The Joy of Language Learning

The World of Benevolent Words

It is said that a good person is one who brings out the good in other people. Similarly, a good word in the English language should be one that brings out the good in it. There are quite a few benign words, the benefits of using which are reaped by both the beneficiary and the benefactor and, in case you haven’t noticed till now, all of them contain the syllable ’ben’.

Ben- is a root word that has its root in the Latin word beningus meaning well or good. Thus most words consisting of this term have a positive connotation, unless altered by the use of prefixes/suffixes. Even though the scope of interpretation in this case has been limited, a good number of words have managed to come up.

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Let us start with the most common example possible – benefit, meaning a good, advantageous or useful effect that something has. It consists of the Latin root bene(good) and facere (to do). A whole bunch of new words could then be formed with the help of minor adjustments. Something that is beneficial is helpful or useful. Benefaction refers to donation or a gift. Extending from it, a benefactor (female: benefactress) is someone who helps people or institutions, especially used in the context of financial help and the entity in the receiving end of the help is referred to as the beneficiary. If you have read Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, the protagonist Pip was the beneficiary while Abel Magwitch, the criminal, was his secret benefactor.

Few words derived from the root imbibe the sense of goodness and goodwill. Benign is one such word that is used to represent a gentle and kind nature. It can also mean the state of being harmless when used in a medical context. Adding the suffix –ity ­to it, we get benignity (the state of being benign or good willed). Benevolence refers to the quality of being well meaning and kind. Extending from it, a benevolent person is someone who is well meaning and kind. It can also be used to signify institutions that serve charitable rather than profit-making purpose.

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Image Credits: Jan Alexander/ Pixabay

Now, what can be better than being good, you ask? Being divine. The belief in a benevolent almighty resulted in a derivation like benison which is a synonym for blessings. Other words in a similar context are benediction (from Latin bene- meaning good and dicere, meaning speech) which essentially refers to a prayer and benefice which refers to a position in a church.

Let’s have a test to see how well acquainted you are with these words and if that acquaintance will turn into a lasting friendship:

BenefitAnd advantageous or good effect
BeneficialSomething that is good or useful
BenefactionA donation or gift
BenefactorSomeone who helps people or institutions financially (female: benefactress)
BenignA gentle or kind nature
Benign-ityThe quality of being gentle and kind
BenevolentA person who is well meaning and kind
BenevolenceThe quality of being well meaning and kind
BenedictionA prayer
BeneficeA position in church

Welcome to A Benign Quiz

Teachers are the _____________ of the society.

A Teacher
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Martha is a [kind and gentle] old lady. The bracketed words can be replaced by:

Do you believe that a [well-meaning and kind] deity is in charge of the word? The bracketed words can be replaced by:

Sir Ratan Tata’s philanthropic ventures have helped a large number of ______________:

The world 'benevolent' in the news clipping refers to:

Our town is big enough and benevolent enough
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3. An advantageous or good affect

4. A donation or gift

5. A person who is well meaning and kind


1. A kind or gentle nature

2. Someone who helps people or institutions financially (male)

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