What Is Medical Terminology?
Medical terminology is the language of the medical profession. Medical terms are built using rules to combine various word elements. Learn the meaning of the word elements (mainly based in Latin and Greek) and the rules for putting them together, and you've mastered the language!
How to Build & Analyze Medical Terms
Medical Word Elements
Medical terms are built by combining and connecting word parts called elements. Word elements include Prefixes, Word Roots, Combining Vowels and Suffixes.
- Word Root (WR): The core of a word. This element provides the term's central meaning. Medical terms may have more than one WR. Examples: pod = foot; hyster = uterus; febr = fever
- Combining Vowel (CV): Word Roots sometimes need a Combining Vowel to join them to other word elements. The vowel “o” is most commonly used. Vowels “a, e, i, u and y” are also used, but less often. Examples: pod / o; hyster / o; febr / i
- Combining Form (CF): A Word Root and its Combining Vowel together are called a Combining Form. Examples: podo; hystero; febri
- Prefixes (P): Only used at beginning of word. Examples: anti- = against; intra- = within; brady- = slow
- Suffix (S): Only used at end of the term, to complete the word. The suffix indicates whether the word is a noun or an adjective. The following suffix elements make the term a noun: a, e, ia, is, on, um, us, y. These suffix elements make the term an adjective: ac, ic, al, ar, eal, eous, ous Examples: hysterectomy, (noun); thoracic (adjective)
Analyzing Medical Terms
Analyzing a medical term involves breaking it down into its elements and labeling those elements.
Insert between each element of the term. Example: cardi / o/ log / ist
Identify the Elements:
Label each element as a WR, CV, CF, P and S.
Examples: cardi (WR) / o (CV) / log (WR) / ist (S) ; hypo (P) / gloss (WR) / al (s)
Rules for Constructing Medical Terms
By learning the meaning of word elements and the rules for constructing medical terms, you can apply those rules to help you understand words that you are unfamiliar with.
The first part in a medical term's definition is usually the last element in the medical term. The last element of the medical term is usually the first part of the definition. Example: psychologist = one who (ist), studys (log), mind (psych)
Combining the Elements:
In the case of a medical term with multiple Word Roots, when adding another WR, Combining Vowel from the previous WR is usually retained.
Examples: gastr/ o /enter / itis ; leuk / o / cyt / o /penia
A Prefix is usually not modified when added to a WR.
A Suffix that begins with a consonant is usually preceded by a Combining Vowel. A Suffix that begins with a vowel is usually added directly to the Word Root. Examples: carcin / o / cyte ; crypt / orchid