Word Parts

The fundamental unit of each medical word is the root. This establishes the basic meaning of the word and is the part to which modifying prefixes and suffixes are added.

A suffix is a short word part or series of parts added at the end of a root to modify its meaning. In this book suffixes are indicated by a dash before the suffix, such as -itis.

A prefix is a short word part added before a root to modify its meaning. In this book prefixes are indicated by a dash after the prefix, such as pre-. Shown diagrammatically:





Words are formed from roots, prefixes, and suffixes. Word

Medical Terms Pictures
FIGURE 1-1. Gastroduodenostomy
Latin Root Figur

FIGURE 1-2. The Greek root nephr and the Latin root ren are used to refer to the kidney, an organ of the urinary system.

The simple word learn can be used as a root to illustrate. If we add the suffix -er to form learner, we have "one who learns." If we add the prefix re- to form relearn, we have "to learn again."

Not all roots are complete words. In fact, most medical roots are derived from other languages and are meant to be used in combinations. The Greek word kardia, for example, meaning "heart," gives us the root cardi. The Latin word pulmo, meaning "lung," gives us the root pulm. In a few instances, both the Greek and Latin roots are used. We find both the Greek root nephr and the Latin root ren used in words pertaining to the kidney (Fig. 1-2).

Note that the same root may have different meanings in different fields of study. The root myel means "marrow" and may apply to either the bone marrow or the spinal cord. The root scler means "hard" but may also apply to the white of the eye. Cyst means "a filled sac or pouch" but also refers specifically to the urinary bladder. You will sometimes have to consider the context of a word before assigning its meaning.

Compound words contain more than one root. The words eyeball, bedpan, frostbite, and wheelchair are examples. Some compound medical words are cardiovascular (pertaining to the heart and blood vessels), urogenital (pertaining to the urinary and reproductive systems), and lymphocyte (a white blood cell found in the lymphatic system).

Combining Forms

When a suffix beginning with a consonant is added to a root, a vowel (usually an o) is inserted between the root and the suffix to aid in pronunciation.




A combining vowel may be added between a root and a suffix. Word

Thus, when the suffix -logy, meaning "study of," is added to the root neur, meaning "nerve or nervous system," a combining vowel is added:

neur + o + logy = neurology (study of the nervous system)

Roots shown with a combining vowel are called combining forms.



A root with a combining vowel is often called a combining form. Combining form

In this text, roots are given with their most common combining vowels added after a slash and are referred to simply as roots, as in neur/o. A combining vowel usually is not used if the ending begins with a vowel. The root neur is combined with the suffix -itis, meaning "inflammation of," in this way:

neur + itis = neuritis (inflammation of a nerve)

There are some exceptions to this rule, particularly when pronunciation or meaning is affected, but you will observe these as you work.

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