1.4 Combining Forms – The Language of Medical Terminology (2024)

Combining forms are the combination of the root and the combining vowel. The root gives the essential meaning of the medical term. The combining vowel is usually an o but occasionally an i.

The following tables go through some of the most common combining forms, their meaning, and an example of a medical term that uses the combining form. Illustrations, key concept textboxes, and review questions are included to help you better understand the combining forms. It is very important that you become familiar with all of them. Making flashcards and reviewing them daily is very important when learning a new language.

Table 1.1. Combining Forms

COMBINING FORMMEANINGEXAMPLE OF USE IN MEDICAL TERMS
abdomin/oabdomenabdominal
aden/oglandadenoma
amni/oamnion sacamniocentesis
an/oanusanal
append/oappendixappendectomy
angi/ovesselangiogram
arteri/oarteryarteriosclerosis
ather/oplaqueatherosclerosis
arthr/ojointarthritis
axill/oarmpitaxillary
bi/olifebiology
bronch/obronchial tubebronchitis
bronchi/obronchial tubebronchiectasis
carcin/ocancercarcinoma
cardi/oheartcardiology
carp/owristcarpals
cephal/oheadcephalic
cerebr/ocerebrumcerebrovascular accident
1.4 Combining Forms – The Language of Medical Terminology (1)

Key Concept

Fig. 1.1 is an image of a normal knee and a knee that has osteoarthritis. If you break this term apart, it means “inflammation” (-itis) of the “bone” (oste/o) and “joint” (arthr/o). Note that the combining vowel is dropped because the suffix starts with a vowel.

1.4 Combining Forms – The Language of Medical Terminology (2)

Key Concept

Fig. 1.2identifies the lobes of the cerebrum. If you break down this term, it means a “structure” (-um) surrounding the “cerebrum” (cerebr/o). Note that you drop the combining vowel because the suffix begins with a vowel.

Exercises

Table 1.2. Combining Forms

COMBINING FORMMEANINGEXAMPLE OF USE IN MEDICAL TERMS
chem/odrugchemotherapy
cholecyst/ogallbladdercholecystectomy
chron/otimechronic
col/ocoloncolitis
cost/oribsintercostal
crani/oskullcraniotomy
cry/ocoldcryotherapy
cutane/oskincutaneous
cyst/ourinary bladder, sac with fluidcystoscope
cyt/ocellcytology
derm/oskindermal
dermat/oskindermatology
dur/odura materepidural
electr/oelectricityelectrocardiogram
encephal/obrainelectroencephalogram
enter/ointestine (usually small)enteritis
erythr/orederythrocyte
esophag/oesophagusesophageal
1.4 Combining Forms – The Language of Medical Terminology (3)
1.4 Combining Forms – The Language of Medical Terminology (4)

Key Concept

An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a common diagnostic test that looks at the electrical activity of the brain. This term means “to record” (-gram) “electricity” (electr/o) in the “brain” (encephal/o). Fig. 1.3 shows a patient getting an electroencephalogram.

Fig. 1.4 is an image of several different types of blood cells. The larger disc-shaped ones are erythrocytes (red blood cells), the round, fuzzy cells are leukocytes (white blood cells), and the tiny disc-shaped cells are thrombocytes (platelets). The term erythrocyte comes from the suffix -cyte, meaning “cell,” and the combining form erythr/o, meaning “red.” Literally, it means “cell that is red” or, more commonly, “red blood cell.”

Exercises

Table 1.3. Combining Forms

COMBINING FORMMEANINGEXAMPLE OF USE IN MEDICAL TERMS
gastr/ostomachgastralgia
glyc/osugarhyperglycemia
gnos/oknowledgediagnosis
gynec/owomen, femalegynecology
hem/obloodhemoglobin
hemat/obloodhematology
hepat/oliverhepatitis
hyster/outerushysterectomy
inguin/ogroininguinal
isch/oto hold backischemia
lapar/oabdomenlaparotomy
laryng/ovoice boxlaryngitis
later/osidelateral
leuk/owhiteleukocyte
1.4 Combining Forms – The Language of Medical Terminology (5)

Key Concept

A laparotomy scar is shown above in Fig. 1.5. This term means “to cut” (-tomy) into the “abdomen” (lapar/o).

Exercises

Table 1.4. Combining Forms

COMBINING FORMMEANINGEXAMPLE OF USE IN MEDICAL TERMS
mamm/obreastmammography
mast/obreastmastectomy
men/omensesmenorrhea
mening/omeningesmeningitis
my/omusclemyalgia
myel/ospinal cord, bone marrowmyeloma
nat/ibirthneonatal
necr/odeathnecrosis
nephr/okidneynephritis
neur/onerveneuralgia
onc/otumouroncology
oophor/oovaryoophorectomy
ophthalm/oeyeophthalmoscopy
oste/oboneosteoarthritis
ot/oearotalgia
1.4 Combining Forms – The Language of Medical Terminology (6)

Key Concept

Fig. 1.6 is an image of an ophthalmoscope, an instrument used to view and assess the eye. The term means an “instrument” (­scope) to view the “eye” (ophthalm/o). In this term, you keep the combining vowel because the suffix starts with a consonant.

Also, notice the combining form nat/i, meaning “birth,” in the table above. It is one of the few combining forms where the vowel is an i,not an o.

Exercises

Table 1.5. Combining Forms

COMBINING FORMMEANINGEXAMPLE OF USE IN MEDICAL TERMS
path/odiseasepathology
pelv/opelvispelvic
peritone/operitoneumperitoneal
phleb/oveinphlebitis
plas/oformation, growth, developmentneoplastic
pneumon/olungpneumonitis
psych/omindpsychosis
pulmon/olungpulmonary
radi/oX-rayradiotherapy
ren/okidneyrenal
rhin/onoserhinorrhea
salping/ofallopian tubesalpingectomy
sarc/ofleshsarcoma
scapul/oshoulder bladesubscapular
septic/oinfectionsepticemia
son/osoundultrasonography
thorac/ochestthoracic

Key Concept

Septicemia means “blood infection,” or literally “blood condition,” from the suffix -emia, and the combining form septic/o, which means “infection.” Septicemia is one of the most serious infections you might see in patients. Depending on when it is identified and the type of infection, the mortality rate can be up to 50% (John Hopkins Medicine, 2022a).

1.4 Combining Forms – The Language of Medical Terminology (7)

Key Concept

Fig. 1.7 is an image of a fetus created using ultrasonography. An ultrasound can be completed on many locations of the body for diagnostic purposes. The term ultrasonography means “process of recording” (-graphy) “beyond” (ultra-) “sound” (son/o).

Exercises

Table 1.6. Combining Forms

COMBINING FORMMEANINGEXAMPLE OF USE IN MEDICAL TERMS
thyroid/othyroid glandhyperthyroidism
tonsill/otonsiltonsillitis
top/oto put, to place, to positionectopic
thromb/oclottingthrombocyte
trache/owindpipe (trachea)tracheotomy
ur/ourine or urea, urinary tracturemia
urethr/ourethraurethritis
uter/outerusintrauterine
vascul/oblood vesselvascular
ven/oveinintravenous

Key Concept

The combining form ur/o means “urine” or “urea.” In the term uremia, ur/o means “urea.” This term means “blood condition” (-emia) with “urea” (ur-). Urea is a waste product in blood that builds up when the kidneys are not functioning properly (Betts et al., 2013).

The term uremia often gets confused with the term hematuria; however, hematuria means “a condition of urine” (-uria) with “blood” (hemat-) (Ansorge, 2022).

1.4 Combining Forms – The Language of Medical Terminology (8)
1.4 Combining Forms – The Language of Medical Terminology (9)

Key Concepts

Fig. 1.8 is an image of inflamed tonsils, or tonsillitis. This term means “inflammation” (-itis) of the “tonsils” (tonsill/o).

Fig. 1.9 is an image of a tracheostomy. This term means an “opening” (-stomy) into the “trachea” (trache/o). There are a number of medical conditions that require a patient to have a tracheostomy, including major burns, long-term comas, and certain types of tumours (John Hopkins Medicine, 2022b).

Exercises

Attribution

Unless otherwise indicated, material on this page has been adapted from the following resource:

Carter, K., & Rutherford, M. (2020). Building a medical terminology foundation. eCampusOntario. https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/medicalterminology/ licensed underCC BY 4.0

References

Ansorge, R. (2022). Blood in urine (hematuria). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/blood-in-urine-causes

Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., Korol, O., Johnson, J. E., Womble, M., & DeSaix, P. (2013). Anatomy and physiology. OpenStax. https://openstax.org/details/books/anatomy-and-physiologylicensed underCC BY 4.0.

John Hopkins Medicine. (2022a). Septicemia. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/septicemia#:~:text=Septicemia%2C%20or%20sepsis%2C%20is%20the,the%20type%20of%20organism%20involved

John Hopkins Medicine. (2022b). Tracheostomy service. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/tracheostomy/about/reasons.html#:~:text=A%20tracheostomy%20is%20usually%20done,deliver%20oxygen%20to%20the%20lungs

Image Credits
(Images are listed in order of appearance)

Osteoarthritis by BruceBlaus, CC BY-SA 4.0

Cerebrum lobes by CSSKG, CC BY-SA 4.0

EEG cap by Thuglas, Public domain

SEM_blood_cells by Bruce Wetzel, Public domain

Exploratory Laparotomy Scar by jessica raphaela, CC BY-SA 2.0

Ophthalmoscope by Joyce Tiu, CC BY-SA 4.0

2003-10-22 Echo Tweeling-01 by DESIDERIUS, Public domain

Tonsillitis by Michaelbladon, Public domain

Tracheostomy NIH by National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), Public domain

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1.4 Combining Forms – The Language of Medical Terminology (2024)

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