback volumes. They don’t include Romanized spellings of the Greek words but all the definitions are thoroughly described in English once you can find the word. There are various ways to lookup the Greek spelling, my favorite is ChatGPT. Having the Greek alphabet order readily available is useful in helping determine the position of the specific letter you’re searching for in the alphabet.

Oxford Latin Dictionary:

1968 Oxford Latin Dictionary:

Cassell’s Latin Dictionary

This is another great Latin dictionary. For each entry it also includes the breakdown of the words into their constituent Latin elements. Here’s an example entry for the Latin word, which is shown to break down to terreo (“to frighten”) + facio (“to make, prepare”). This makes this Latin dictionary helpful for tracing back compound latin words into their roots.

Available on

1879 Lewis & Short ‘A Latin Dictionary’:

Alternate link: Before you dive in, also check out their 1891 ‘A New Latin Dictionary’ version which is linked to in the next section

The print version is great at 1100 big pages with 4 columns full of interesting Latin information. Information included: English definitions, synonyms examples of use (fitting they have the prolific writer Cicero who lived between 106-43 BC whose work is some of the earliest examples in the archive to use many Latin words

1891 Lewis & Short ‘A New Latin Dictionary’

The full version of this dictionary is available online here:

Alternative link:

Greek-English Lexicon By Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, Henry Stuart Jones, and Roderick McKenzie

Available here:

Scanned copies of the Great Scott

Scanned copies of the Middle Liddell

List of Greek and Latin Roots in English:

List of Greek and Latin roots in English:

Merriam-Webster’s Vocabulary Builder

Mass print book less than $8 on amazon:

This book goes into about 250 Latin & Greek root elements and then a number of example words that use each root and their definitions. Seeing all the English derivatives for each root element next to each other helps to see important familial relationships.

For example Latin anima (“breath” or “soul”) begets the English derivatives: animal, animated, magnanimous, animosity & inanimate

The book also has an index of the covered English words, but it is obviously just a drop in the bucket of all the possible English words. The good news is that Latin and Greek roots run throughout the English language so every root can beget hundreds of words.

Proto Indo-European

Available online:

Indo-European vocabulary:

J Walker’s 1851 Rhyming Dictionary

This is a surprising gem. Rhyming Dictionary is a bit of a misnomer so don’t let that turn you off to this book- other’s call this format a ‘reverse dictionary or ‘inverse dictionary.’ It’s a dictionary that lists out a bunch of common english words with short definitions. The twist- the words are alphabetized from the last letters instead of the first. It’s available online in a few places including here:

This is really helpful when investigating suffixes. For example there is an English suffix -ify which comes from the Latin word facere (“to make, to do”) so I can cross reference the 2 pages in J Walker’s Rhyming Dictionary to see words of interest.

Latin Inverse Lexicon

‘Laterculi vocum Latinarum : voces Latinas et a fronte et a tergo ordinandas’ (“Tiles of Latin words: Latin words to be arranged both from the front and from the back”)

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