Word Families

Word family is the best term to describe words in the same language that have the same root such as educationeducating, and uneducated.

Mignon Fogarty
2-minute read
Episode #501

word families

Jennifer Schulze asked an interesting question on the Grammar Girl Facebook page last week. She wrote, “Is there a specific term for words that share the same root? Words like education, educating, and uneducated? A friend asked me and I can't seem to find one.” I didn’t immediately know the answer either, but other people on the page pointed me in a few different directions for research, and now I have an answer.

Groups of words like this that all share the same root are called “word families.” 

A bunch of people suggested the word cognates, which gets a little more complicated. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines word family as “a group of cognate words especially within a single language.”

What Is a Cognate?

The most simple definition of cognates is “words that share the same etymology,” and the words in a word family do share the same etymology, but when you start reading about cognates, you find that when people actually use the word, they’re almost always talking about words from different languages that share the same etymology. 

Examples of Cognates

The English word night and the German word Nacht are cognates because they have the same origin if you go all the way back to the very early language called Proto-Indo-European. Other examples are the English word father and the French word pere and the English word history and the Spanish word historia. The existence of cognates makes some languages easier to learn than others. You have a head start if you’re learning a language that has a lot of cognates with your own language because you can start by learning the similar words. 

Grammar’ and ‘Glamour’ Are Cognates

When people talk about cognates within English, instead of talking about word families, they seem to talk about words that are different now but originally had the same origin, such as grammar and glamour. Yup, grammar and glamour come from the same origin. In medieval times, grammar was a type of learning or scholarship and was especially associated with magic and spells, and you’ve probably heard the word glamour used to describe a type of magic or spell. You might hear that a vampire glamoured someone, for example. Glamour comes from the word grammar; the Oxford English Dictionary calls it “a corrupt form of grammar,” So glamour and grammar have the same origin, making them cognates, but over time, the two spellings and meanings diverged, and sadly, grammar is no longer widely viewed as magical.

Cognates Versus Word Families

Cognates are really interesting, but after doing some research, I feel comfortable saying your quick and dirty tip is that word family is the best term to describe words in the same language that have the same root like education, educating, and uneducated.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.