Finding Root Words

Most words in the English language are comprised of individual parts that each add their own meaning to the root word.  The root word is main subject of the word. Understanding medical terms means breaking down the word to its individual parts. Finding the root word is the key.

The root word describes the point part in question. There are also prefixes and suffices, as we previously mentioned. The root words are the keys to everything. There are more root words than there are prefixes and suffixes combined. The root word is the key to understanding to which body part the key refers.

Root words can be classified as exterior or interior.  That is, some refer to the outside of the human body and others refer to the inside. We’ll list these types separately to keep the lists as short as possible. If you glance at the list below you’ll notice the first word is acr/o. That means the word can appear with or without the o.

WORD OF CAUTION: This is by no means the complete list of root words used in medical terminology. We’ll introduce more root words in the appropriate chapters.

Medical Terminology – Exterior Root Words
acr/oextremities
anter/ofront
axill/oarmpit or axilla
blephar/oeyelid or eyelash
brachi/oarm
bucc/ocheek
canth/oangle of the eyelids
capit/ohead
carp/owrist
caud/ohead
cervic/coneck or cervix (neck of the uterus)
cheil/o or chil/olip
cheir/o or chir/ohand
cili/oeyelas or eyelid or hair-like processed
cor/e or cor/opupil of the eye
derm/a, derm/o, dermat/oskin
dors/i or dors/oback or posterior
faci/oface
gingiv/ogums
gloss/otongue
gnath/ojaws
inguin/ogroin
irid/oiris of the eye
labi/olips
lapar/oabdomen, loin or flank
later/oside
lingu/otongue
mamm/ or mamm/obreast
mast/obreast
nas/onose
occipit/oback of the head
ocul/oeye
odont/oteeth
omphal/oumbilicus
onych/onails
ophthalm/o or opt/oseeing, sight
or/omouth
ot/oear
papill/onipple
pelv/opelvis
phall/openis
pil/ohair
pod/ofoot
rhin/onose
somat/obody
steth/ochest
stomat/omouth
tal/oankle
tars/ofoot
thorac/ochest or thorax
trachel/oneck or necklike
trich/ohair or hairlike
ventr/i or ventrofront of the body

You’ll notice that some of the exterior root words include body parts that are found inside the body such as the tongue and gums.  We didn’t create the above list. It’s the reference list used by the medical professions. It’s not important to memorize whether a word is interior or exterior. Remembering the word is all that’s important.

We’ve included a free printable version of the above list. Click here for our printable list of Exterior Root Words. Once the list opens you will be able to print it or download it to your computer.

Since there are more interior root words than exterior, we’ll list the interior words in a separate chapter.