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When someone practices something, they do it often/as a habit. When someone says something is practical, they usually mean it is pragmatic/sensible/applicable, yet not necessarily practiced. And my teachers have used practicum to refer to a test, which is an examination, not an instance of practice.

What is the common root of these words, what does it mean, and why do these words seem to mean different things?

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add praktiker to this list – Elijah Saounkine Jun 8 '11 at 13:38
up vote 4 down vote accepted

According to Etymonline, they all come from the Greek praktikos.

Edit with more information according to the linked site:

Practice: 15th century - Comes to English through French, Latin, and Greek.

Practical: 1600 - This comes to English through the French "practique" (from the original Greek).

Practicum: 1904 - Comes to English through "Late Latin" (from the original Greek).

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There are such derivational suffixes in Modern English as -ical (variant of -ic), -um [Robert Stockwell, Donka Minkova English Words. History and structure, p.105-106; Ingo Plag Word Formation in English, p.1220-121, Иванова И.П. Структура английского имени существительного, р. 127]. So using the inventory of derivational morphemes we can separate the root here (PRACT) from derivational affixes.

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