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Anatomical and Medical Prefixes and Suffixes

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 upper 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.

Organ/region/structure - related prefixes

Common prefixes and their related 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 upper arm

brachioradialis (muscle that originates in the upper 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

colonoscopy

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

thrombus

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)

Location-related prefixes

Common prefixes and their related locations (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

caudal

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)
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
ventral

Movement/speed-related prefixes

Common prefixes and their related 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)

Description-related prefixes (size, shape, magnitude, number, amount, etc)

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

microorganism

morph-

shape

morphology

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

Anatomical and Medical Prefixes and Suffixes - want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

Sign up for your free Kenhub account today and join over 1,073,004 successful anatomy students.

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more. Kim Bengochea Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver

Show references

References:

Article, Review and Layout:

  • Carolyn Perry
  • Dimitrios Mytilinaios
  • Adrian Rad

Illustrators:

  • First Illustration Gallery - Begoña Rodriguez, Paul Kim, Yousun Koh
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