Skip to main content
Purdue University Purdue Logo Purdue Libraries

Veterinary Nursing Resources: Med Terminology

A guide for veterinary technician and technology students at Purdue University

Talk the Talk 101

Most medical terms are derived from Latin or Greek and contain two or more components.

Medical terms are better understood when you divide them into their component parts.


Here are some tips on understanding medical terminology -

TIP #1 - Most medical terms contain two or more of these parts:

Root(s) - the word's essential meaning; a term may have two roots
Prefix - added to the beginning of a root word to make it more specific
Suffix - added to the end of the root word for specificity
Linking or combining vowels - placed in between word parts to help with pronunciation

For example,

Myocarditis - myo/card/itis
Myo = muscle (root), card = heart (root) and itis = inflammation (suffix) or inflammation of the heart muscle. There are two roots, muscle and heart.
Percutaneous - per/cutan/eous
Per = through (prefix), cutan = skin (root) and -eous = pertaining to (suffix); meaning something through the skin.
Suprascapular - supra/scapular
Supra = above (prefix), scapula = shoulder blade (root), and -r = relative to (suffix); relative to the area above the shoulder blade.

TIP #2 - The definitions of root words, prefixes and suffixes remain the same when they are combined to produce different terms.

Here are three examples:

A. The root word for skin is derm. Its combining forms are derma-, dermat-, dermot-, ;and dermo- . Look at some medical terms utilizing this root.

Dermatitis - Dermat (root) and -itis (suffix) inflammation; condition of inflamed skin.
Dermatology - Dermat (root) and -ology (suffix) branch of knowledge or science; medical specialty of diagnosis and treatment of skin diseases.
Pyoderma - Pyo (root) combining form of the word for pus and derma; skin infection involving pus formation.

B. Card is the root for heart.

Cardiovascular - means pertaining to the heart and vessels.
Cardiocentesis - surgical puncture of the heart.
Cardiology - as in Example A above, the definition here is the study of the heart and its functions.

C. The root for blood is hem.

Hemorrhage - the suffix -rrhage means bursting forth; hemorrhage is the escape of blood from tissue.
Hemostasis - adding the suffix -stasis (arrest in a process) gives us the process by which bleeding is stopped.

TIP # 3. Similarly, prefixes and suffixes are defined the same when combined with various roots. They are never used alone, but further define root words.

Here are some common prefixes in medical terminology:

Auto- = self; for example, autoimmune or autogenous
Anti- = against; antisepsis or antibodies
De- = reverse, remove; dehydrate, defibrillate
Dys- = abnormal, difficult; dyspnea, dysuria
Contra- = opposed; for example, contraception, contraindication
Hyper- = above, excessive; hypertensive, hyperglycemia

Suffixes attach to the end of roots and describe certain actions,

such as these surgical suffixes -

-ectomy = surgical removal; thyroidectomy
-plasty = surgical repair; angioplast
-stomy = creation of a new opening; colonostomy

or these suffixes for procedures or equipment -

-graph = recording instrument; electrocardiograph
-scope = instrument to examine visually; endoscope
-therapy = course of treatment; chemotherapy

To understand a medical term, break it down into its component parts - root(s), prefix, suffix and combining vowels.

Remember that the basic definition of a word part remains the same when combined with various components.