06.01 MedTerm Basic Word Structure

Join NURSING.com to watch the full lesson now.

Included In This Lesson



  1. Basic Word Structure
  1. Combining Forms
  2. Prefix/Root/Suffix
  3. Format
  4. Homonyms

Nursing Points


  1. Combining Forms
    1. Root word
      1. Used to describe location/system
      2. Have at least a minimum of 1 per word
    2. Combining vowel
      1. Used to combine the root with a prefix or suffix
  2. Prefix/Root/Suffix
    1. Prefix
      1. Beginning portion of the word
      2. Influences the meaning of the word
      3. Describes size, orientation or position
    2. Root
      1. Foundation of the term
    3. Suffix
      1. Word ending
      2. All medical terms have a suffix
  3. Format
    1. Root/Suffix
      1. Begin with suffix
      2. Add root word with combining vowel
        1. Example
          1. Hematology
            1. -logy = study of
            2. hemat/o = blood
            3. hematology = study of blood
    2. Prefix/Root/Suffix
      1. Begin with suffix
      2. Add root word with combining vowel
      3. Add prefix for location, size, orientation or position
        1. Example
          1. -emia = blood condition
          2. glyc/o = glucose
          3. hyper = excessive
          4. hyperglycemia = excessive (or high) blood sugar
  4. Homonyms
    1. Words that sound the same but are different
    2. Enunciation & proper spelling
      1. “Ad” vs “ab”
        1. Adduction vs abduction
        2. Adduction means to “move toward midline”
        3. Abduction means to “move away from midline” in medical context
    3. Context
      1. When discussing medical terminology, be sure to include context
        1. Ileum vs ilium
        2. Ilium is bone = can be fractured
        3. Ileum is small intestine = can implicate GI disease
        4. i.e. an “ileum” cannot be fractured
Join NURSING.com to watch the full lesson now.


In this lesson, we’re going to look at the basic word structure for medical terminology.

When first start talking about medical terms, we have to understand the way that medical terms are formed. These are known as combining forms. And the combining form is a structure of the root and a combining vowel. Now the root is the foundation of the word, and it indicates usually a location or system. There is always at least one root per medical term. Now at the end of each medical term, there will be a combining vowel. This just follows simple linguistic rules, and what they do is it helps to provide prefixes, roots, and suffixes.

Let’s looking at an example. Let’s start with the word gastro. Gastro pertains to the stomach, and as you can see it starts with gastr and then the O is the combining vowel. Now if we were to add a suffix like -itis, which means inflammation we would drop the o, because we don’t need it as a linguistic rule, and we would add gastr and itis to make gastritis. So this means inflammation of the stomach.

Okay so let’s break down these medical terms into their structures.

Prefixes are the beginnings of words. They influence the root meaning that they can demonstrate location, size, orientation or even position.

Like I talked about previously roots are the foundation of the medical term. It could describe a system or the main focus of the medical term.

And finally, are the suffixes. This is the ending to the medical term, and all medical terms are going to have a suffix. The thing about suffixes are that they are the main goal of the word. What I mean by this is if you look at the word -ology, that means the study of, so if we were to add bio, which means life, by combining both bio and -logy, you’re going to get biology, which means the study of life.

Now there are typically to format that we look at when we start talking about medical terms. The first format is root and suffix, and the second one is prefix, root, suffix.

Let’s start with root and suffix. Now, remember the suffix helps to explain what the main purpose of the root is, so we always start with the suffix when you’re trying to form a word. So what you’ll do is you’ll add that root word or the foundational word with the combining vowel to the suffix. So let’s look at the word hematology. Just like in the last slide, -ology is the study of. hemato is blood, and if we combine the two hematology is the study of blood.

Now let’s look at prefix, root, and suffix. Just like with all medical terms we want to start with the suffix to determine what the purpose of a word is, and then we’ll add the root with a combining vowel. Lastly you’ll add the prefix to explain location, size, orientation or whatever. Let’s look at the word hyperglycemia. Starting with the suffix emia, that means condition of blood. Then we go to the root word which is glyc- which comes from the term glyco which means glucose. So now we know that we’re dealing with glucose in the blood. But we can determine also from this word is that the word hyper means excessive. And for the word hyperglycemia this means that there are excessive levels of glucose in the blood.

The last thing I want to talk about are homonyms. Homonyms are words that sound the same but are different. This is really important in medical terminology because of the way that we sometimes enunciate, spell, or even use words in context. If we do not enunciate correctly, words can often be misconstrued. Look at the words ad and ab. They sound the same and they nearly look the same but they mean two different things. Add names to bring to and ab means to take away. Now let’s look at the word adduction and abduction. Adduction means to move toward midline, and abduction means to move away from midline. So if we’re talking about a patient’s ability to move their arm this  helps to outline their ability. For instance if I say a patient has a minimal abduction, but has full adduction, that helps to determine range of motion for the arm. That means that the patient can’t lift their arm away from their body, but they have no problem bringing it down.And the last thing we want to pay attention to is context. The thing about context is that it’s a very important when you have homonyms. If you look at the word ileum it can be spelled two ways. And ilium is part of the pelvis, and we can say that the ilium can be fractured. So we need to make sure that we’re using these words in context. An ileum is also a portion of the small intestine, so it’s important to talk about these words correctly. If a patient is in a car crash, there ilium can be fractured, but their ileum can’t be.

So let’s recap.

The root is the foundation of the medical term. The suffix is the ending, and it describes the goal of the term. All medical terms will have a suffix. The prefix at the beginning of each medical term it also can describe the location, orientation, size, etc. Not every medical term will have a prefix. The combining vowel is very important and it helps to combine root words with suffixes, especially if the suffix doesn’t begin with a vowel. Lastly, homonyms are words that sound the same. So when you’re writing out or trying to understand medical terms, be careful to enunciate your words, spell them correctly, and give contacts so that the person that you’re talking to understand exactly what’s going on.

And that’s it for our lesson on basic word structure for medical terminology. Make sure you check out all the resources attached to this lesson. Now, go out to be your best self today, and as always, happy nursing!

Join NURSING.com to watch the full lesson now.