Language rules are the best place to start when building a medical terminology foundation. Many medical terms are built from word parts and can be translated literally. At first, literal translations sound awkward, but once you build a medical vocabulary and become proficient at using it, translation will get much easier.
Since you are at the beginning of building your medical terminology foundation, stay literal when applicable. It should be noted that as with all language rules, there are always exceptions, and we refer to those as “rebels.” So let’s begin by analyzing the language rules for medical terminology.
Combining Forms, Prefixes, and Suffixes
In each chapter of this book that covers a new body system, you will see lists of combining forms, prefixes, and suffixes before the new terms are introduced.
Combining forms are written with a word root followed by a slash mark (/) and combining vowel. The combining vowel is used to join word roots together and is sometimes used before suffixes to aid in pronunciation.
Prefixes are sometimes added to the beginning of a medical term to make its meaning clear.
Suffixes are sometimes added to the end of a medical term to make its meaning clear.
Language Rules for Building Medical Terms
Rule 1: When combining two combining forms, you keep the combining vowel.
Rule 2: When combining a combining form with a suffix that begins with a consonant, you keep the combining vowel.
Gastr/o/enter/o/logy—The study of the stomach and the intestines
- Following rule 1, when we join the combining form gastr/o (meaning stomach) with the combining form enter/o (meaning intestines), we keep the combining vowel o.
- Following rule 2, when we join the combining form enter/o (meaning intestines) with the suffix -logy (that begins with a consonant and means the study of), we keep the combining vowel o.
Rule 3: When joining a combining form with a suffix that begins with a vowel, you drop the combining vowel.
Rule 4: A prefix goes at the beginning of the word, and no combining vowel is used.
Intra/ven/ous—Pertaining to within the vein
- Following rule 3, notice that when joining the combining form ven/o (meaning vein) with the suffix -ous (that starts with a vowel and means pertaining to), we drop the combining vowel o.
- Following rule 4, the prefix intra- (meaning within) is at the beginning of the medical term with no combining vowel used.
Rule 5: When defining a medical word, start with the suffix first and then work left to right stating the word parts. You may need to add filler words. As long as the filler word does not change the meaning of the word, you may use it for the purpose of building a medical vocabulary. Once you begin to apply the word in the context of a sentence, deciding which filler word to use will become easier.
Intra/ven/ous—pertaining to within the vein or pertaining to within a vein.
- Following rule 5, notice that we start with the suffix -ous (that means pertaining to) then we work left to right starting with the prefix intra- (meaning within) and the combining form ven/o (meaning vein).
- Notice that we have used two different filler words that have the same meaning.
- In these examples, we do not have the context of a full sentence. For the purpose of building a medical terminology foundation, either definition is accepted.