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Anatomical and Medical Prefixes and Suffixes

Recommended video: Common anatomy abbreviations [04:58]
Most common abbreviations used in anatomy.

Learning anatomy for the first time can sometimes feel like learning a new language. Students often not only have a large amount of content to learn, but also struggle to make meaning of the language associated with that content. The wonderful thing about this language however, is that in many cases, the names of anatomy related content are incredibly helpful if you just understand that often the words can be broken down into different parts that have meanings. For example, the subclavian artery. The name tells you of its location and hints also at the path of this blood vessel. Sub – meaning below, clavian – relating to the collarbone or in anatomical terms, the clavicle. Another example, arthr – meaning joint, and itis – meaning inflammation. There are numerous examples like these!

Often parts of a word that have different meanings will be linked together. For example, brachioradialis, a muscle in the arm, can be broken down into two parts that have meaning, and a linking vowel, in this case ‘o’. Brachi meaning arm, and radialis referring to one of the bones in the forearm, the radius. The linking vowel is most commonly ‘o’, but other vowels may also be used to link parts of a word together.
To make learning this language easier, this article takes some of the more commonly used prefixes and suffixes, puts them into categories and then provides the meaning, and examples. For instance, in the previous two examples, ‘sub’ would be found in the location-related category, and ‘arthr’ would be found in the body region-related category. Within each category, the prefixes will be listed in alphabetical order.

  1. Organ/region/structure
  2. Location
  3. Movement/speed
  4. Other attributes (size, shape, number etc.)
  5. Sources
+ Show all


Common prefixes related to organs, body regions or structures (with examples)
abdom- the abdomen
transversus abdominis (abdominal muscle)
aden- glands
adenocarcinoma (tumor in a gland)
adip- fat/fatty tissue
adipocyte (fat cell)
adren- the adrenal glands
adrenal artery
andro- male
androgens (male hormones)
angi- blood vessels
angiotensin (hormone causing constriction of blood vessels)
arteri- arteries
arteriole (small, oxygen carrying, blood vessel)
arthr-, articul- joints
arthritis (inflammation of a joint), articulation (joint between two parts, typically bones) 
axill- armpit region
axillary nerve
brachi- the arm
brachioradialis (muscle that originates in the arm)
bronch(i)- the lungs
bronchitis (inflammation in the lungs)
capit-, cep-, ceph- the head
rectus capitis muscle, quadriceps muscle, brachiocephalic artery (supplies blood to the arm and head)
cardi-, coron- the heart
great cardiac vein (a vein draining the heart muscle), coronary artery
carp- the wrist
carpal bones (bones after the wrist joint)
cerebr-, encephal- the brain
cerebrospinal fluid (fluid circulating around the brain and spinal cord), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
cervic- the neck
cervical spine, cervix (neck of the uterus)
cholecyst- the gallbladder
cholecystectomy (removal of the gallbladder)
chondr- cartilage
chondromalacia (softening of the cartilage)
cyst- bladder
cystic duct (vessel leading to/from the gallbladder)
clav-, cleid- collar bone
clavicle, sternocleidomastoid (neck muscle)
col-, colo-, colono- the colon/large intestine
condyl- a knuckle/knob
femoral condyle (bony prominence at the knee joint)
cost-, pleur- the ribs
costal cartilage (cartilage between ribs and sternum)
cran- the skull
cranium (bones that encase the brain)
cut-, derm- the skin
cutaneous nerve, dermis (layer of skin)
cyt- cell
cytoplasm (fluid within a cell)
dendr- tree
dendrites (branches of a nerve cell)
digit- the fingers
flexor digitorum superficialis (muscle in the forearm)
enter- the intestines
enterology (study of the intestines)
gang- collection of nerve cell bodies (Greek for ‘a swelling’)
dorsal root ganglion
gastro- the stomach
gastric ulcer (ulcer in the stomach)
gloss-, glott-, lingu-, lingu- the tongue
glossopharyngeal nerve
glut- buttocks
gluteus maximus muscle
gyno-, gyneco- woman
gynecomastia (enlarged breast tissue in men)
hemat-, hemato-, hema-, hemo- blood
hematocrit (red blood cell content of blood)
hepat- the liver
hepatocytes (main functional cells of the liver)
kary- nucleus
karyote (cell with a nucleus)
lumb- loin, lower spine region
lumbosacral plexus (nerves arising from the lumbar and sacral regions of the spine)
muscul-, myo- muscle
musculocutaneous nerve, myofibril (muscle fiber)
myel- spinal cord
myelencephalon (embryonic division of the central nervous system)
neph-, ren- the kidney
nephritis (inflammation of the kidney), renal artery
neuro- nerves and the nervous system
neuroanatomy (anatomy of the nervous system)
occipit- back of the head
external occipital protuberance
ocul-, ophthalm- the eye
oculomotor nerve, ophthalmic artery
omo- shoulder
omohyoid muscle
onco- tumor
oncology (the study of tumors)
osse-, ossi-, ost(eo)- bone
osteoporosis (low bone mass)
pect- chest
pectoralis major muscle
ped- foot
dorsalis pedis artery
plant-, sole-, tars- sole of foot
plantar flexion, soleus muscle, tarsal bones
pne(um)-, pneumon-, pulmon-, pulmo- the lungs
pneumonia (an infection in the lungs), pulmonary edema (fluid accumulation in the lungs)
poll- thumb
abductor pollicis muscle
poplit- knee joint, behind the knee
popliteal artery
spin-, spondyl- the spine/vertebrae
erector spinae (muscles along the spine), spondylitis (inflammation in the spine)
splen- the spleen
splenic artery
tal- ankle
talus bone
thorac- chest region
thoracic spine
thromb- blood clot
vas-, vasculo- blood vessel
vasoconstriction (narrowing of a blood vessel lumen)
ven-, (phlebo) veins, venous blood
superior vena cava (large vein that empties into the right atrium of the heart)
viscer- the internal organs
visceral pericardium (a layer of the heart wall)


Common prefixes related to location (with examples) 
ambi-, amphi- on both sides, double
ambidextrous (can use both hands equally), amphicrania (pain affecting both sides of the head)
bas- pertaining to the base
basiocciput (part of the occipital bone in front of the foramen magnum)
caud- tail
cort- outer region, bark
cerebral cortex (outer region of the brain), renal cortex (outer region of the kidney)
di-, dia- between
diaphragm (muscle wall between the thoracic and abdominal cavities)
dors-, dors(i)- pertaining to the back
latissimus dorsi (superficial muscle of the back)
e-, ec(to)-, ex(o)-, extra- on the outside
ectoderm (outer layer of embryologic germ cells), extradural (outside the dura mater of the meninges)
em-, en(do)- inside, within
embolism (a blockage inside a blood vessel), endocardium (within the heart)
epi- over, above, on top
epidermis (top layer of skin)
fore- before or ahead
forearm (part of the arm between the wrist and elbow)
fron- pertaining to the forehead
frontal bone (skull bone that makes up the forehead)
hypo- below
hypothalamus (below the thalamus)
infra- below
infraorbital (below the orbit)
inter- between, among
intercostal (between the ribs)
intra- within
intramuscular (within the muscle)
ipsi- same
ipsilateral (on the same side)
juxta- near to, beside or next to
juxtaglomerular apparatus (beside the glomerulus)
lat- side
fascia lata (fascia on the side of the thigh)
met-, meta- after, change
metacarpals (after the carpus or wrist)
para- beside, next to
paravertebral (beside the vertebrae)
peri- surrounding, around
peritoneum (serous membrane surrounding many abdominal organs)
post- after, behind
posterior (to the back), post-mortem (examination of a body after death)
pre-, pro- before
prenatal (before birth), pronephros (before the kidney)
radic- the beginning or root of a structure, usually a nerve or vein
radiculopathy (a pinched nerve root)
retro- backward, behind
retroperitoneal (behind the peritoneum)
sub- beneath, under
subclavian (under the clavicle)
super-, supra- above, over, superior to
supraspinatus (a muscle above or superior to the spine of the scapula)
trans- across
transpyloric (across the pylorus region of the stomach)
ventro- to the front


Common prefixes related to direction or speed of movement (with examples)
ab- away from
abduct (move away from the body)
ad-, af- toward
adduct (move towards the body), afferent (movement towards the heart or brain)
brady- slow
bradycardia (slow heart rate)
circum- to go/move around something
circumduct (move in a circle)
de- down
deglutination (swallow down)
ef- away from
efferent (movement away from the heart or brain)
kine- movement
kinesiology (the study of movement)
tachy- fast
tachycardia (fast heart rate)
trans- something is moving, (also across)
transfusion (movement of blood)

Other attributes (size, shape, number etc.)

Other common prefixes and their related descriptions (with examples)
a-, an- not, without
anucleate cell (a cell without a nucleus), analgesia (without pain)
ankyl-, ancyl- crooked
ankylosing spondylitis (a type of arthritis that affects the spine)
bi-, di-,
two, double
biceps brachii (muscle in the arm with two heads)
cric- ring
cricoid cartilage (of the larynx)
di-, dif-, dis-
apart, separation
dilation, dissection
dys- difficult, abnormal, defective
dysentery (abnormal functioning of the intestines)
eu- good, true, new,
eupnea (normal breathing)
fasc- bandage
thoracolumbar fascia
fasci- bundle
fasciculus cuneatus (bundle of nerves in the spinal cord)
fenestr- window
fenestrated endothelium
foram- opening, hole
foramen magnum
hyper- excessive, above normal
hypertension (above normal pressure in blood vessels)
hypo- low, below normal
hypotension (below normal pressure in blood vessels)
iso- equal
isometric (re: muscle contraction = muscle contraction with no change in length)
kyph- humped
kyphosis (overcurvature in the thoracic spine)
magn- great
foramen magnus (hole in the occipital bone for the spinal cord)
macro-, meg(a)-, megal(o)-, large, enlargement
macrophage (large cell), megaloencephaly (abnormally large brain)
meat- passage
acoustic meatus
micr- small
morph- shape
oligo- few
oligodendrocytes (type of neural cell that form the myelin sheath in the central nervous system)
parvo- small
parvocellular (small cells – type of cell in the lateral geniculate nucleus)
poly- many, multiple
polymyositis (inflammation in many muscles)
pseud- fake, false
pseudostratified epithelium (not really layered)
quad- to make square, also four
quadratus lumborum muscle, quadriceps (four headed muscle in the anterior thigh)
rect- straight
rectus femoris muscle
sarco- flesh-like, muscle
sarcoma (tumor in connective tissue)
scler- hard
sclera (part of the eye)
semi- half, partly
semitendinosus (one part of the hamstring muscle group)
steno- narrow
spinal stenosis (narrowing of the vertebral canal in which the spinal cord runs)
styl- pillar, stalk
styloid process
tect- roof
optic tectum (most superior part of the midbrain)
tel- far off, distant
telencephalon (embryologic division of the brain)
tetan- rigid, tense
tetanus (rigidity in muscles)
ter- round, smooth
teres major muscle
tri- three
tricuspid valve (located between the right atrium and ventricle of the heart)
trochlea- pulley
trochlear nerve
tuber- bump, lump
gluteal tuberosity (located on the femur, attachment site for gluteus maximus)
uni- one
unilateral (on one side)
vag- wandering, undecided
vagus nerve
vast- large area, immense
vastus lateralis muscle

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