​​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!

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Medical Terminology

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Page last updated 1/2015
Instructor's Corner
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. 

Slash Marks: 
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. 

Element Order
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
​​This page provides many FREE resources to help students learn medical terminology, including:

  • How to Build & Analyze Medical Terms

  • FREE Medical Terminology PowerPoint Lectures with Pronunciation  (coming soon!)

The SPO website is best viewed in Microsoft Explorer, Google Chrome or Apple Safari.
Medical Terminology Flashcards
Word Elements & Abbreviations

Anatomy Medical Terms
Anatomical Positions
Medical Procedures
Medical Conditions
 -  Medical Term Potluck 
Medical Abbreviations

FREE Medical Terminology Flashcards from SPO
Flashcards of med term word elements and abbreviations from Science Prof Online. Print these PowerPoint PDF files four slides per page and you will be able to cut and fold the printout to easily make flashcards.

More Useful Medical Terminology Links

Medical Terminology
Lecture Main Page

Find more information on medical terminology in the Virtual Anatomy & Physiology Classroom. Material include lecture PowerPoints, review questions and practice test questions.