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Word Roots, Suffixes, & Prefixes

You probably already know that most English words are derived from some other languages, such as Greek, Latin, French, or German. This is especially true of medical terms, which usually are based on Greek or Latin words. For example, the word arthritis is based on the Greek word arthron (joint) + the Greek ending itis (inflammation of). In this course of instruction, you will not be asked to memorize long lists of terms. Instead you will learn the meaning of certain prefixes, suffixes, and roots that as word elements make up the common medical terms related to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Your knowledge of these word elements and how they are combined to form common medical terms should make even the most complicated medical terminology decipherable. For example, the word pericarditis can be broken down into its word elements as follows:

Example

peri + card + itis
(prefix) (root) (suffix)
around heart inflammation

Several roots may be combined along with a prefix and/or suffix to form a word. For example, the word bronchogenic can be broken into the following word elements with, for the sake of ease in pronunciation, a vowel (usually "o") linking the word elements:

Example

bronch + o + gen + ic
(root) (combining vowel) (root) (suffix)
any larger air passage of lungs o forming, producing, condition of

There are textbooks on medical terminology, and some of these contain quite a detailed discussion of the origin and make-up of medical terms. Also, your medical dictionary probably will contain a section on the fundamentals of medical etymology*. At the very least, you should read this section of your dictionary paying special attention to the list of roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

Before getting into other topics of this unit, you will take a pretest, which will give you an idea where you are and, in a way, warm you up for all the following discussions and exercises.

Please click here to the take the pretest.


* etymology—The study of the history and development of a language.