How to identify the root suffix & prefix in medical terminology

Written by vickie van antwerp
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How to identify the root suffix & prefix in medical terminology
The medical term for a runny nose is rhinorrhea. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Learn to identify, understand and pronounce any medical term by knowing the root, suffix and prefix. Medical terms describe a condition, procedure, anatomy, physiology and speciality. Root words originate primarily from Greek and Latin. For example, the root "rhino" means nose, coming from the ancient Greek word for nose. To describe a runny nose, you add a suffix. The word becomes "rhinorrhea." The suffix "rrhea" means runny, coming from the Greek for flow or flux. Create flash cards to learn the terminology, and listen to tapes to help with pronunciation.

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  1. 1

    Learn to use root words that describe the meaning of the word. When you see the root "rhino," for instance, you know it has something to do with the nose. When you add the suffix "rrhea," it describes something about the nose. In some cases a vowel is added to connect two root words or a root to a suffixx or prefi. It makes the word easier to pronounce, such as with "oste/o/penia." "Oste" means bone. The vowel "o" used after "oste" connects the root to the suffix, "penia," meaning a lack of or deficiency. Osteopenia describes a deficiency in the bone mass, a precursor to osteoporosis.

  2. 2

    Notice the beginning of medical terms. Most of them are prefixes used to make the word more specific. Add the prefix "dys," meaning difficult, trouble or pain with the root word "phagia," meaning swallow. The word "dysphagia" means difficulty swallowing. The prefix "a/an" means without or lacking. Add the prefix "an" to the root word for blood, "emia," to get "anaemia," which describes a lack of red blood cells.

  3. 3

    Use a suffix at the end of a word to give specificity to the root word. In the earlier example, rhinorrhea, the suffix indicated that the nose (the root word) had a condition that caused it to run. Place a different suffix after the root word "rhino," such as "itis," to make "rhinitis," and it describes inflammation of the nose. Note the "o" vowel is dropped because the suffix begins with a vowel, "i." A suffix that most laypeople know is "ectomy." Used with root words ("append/ectomy," "tonsil/ectomy" and "hyster/ectomy"), "ectomy" means that the organ described by the root word was removed.

  4. 4

    Learn how to put different root words together to make one word. A gastroenterologist is a specialist who treats stomach and intestinal problems. "Gastroentorologist" comprises two root words; "gastro" that describes the stomach and "entero" that describes the intestines. The suffix is "ologist," which means the study of. Other professions use the same root connections, such as "otorhinolaryngologist." You already know what "rhino" is; nose. "Oto" means ear and "laryngo" means throat or larynx. A gastroentorologist is a ear, nose and throat doctor.

  5. 5

    Put root words together to create procedures. Using the familiar root word "rhino," rhinoplasty describes a procedure well know in the media. In layman's terms, rhinoplasty is a reconstruction of the nose or a "nose job." Put a different root word like "blephar/o," which refers to eyelids, to the suffix "plasty," and it is "blepharoplasty" or eyelid reconstruction.

Tips and warnings

  • Greek words that start with "ch" are pronounced like a "k."

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