Thursday, February 24, 2005

woke me up with a bang bang

Todd Rundgren - Hello, It's Me
Sean Lennon - Into the Sun

aight so I think I have this dealie known as the flu so here's some hot oldies or just a son of an oldie and some other guy. you'll prolly know at least half this update i'm hoping but anywayyysss... both pop songs that make you go mmm and put a smile on your laserface.


In this and all other vocabulary lists for this class, word elements which come from Greek are in upper case letters; elements from Latin are in lower case. You will need this information for the online exercises (but remember that the computer grading is not case-sensitive, so it doesn’t matter which way you type them in).




before, in the forward part of


tail, lower end of the body




right, on the right side


remote, distant, farther from the attached end


back, back surface




below, in the lower part of


inside, within




middle, midline


middle, midline


behind, in the back part of


next to, nearer to the attached end


left, on the left side


above, in the upper part of


belly, front surface





forms adverbs; in the direction of, toward


1) forms ADJECTIVES: possessing, having the quality of, characterized by

2) forms VERBS with a wide range of meanings: to perform an action, to bring about an effect

3) forms NOUNS: something resulting from a process

This is a very old suffix derived from the Latin participle ending atus, and has come to have many uses. Examples:



exudate (something which has been exuded)


pertaining to, located at

–al is the most common general adjective-forming suffix. The “e” is added with certain bases.


pertaining to, located at

Much less common than -al


pertaining to, capable of being





away from

a- before certain consonants


before, in front of (in time or place)

co-, con-

with, together; very, thoroughly


opposite, against


1) in, into

2) not

3) very, completely

e.g., incomprehensible

e.g. inebriated (“very drunk”)


beneath, below




near, next to


through; very, completely


back, again


backward, in back, behind

supra-, super-

over, above


See the "Tutorial and Vocabulary Notes" for more information on using these word elements.


Definition/Description of Bone

Latin Nominative/

Name of Bone*


acromion, the extremity of the shoulder


wing, any wing-like structure






ankle, bones of the ankle joint



heel bone



wrist, bones of the wrist



clavicle, collar bone






hip bone, the hip joint (in general)






thigh bone



outer bone of the leg



bone of upper arm; shoulder



uppermost portion of the hip bone



lowermost portion of the hip bone, "seat bone"






basin-like structure



any bone of a finger or toe



pubic bone

os pubis**


outer bone of the forearm



shoulder blade






instep of the foot, bones of the instep



ankle, bone of the ankle joint



shinbone, inner bone of the leg



elbow, medial bone of the forearm


*underlined forms in third column are modern names of the bones

**os is Latin for “bone.” The name means literally “pubic bone.”


Major Definition

Details/Other Uses


pertaining to

most often used with bases of Greek origin, but not predictable.

adjectives formed with this suffix to describe types of drugs are often used as nouns: antibiotic, antiseptic, etc.


pertaining to; located at


also forms nouns indicating a person who suffers from a condition: hypochondriac, hemophiliac, etc.


pertaining to

Used instead of –al with bases ending in "l" (or sometimes with an "l" close to the end of the base)


pertaining to

(with certain bases);

forms nouns meaning a place for


act of



act of, process of, result of, condition of

(less frequent)

Really a compound of verbs in –ate + -ion, yielding nouns referring to the act or process indicated by the verb:

the act of (verb)ing or the result of being (verb)ed


agent or instrument

which performs an action indicated by base



Assimilated Forms (-- = does not assimilate)


to, toward, near

ac- (before c, q); af- (before f); ag- (before g); an- (before n); ap- (before p); ar- (before r); at- (before t)


away, apart from, removed

dif- (before f); di- (occasionally)

e-, ex-

out of, away from

e- before some consonants; ex- before all vowels; ef- (before f);





after, behind



before, in front of (in space or time)



under, below

suc- (before c); sug- (before g); sup- (before p)


beyond, excess



*see Lesson 1

col- (before l); com- (before b, m, p); cor- (before r)


*see Lesson 1

il- (before l); im- (before b, m, p); ir- (before r)


In the first lesson, we discussed how Latin is an inflected language, meaning that it uses a change in case (indicated by the ending of each noun or adjective) in order to show that word’s function in a sentence. In anatomical terminology, we only need two such cases.


Anatomy is a science of naming. A unique name is assigned to each minute structure in the body, so that health professionals can communicate with reliable precision about what we are doing and observing and operating on. So it’s no surprise that the most common case in anatomical terms is the nominative (from Latin nomen, "name.") In sentences, the nominative case shows that a noun is the subject of the verb in its clause. In descriptive terminology (where there are no verbs), the nominative case is used to show the thing being named. The nominative form is the first form listed in the dictionary entry of a Latin word. When Latin nouns are borrowed and used as English nouns, this is the form in which they appear. Formula, cranium, and thrombus are all Latin nominative nouns.

Many of the modern names of bones are borrowed directly from the Latin nominative. For example, femur, ilium, and tibia are unchanged Latin nouns. A few have fallen from use, such as costa and clavicula, replaced by the common English rib and the Anglicized form clavicle. Even then, the Latin often persists in the combining form used in medical terms: "pertaining to the ribs and clavicle" is costoclavicular. In fact, you can derive most of the bases in this lesson by removing the ending –a, -us, or –um from the corresponding Latin noun. A base so formed corresponds to the stem of the noun—the part of the noun that is constant, to which all endings are added.

Anatomical terminology has been deliberately Latinized: even bases which originally come from Greek have a Latin form with one of these endings (astragalus; ischium). Acromion is an exception; the –ion is an original Greek nominative ending corresponding to the Latin –um.

In this lesson and the following one, there is a third column in the vocabulary list. If a base has a corresponding Latin noun that you should learn, it will appear in this column. If that Latin name is still used as the modern name of that bone, it will be underlined. You should learn these forms along with the bases and definitions.

The other case we will need is the genitive, which indicates possession. The genitive case can always be translated by placing the words "of the…" in front of the meaning of the noun. Sometimes in anatomical terms a more specific relationship between two structures is indicated: depending on context, "for the…" or "in the…" may be a better translation.

Here are three different patterns for forming the genitive case:

  • Nouns with a nominative ending in –a form the genitive by removing the –a and adding –ae.
  • Many nouns with nominative ending in –us form the genitive by removing the –us and adding –i.*
  • Nouns with nominative endings in –um also form the genitive by removing the –um and adding –i.

*A few nouns in –us, such as sinus, belong to a different pattern which will be introduced later.


A very common type of anatomical term consists of one noun in the nominative and another in the genitive. The nominative is the thing being named and always comes first:

There are no articles meaning "a" or "the" in Latin, so you should supply whichever is most appropriate in the context. ala ilii is the "wing of the ilium" because there is only one ilium (at least, per side of the body). caput costae, however, is the head of a rib, because even on one side of the body, there are multiple ribs. If you translated it "the head of the rib," listeners would be left wondering, "Which rib?"

Lesson Two Vocabulary Notes

  • humer- This is the bone of the upper arm. Its joint with the scapula forms the shoulder.
  • The hip joint The ilium and ischium refer to two parts of the hip bone, which are distinct at birth but soon fuse with each other and the os pubis (pubic bone). The three pieces meet at, and each contribute to, the hip socket into which the head of the femur fits. The ilium is the superior portion. The lateral, broadly-flared part of the hip bone—on which your belt rests—is called the ala, or "wing," of the ilium. The ischium forms the posteroinferior part of the pelvis—better known as your "butt bone." The two hip bones, together with the tail end of the spine, define a broad, funnel-shaped space known as the pelvis. Cox- refers to the hip joint as a whole, and is mostly used in Latin terms indicating deviations of this joint from normal alignment.
  • carp- and tars- Each of these joints is composed of a number of smaller bones, the names of which you will not need to learn for the purposes of this course.
  • PHALANG- Each finger and toe is composed of three phalanges. Your knuckles are the joints between them. In ancient Greece, a phalanx was a line of foot soldiers marching in close formation. The remaining bones in the hand and foot are those which connect the phalanges to the carpal or tarsal bones—aptly named the metacarpals (“after the carpals”) and metatarsals.
  • tal- This base is synonymous with ASTRAGAL-; the shorter base is preferred in modern terms. In mythology, Talus was a robot-like bronze giant who tried to crush Jason and the Argonauts with huge rocks. They killed him by dislodging the plug in his ankle which serviced his single vein, so that his divine blood (ichor) all drained away.
  • Use of "General Adjective-forming" Suffixes

Using these suffixes, you can form from almost any noun a "general" adjective meaning "pertaining to; having something to do with" that noun. The suffixes themselves serve only to mark the change in part of speech. They don’t add to the meaning of the word in any other way. The most common suffixes used to form such adjectives are –al, -ar, and ic. More rare are –ac, -an, and ary. In general, only one of these suffixes is used to form a commonly accepted adjective from any given base (who needs more than one adjective with the same meaning?—but as with all rules, there are exceptions!) So how do you know which to use?



*the most common general adjectival suffix is –al. Use this by default.

dorsal; anteromedial; costal; tibial

*However, if the letter l appears at the end (or sometimes, close to the end) of the base in question, -ar is used instead. Similarly, you would never use ar whenever there is an r at the end of the base. All but four of the bases in this lesson’s list use one of these two suffixes.

patellar; fibular; articular; ulnar

*After these two, the next most common is ic

There are no hard and fast rules for predicting when this, or the other rare suffixes, are used. ic tends to be used with bases which come from Greek, but not always.

pelvic, pubic

ary tends to be used with Latin bases which end in ll- (maxillary), but not all of them (compare patellar).


-ac is quite rare; the major example is iliac (pertaining to the part of the hip bone known as the ilium). This irregular form has probably been conserved because it avoids confusion ilial with ileal (“pertaining to the part of the small intestine known as the ileum”—note the "e").


Lesson Two Tutorial: Assimilation

Assimilation is a predictable process by which the sounds of two consonants placed next to one another change to facilitate ease of pronunciation. You will notice an extra column in this lesson’s vocabulary list containing quite a few additional forms of the prefixes. You could just memorize all the different forms that each prefix can take. But it is useful to understand some of the process behind the changes, so that you can recognize the process even when it involves a rare instance or an extra form you didn't happen to memorize.

Assimilation represents a sort of linguistic entropy. Without intervention to preserve a language in an artificially fixed state, languages are constantly changing--and the change tends to be in the direction of making things easier (to pronounce, remember, understand, etc.). As an example of how this works, let’s take the prefix in-. The final sound, ‘n,’ is pronounced by closing off the palate with the tongue and directing air through the nose (in linguistics, that’s called a nasal sound, from Latin nas-, "nose"). Go head, try it. Now let’s say we want to create a compound of the prefix in- with the base puls- (Latin, "a pushing"). The initial sound of the base, a ‘p,’ is formed by expelling a small puff of air through closed lips. So to pronounce in-puls, your tongue and lips have to undergo quite a reconfiguration. In fact, if you try saying it slowly and smoothly, you’ll find that "on the way" between the ‘n’ and ‘p’ sounds, your lips go right through the formation for the letter ‘m,’ which is another labial sound (Latin labi-, "lip"). Since ‘n’ and ‘p’ together are hard to pronounce, the ‘n’ in the prefix is assimilated to the initial sound of the base, first in speech, and eventually in writing as well. The resulting combination is the familiar imp-, as in impulse, impossible, impenetrable, etc.

In fact, the very word assimilate ("to make similar") is another example of this process. It’s formed by adding the prefix ad- and the verb-forming suffix –ate (both from this lesson) to the Latin root similis (bet you can guess the meaning.). The dental sound (formed with the tongue against the teeth or area just behind them) ‘d’ is assimilated to the ‘s’ of the base.

Assimilation is more likely to happen if the original two consonants are pronounced in very different areas of the mouth. It’s no problem pronouncing the combination n + t –your tongue can stay in pretty much the same place: contact. But feel how much it has to move for n + l: con-lect.

Here are several tables summarizing the assimilation of prefixes in this lesson. Notice certain patterns: other consonants tend to be assimilated to liquid sounds (‘r,’ ‘l’) as well as to labials. You will become more familiar with the specific changes as you see them over and over again. Again, if just memorizing the changes each specific base goes through is more helpful to you than looking for patterns, then by all means do that.

Prefixes ending in –n (CON-, IN-)

n +

r =















Prefixes ending in –d (AD-)

d +

c =
























ending in –s (DIS-) or –x (EX-)

s +

f =




Prefixes ending in –b (SUB-)

b +

c =












One final complication: these prefixes don’t always undergo assimilation. In fact, in anatomical terms, (such as most of those in this chapter), they usually tend to keep their original form. Linguistic evolution requires time and selective pressure. These terms were deliberately created at a more recent point in history when Latin was ceasing to be a spoken language, so ease of pronunciation was not as important. Hence subclavicular, (not succlavicular), is the accepted form. Assimilation is much more of a factor in very old combinations of prefixes and bases, original to the spoken classical languages.


See the "Tutorial and Vocabulary Notes" for more information on using these word elements.


Definition/Description of Bone

Latin Nominative/

Name of Bone*



cervix,** f.


to lead, bring, convey


face; surface

facies, -ei

flect-, flex-

to bend


forehead; (sometimes) frontal bone, sinus, or lobe of brain


lower back, flank

lumbus, -i


lower jaw bone, mandible

mandibula, -ae


upper jaw bone

maxilla, -ae



mentum, -i


nose; nasal cavity; nasal bone

nasus, -i



dens,** m.

sin-, sinus-

cavity, space

sinus, -us


posterior portion of skull; occipital bone


wall; posterolateral portion of skull; corresponding lobe of brain


chest, breast

pectus, **, n.


bone of caudal vertebral column

(os) sacrum, -i


spine, spinal column, spinal process or projection


temples; anterolateral portion of skull

tempus**, n.



thorax, ** m.


to draw, drag

vers-, vert-

to turn


bone of the spinal column

vertebra, -ae

*underlined forms in third colomn are modern names of the bones


Major Definition

Details/Other Uses



state of, condition of

This suffix appears in both Latin and Greek. Via the French form –ie, it sometimes appears in English as -y


state of, condition of

Usually appears as –ity or –ety


pertaining to

Usually with verbal bases



capable of (being); able

Usually with verbal bases






around, enveloping


down, away from, absent



on the outside of, beyond, not relating to





before, in front of, forward; precursor


across, through


When two vowels occur one after another, one of two things happens.

  1. They form a diphthong, meaning that they blend into each other when pronounced and count as one long vowel sound. Latin and Greek used a lot of diphthongs; the -ae ending in the feminine genitive singular is one example (pronounced like "ai"in aisle). We will revisit diphthongs when we learn about transliteration and the Greek alphabet. Latin, British English, and American English all have their own ways of handling diphthongs , which are very common in Greek.
  2. When the vowels are not part of a diphthong, but are pronounced separately, the pause which marks the syllable break between them is called hiatus. A few examples are intraarticular, preoccipital, or infraulnar. The ancient Greeks and Romans particularly disliked this occurence, considering it a feature of unrefined language since it introduces a harsh "stop"or "break" in the middle of the word. Hiatus may occur in medical terms: for instance, when a prefix ending in a vowel is affixed to a base beginning in a vowel. (The alternative is elision, in which one of the vowels drops out. We'll talk more about that later.)

The easiest way to avoid hiatus is often to use a different prefix or different base. For instance, you could say subulnar instead of infra-. Sometimes hiatus can be avoided by switching the order of two bases. But if avoidance is not possible, the term is often written with a hyphen. This helps the reader who might be unfamiliar with the term to clear up any confusion about whether the vowels are in fact pronounced separately. Hence, you will see terms such as intra-articular or fronto-occipital.

The second example might seem strange since the first "-o-" is not part of the base front-, but rather a combining vowel. Aren't combining vowels used to make a term easier to pronounce? Why introduce one if it creates hiatus and forces you to use a hyphen? However, consider the alternative. If no combining vowel were used, the term would be frontoccipital. Many people would erroneously assume that the single "-o-" was a combining vowel, which would leave them unsuccessfully searching their memory for the meaning of the unusual base "ccipit-." This definitely does happen in some terms, mostly older ones. However, today we tend to prize clarity of communication over euphony (pleasing sound) as criteria for judging a term. Pharyngo-oral may not sound very smooth, but it keeps both bases intact and is easy to understand.

In your composition exercises, try to avoid hiatus and hyphenation if possible. Consider whether there is an alternative base or prefix you could use.

Lesson Three Vocabulary Notes

  • cervi- refers to any “neck.” The cervical region is the area between the base of the skull and the shoulders; the cervix, however, is the lower part of the uterus which extends into the vagina. The adjective cervical may refer to either; you will have to learn to discern its meaning by relying on context.
  • pro- can mean "in front of" in a spatial sense, although ante and pre are more common. Pro- attached to a substance, type of cell, or chemical name can also refer to a developmental precursor to that substance, for example prothrombin, which in the blood coagulation process is converted to thrombin.

Verbal Bases: duct-, flect-, tract-, vert-

  • Several bases in this lesson are derived from Latin verbs. In Latin, each verb has four basic forms, called principal parts. For example, the principal parts of the verb meaning "to lead" are duco (I lead), ducere (to lead), duxi (I have lead), ductum (having been led). The last principal part is a participle, or verbal adjective. Bases derived from this form have been very productive in English, giving rise to nouns, adjectives, and verbs.
  • For example, look at each of the bases in the column on the left. They are all used, without additional suffixes, to form verbs. Some of these verbs have corresponding nouns in English which are distinguished only by pronunciation (consider the difference between "the wire conDUCTS electricity" and "cited for excellent CONduct").
  • Three of these bases have an alternate form. Although the spellings differ, you will notice that they all end in an "s" sound instead of the final "t." It's not easy to predict when this form will be used instead of the other, but you should be able to recognize either one when you analyze terms.




Other Forms



as suffix, forms verbs and nouns

the noun duct; conduct (n, or v.), product (n.), abduct (v.)

-duce forms verbs and rarely nouns

transduce,induce, reduce (v.),

produce (v. and n.)


as suffix, forms verbs

inflect, deflect, reflect, etc.

1) the verb to flex
2) -flex forms certain adjectives, nouns, and is used w/most other suffixes

circumflex (adj.)

reflexes (n.)

flexion (n.), flexible (adj.)


as suffix, forms verbs and nouns

the noun tract; contract (n. or v.); retract, extract (v.)



as suffix, forms verbs and nouns

convert, pervert (n. or v.);

invert, revert (v.)

-verse, forms adjectives and sometimes verbs; vers- before most suffixes

transverse, inverse (adj.);

reverse (adj. and v.), inversion (n.)

  • duct as a noun refers to a tubular structure in the body which carries or conveys a fluid between two points.
  • tract as a noun refers to an elongated area; path or way; especially bundles of nerve fibers on their way from one location to another.

  • Links to Background Anatomy Info

If you are not familiar with the anatomy of the skull and spine, follow these links for some basic information:

  • Bones of the skull

(see diagram) Like the hip, the bones of the skull are separate at birth but fuse during further development. This lesson contains the bases for most of the major bones. Several of these bases are also used to name the lobes of the brain which correspond in location to those bones (occipital, frontal, temporal, parietal).

  • The spinal column

(more information)

See also diagram of the regions of the spine (.pdf document in this lesson)

Lesson Four Vocabulary

When there is no third column, corresponding Latin words to be learned for Terminologica Anatomica are given in brackets within the vocab entry.





arm [L. brachium, -i]


fluid-filled sac, bursa [L. bursa, -ae]




cartilage; costal cartilage






cheek, chin, jaw








bone marrow; spinal cord



oss, osse-

bone [L. os, ossis, n.]




disease, suffering


to form, develop


passage, opening, pore


droop, fall, sag






twisted, crooked, curved




growth, nourishment


A-, AN-

not, deficient, absence of


painful, difficult, defective, abnormal


over, excessive, above, beyond normal


under,deficient, below normal



swelling; hernia; (in obsolete terms) tumor




(abnormal) softening


(abnormal) enlargement


abnormal or diseased condition


tumor, neoplasm

Compound Suffixes


any disease of


formation, development (esp. of cells)


falling, drooping, prolapse, downward displacement


growth, nourishment


a condition of the blood

Lesson Four Vocabulary Notes

  • burs-

Bursa is a Medieval Latin word for "purse." In medical terminology, it means a fluid-filled sac which cushions an area exposed to friction (such as where a tendon passes by a bone). The prepatellar and subacromial bursae are common sites of inflammation.

  • chondr-

In addition to cartilage in general, this root often refers specifically to the costal cartilage, the "cartilage forming the anterior continuation of a rib, providing the means by which it reaches and articulates with the sternum." For example, sternocostal, "pertaining to the sternum and the (costal) cartilage(s)."

  • hem-, hemat-

This is a very common base, but sometimes tricky to recognize because it appears in so many forms. Greek 'h' at the beginning of a base has a tendency to drop out if another word element comes first, so sometimes the short form is reduced to just -em-. You may also see both combining forms hema- and hemo- (but not hemi, which means "one-half").

You will see the compound suffix form, -emia-, much more often without the 'h' than with it. This suffix is used to denote various kinds of blood conditions. A common pattern is a prefix expressing degree (hypo-, hyper- + a base indicating a substance or type of cell + -emia-, meaning, "a condition of (too much/too little) of that substance in the blood." Sometimes, however, -emia- indicates a physical condition due to blood, such as cephalemia, "congestion of the brain with blood."

  • myel-

The double meanings "bone marrow" and "spinal cord" probably date to a point when both were seen as soft substances filling the inside of narrow cavities (Gk. for "marrow"), without recognition of the unique composition of each. Pay attention to the context when you see this base, and be alert to the possibility of either meaning (both are common). In nervous-system terms, it means the cord itself (not the coverings or the spinal column); in blood and immunology terms, it refers to the bone marrow, where blood cells of various types are produced.

  • -oma, -cele

Forms names of neoplastic tumors (Gk. neo-, "new", + plasia), that is, growths in which cells multiply rapidly in unchecked cycles of division, and often show other abnormalities. Originally, this suffix was used for any swelling, and we still have a few such terms which are not specifically neoplastic, such as hematoma (a swelling full of blood). The suffix -cele, on the other hand, was once used to form names of tumors, but today is used specifically of none-tumorous swellings. It also indicates herniation, which is the protrusion of any part of the body through the structure which normally contains that part. For example: the spinal cord protruding through its coverings, or the intestines protruding through the muscular wall of the abdomen.

  • -trophy and –plasia

Both the suffixes are used, sometimes indiscriminately, to denote increase in bulk of an organ or tissues. There is, however, an important technical difference: -trophy refers to the increase in the SIZE of the cells, not number, while –plasia refers to increase in NUMBER, not size. Think: if I’m a growing boy and you "nourish" me, you get a bigger ‘me,’ not ‘two of me.’

Lesson Four Tutorial

Compound Suffixes

From this point on, you will see a new category appear in your vocabulary list. "Compound suffixes" are compounds of bases (listed separately in your vocabulary under that category) with common part-of-speech suffixes such as -ia or -osis. The compounds are listed because they are commonly used and may have a technical meaning more specific than the sum of their parts.

Word elements of Greek origin

This is the first lesson in which you have seen a substantial number of bases of Greek origin. Scanning the vocab list, notice a number of particular elements characteristic of Greek: -ch-, -ph-, -y- as the main vowel in a syllable, endings in -ma and -is. In Unit Two, we will cover the Greek alphabet in more detail, which will explain the origin of some otherwise unusual combinations of letters.

It's not coincidental that this is also the first lesson in which you've been able to form terms describing diseased or abnormal states. In general, Latin is the language of anatomy, but Greek is preferred for pathology. There is, of course, some crossover, but it's something to remember when composing your own terms.

The mixing of word elements from different languages in the same term is known as hybridization. If suffixes are counted, a large percentage of medical terms are hybrids, but many suffixes have become so "naturalized" in English that they are no longer perceived as specifically Latin or Greek. With prefixes and bases, however, you will find that elements from the same language combine much more readily and create more elegant terms. When you have multiple options, select the base or prefix that avoids hybridization.

Focus on Analysis: Coordinate and Subordinate Terms

Even one-word medical terms have their own syntax, or structure of meaning. So far, we have seen mostly terms in which two or more bases are joined with a combining vowel. We have translated such terms by inserting the word "and" between the bases: maxillofacial, "pertaining to the face and upper jaw;" anterosuperior, "located toward the front and above;" osteochondroma, "a tumor composed of bone and cartilage." These are all examples of coordinate terms (co-, "with" + L. ordin- "order, rank"), in which both bases carry equal weight.

Reversal of the order of bases in a coordinate term is a major source of synonyms in medical terminology. Since the bases are linked in the translation only with "and," order is not as important. I Chondro-osteodystrophy is essentially the same as osteochondrodystrophy (except that the latter avoids hiatus, and is therefore preferable).

The other kind of terms are those in which one base modifies the meaning of the other. The usual pattern is for the first base to modify the second. These are called subordinate terms, because one base has a less important role than the other. The person reading a term often has to use common sense or general background knowledge to supply a translation indicating the relationship between the two bases (see examples below).

Subordinate Term

Translate as…



an abnormal condition of pores in the bones

"...of pores and the bones"


a swelling of the knee joint

"…of the knee and a joint"


abnormal curvature of the spine

"...of the spine and of twisted"


abnormal hardening of the bone marrow

"..of the bone marrow and of hard"


pertaining to the middle of the head

"…the middle and the head"


pertaining to the back of the head

"…the back and the head"

A common error in medical terminology courses is translating subordinate terms as if they were coordinate. Suspect subordination when you see two bases that are not grammatically or semantically similar. For instance, in rachiscoliosis and myelosclerosis, one of the bases has an adjectival meaning, while the other refers to a specific body part. In mediocephalic, "medi-" is not a specific place, but a directional term. Hardest to recognize are terms which could be ambiguous, such as dorsocephalic: "pertaining to the back of the head," although "the back and the head" would seem to be a possibility.

Lesson Five Vocabulary

All the vocabulary for this lesson consists of Latin nouns for anatomical landmarks, in particular the markings of bones. The gender of all third-declension nouns is given; you should be able to deduce the gender of all other nouns according to their declension.

apex, apicis, m. apex, top, tip

arcus, -us, arch

area, -ae, area, region, space

caput, capitis, n. head; head of a bone

corpus, corporis, n., body; any body or mass; shaft or main part of a bone

extensor, extensoris, m. muscle that extends or straightens a joint

fascia, -ae, fascia, band/sheet of fibrous tissue

fissura, -ae, fissure, cleft, groove

flexor, flexoris, m. muscle that bends a joint

foramen, foraminis, n., opening

fossa, -ae, depression, indented area [NOT in the sense of an emotional state!]

fovea, -ae, pit

ligamentum, -i, ligament

linea, -ae, line, stripe

lobus, i, lobe

nervus, -i, nerve

nucleus, -i, nucleus

processus, -us, process, prominence

radix, radicis, f. root; beginning part of a structure

rete, retis, n., net; mesh, network (esp. of blood vessels)

retinaculum, -i, holding band or ligament, retinaculum

sulcus, -i, furrow, groove

tractus, -us, region, tract, path


Plurals are formed by adding the appropriate ending directly to the stem of a Latin noun. The plural forms complete the pattern of endings you need to learn for each declension of Latin nouns. Please pay special attention to the following:

  1. In the second and third declensions, there are different endings for neuter nouns in the nominative case. Watch out for the neuter plural ending in –a. If you have studied any science, you are probably familiar with at least one word that comes from a Latin neuter plural: data. The singular, datum, is a participle of the Latin verb "to give:" a datum is a fact, a given, a singular piece of evidence. Experiments, gather an entire set of such items, which collectively may be referred to as the data. It is therefore correct to say "The data are (not is) reliable."
  2. In the third declension, the masculine and feminine share the same set of endings. The only way to tell the gender of a third-declension is to learn it with the vocabulary entry.
  3. There are two different endings for the genitive plural in the third declension. The rules for using one or the other are complex and you are not expected to learn them for this course. Composition exercises will accept either ending.

  1. Nouns of the fourth and fifth declension do not appear in the plural in anatomical terminology often enough to warrant memorizing these forms. Fourth- and fifth-declension nouns borrowed into English form regular plurals in -s: fetuses, sinuses.

This is a summary of all the Latin forms you have learned so far in Lessons 1-4. Some additional gender information may be listed here that was not in the TA or vocabulary lists.

ala, alae, f.

articulatio, articulationis, f.

astralgalus, astragali, m

brachium, brachii, n.

bursa, bursae, f.

calcaneus, calcanei, m.

carpus, carpi, m.

cervix, cervicis, f.

clavicula, claviculae, f.

costa, costae, f.

coxa, coxae, f.

cranium, cranii, n.

dens, dentis, m.

dorsum, dorsi, n.

facies, faciei, f.

femur, femoris, n.

fibula, fibulae, f.

humerus, humeri, m.

ilium, ilii, n.

ischium, ischii, n.

lumbus, lumbi, m.

mandibula, mandibulae, f.

mentum, menti, n.

nasus, nasi, m.

os, ossis, n.

patella, patellae, f.

pectus, pectoris, n.

pelvis, pelvis, f.

phalanx, phalangis, f.

pubis, pubis,

radius, radii, m.

scapula, scapulae, f.

sinus, sinus, m.

spina, spinae, f.

sternum, sterni, n.

talus, tali, m.

tarsus, tarsi, m.

tempus, temporis, n.

thorax, thoracis, m.

tibia, tibiae, f.

ulna, ulnae, f.

vertebra, vertebrae, f.

Lesson Six Vocabulary








precursor cell; primitive cell or layer



cut-, (sometimes cutane-)


CYT- (-cyte as suffix)





fibrous connection, ligament


band or sheet of fibrous connective tissue


fiber, fibrous connective tissue


to come into being, produce






glassy, vitreous


water, fluid






fat, lipid




muscle [L. musculus, -i]






rod, rod-shaped


flesh, muscular substance


scale; thin plate of bone





tend-, tendin-

tendon [L. tendo, tendinis, m.]







pertaining to, characterized by, full of


full of


full of


action, process; state of, condition of

with a verbal base, expresses an action, i.e. genesis


like, resembling


something which produces


chemical substance

used very broadly to name various substances

Compound Suffix



producing; produced by


produced by, arising in; producing


the act or process of producing; production of

Lesson Seven Vocabulary




cerebellum, posteroinferior portion of brain; "little brain" [L. cerebellum, -i]


cerebrum, largest portion of brain; cerebral hemispheres; brain [L. cerebrum, -i]

cort-, cortic-

cortex, outer layer of a structure or organ




ganglion, cluster of nerve cells


glia, "glue," supporting cells of nervous system


lemma, cover, sheath


white; white matter of nervous system


meninges, membranes covering the central nervous system






mind; diaphragm


gray; gray matter of nervous system


mind, soul, psyche






to cut, separate


"chamber," thalamus [L. thalamus, -i]


cover, sheath


ventricle [L. ventriculum, -i]






part, lining, tissue or membrane

when added to bases indicating a structure, indicates a layer which lines or surrounds the structure


breaking up, destruction; (surgical) fracture


surgical suture


fixation, fastening


fixation, fusion, binding

related to the base desm-


surgical puncture with a needle

often a procedure to draw off fluid


a knife, cutting instrument

denotes a specialized instrument for cutting the substance indicated by the base

Compound Suffix



incision, cutting


excision, cutting out, surgical removal


surgical repair or formation; plastic surgery






END-, ENT- before a vowel




in, into, within

EM- before b, m, p

EX-, EC-

out of, away from

EX- before a vowel


outside of

often ECT- before a vowel


outside, outward


against, opposing

ANT- before vowels, h


from, away from, off

AP- before vowels, h


through, across; completely; apart

DI- before vowels


on, upon, above

EP- before vowels, ‘h’


around, surrounding

does NOT elide


with, together, joined

assimilates to SYM- before b, p, m; SYL- before l.


This lesson is full of very productive bases, but can be tricky to make sense of if you don’t already know something about the nervous system or neuroanatomy. These notes attempt to help fill in at least some basic information. In addition, under Lesson Eight, you’ll find several URL links ranging from very simple explanations to a site with MRI sections showing various structures. You might want to check out some of these,--whatever suits your level--just to make sure you have a working understanding of the different portions of the nervous system. This is a class in terminology, not anatomy or medicine, but sometimes knowing at least a little bit of what you’re talking about helps the terms make a lot more sense!


encephal- (and myel-)

The nervous system is conventionally described in two parts. The central nervous system is composed of the brain (encephal-) and spinal cord (myel-). The peripheral nervous system includes everything else (spinal nerves and all their branches, etc.)


The central nervous system is protected by a covering collectively termed the meninges (Greek “membranes”). There are three layers: the tough outermost dura mater (Latin: “hard mother”), the arachnoid (Greek: “resembling a spider-web”), and the delicate innermost pia mater (Latin: “tender, affectionate mother”), which closely adheres to the surface of the brain and cord. The arachnoid layer contains the fluid in which the brain is bathed and cushioned.

cerebr- and cerebell-

cerebr-“ is a base that has become more specific in meaning over time. In classical Latin, cerebrum meant simply “brain” (equivalent to Greek enkephalon). In older medical terms, it sometimes has this function, and sometimes refers to “the largest parts of the brain, including practically all parts within the skull except the medulla, pons, and cerebellum.” In fact, cerebellum is simply a Latin diminutive (we’ll learn about these in a later anatomical Latin lesson) form of cerebrum, meaning “little brain.” Today, the cerebrum usually has an even more specific meaning: “the parts derived from the telencephalon, including the cerebral hemispheres (cerebral cortex and basal ganglia).” For those who already know some neuroscience, take note. If you don’t know anything about neuroanatomy, for this class, you should at least familiarize yourself with the distinction between the cerebrum and cerebellum. Check some of the links in this lesson if you need a visual representation.

neur-, gli-, gangli-

A message-transmitting cell of the nervous system could be (and sometimes is) called a neurocyte, but is usually termed a neuron. The important parts of a neuron are the cell body, and two kinds of long processes, the dendrites and the axon. Glial (“glue”)cells are pretty much everything else making up nervous system tissue, besides the neurons. These are various types of cells with functions such as structural and metabolic support of the neurons. Ganglia (singular: ganglion) are groups of neuron cell bodies in the peripheral nervous system.


This base means “white” generally, but unless otherwise specified, in this lesson it will be used to refer to the “white (matter)” of the nervous system, rather than the more familiar “white (cells)” of the blood.

thalam- and ventricul-

You don’t need to know anything about the thalamus for this class except that it’s a specific portion of the brain (not a space, although etymologically it means “bed-chamber.”) The ventricles, on the other hand, are spaces filled with cerebrospinal fluid.


peri- Notice that the final vowel of this prefix does NOT undergo elision. If it did, it would be very difficult to distinguish this from the Latin prefix per-, which is not at all related.


-ium and eum

Not to be confused with Latin words/bases whose stems contain these letter combinations (such as cranium, ileum). These suffixes are usually used with prefixes such as endo-, epi-, and peri- and bases which indicate a structure. In this context, the ium or –eum ending refers to a layer, membrane, etc. which lines either the outside or inside of that structure. For example, endosteum, the membrane lining the inner cavity of a bone; pericranium, the thick fibrous membrane covering the skull, etc. When additional suffixes are added to the word, the ium or eum drops out: endosteoma, not endosteumoma.

-tomy and -tome

The root of this suffix is the Greek verb temnein, “to cut.” Related to this verb are the noun tomos (accent on the first syllable) meaning “a slice” and the adjective tomos (accent on the second syllable) meaning “sharp, cutting.” [Don’t memorize this!] The suffix tomy is actually a compound of this root (tom-) and the suffix “-y” which forms abstract nouns. In medical terminology, this suffix is used to denote a cutting operation.

Without the suffix “-y,” the noun and adjective tomos also give rise to medical terms ending in –tome. [Here’s the important part] These refer to either “a segment, part, or section” (like the noun: something created or delimited by “cutting”) or “a cutting instrument” (like the adjective: something sharp which does the “cutting.”) The former use gives us terms such as dermatome, referring to the segments of skin supplied by branches of a single spinal nerve. The second use pairs this suffix with various bases which indicate the body part or tissue the instrument is designed to cut: rachiotome, osteotome, etc.



Caution--this somewhat confusing compound doesn’t refer to the nervous system at all! Instead, it’s a fibrous sheet (or “flattened tendon”) which gives rise to muscle fibers, and serves as the origin or insertion point for a flat muscle. This Greek term literally means “the end of a tendon,” from the prefix apo- and the older sense of neuron = “sinew, tendon.”


  • When two vowels from different word elements are positioned next to one another, the first vowel often drops out. This process, called elision, is an alternative to hiatus, and is particularly common with prefixes derived from Greek, such as hypo-, ecto-, apo-, dia-, and epi-.

hypo + acusia à hypacusia (“deficiency in hearing”)

ecto + -ad à ectad (“in an outward direction”)

epi + ateri- à eparterial (“upon or superior to an artery”)

dia + encephal- à diencephalon (a specific part of the developing brain)

  • The prefix endo- technically should not undergo elision, but mistaken formations such as endaortitis have been so commonly used as to become accepted terms. The result is that the ‘o’ of endo- often does, but sometimes does not elide.

endo + oste à endosteal but also endo-osseous

  • With certain prefixes, elision can also take place before the letter ‘h.’ This is true mostly in older terms.

anti + heminth à anthelminthic

  • Elision is not limited to the final vowels of prefixes. The vowel at the end of a base or suffix can also be elided when it is juxtaposed with another vowel:

chondroma + ectomyà chondromectomy

  • Some analysis questions in future lessons will ask you to “restore in parentheses any vowels that have been elided.” For instance, if you were going to analyze the last example according to these instructions, you would put:






compound suffix

Lesson Eight Vocabulary




dull, dim, blunt


to feel, perceive, sense


to taste


to write


to sleep


to move


to speak


to take hold of; seizure


to read


word, thought, reason(ing), study, logic


to be mad


to smell


to speak


to speak


false; lying; deceptive resemblance


to divide

somn-, somni-

to sleep




order, arrangement, coordination


tone, tension, pressure





the extremities

denotes that the condition described by the base is true of the extremities (hands, feet, head)




well, good, normal



often denotes that the condition indicated affects half of the body, or of a structure


beside, around; abnormal, disordered; beyond

PAR- before vowels, h

Compound Suffix




sensation, perception


understanding, knowledge, recognition


a written record


an instrument which records; (sometimes) written record


the act or process of recording in writing


study of, science of


sense of smell




doing, performance, action



Tutorial: The Greek Alphabet

Part I

Learning objectives: Learn the names and capital and minuscule forms of each letter of the Greek alphabet.

The ancient Greek alphabet consists of 24 letters: seven vowels and seventeen consonants. The ancient Greeks adopted their system of writing from the Phoenicians (a people group inhabiting the Mediterranean coast in the areas of modern Syria, Lebanon, and Israel). As the technology of writing moved from east to west, the alphabet was also adapted by the Romans, whose system of letters is used in modern English with only a few modifications. As a result, many of the Greek letters appear in our alphabet in nearly identical forms.

Others, especially those denoting sounds that were not a part of the Latin language, have no equivalent in our alphabet. Some of these include the "double consonants" phi, chi, and psi, which have to be expressed as ph, ch, and ps in Roman letters. Greek also had separate characters for some of its long vowels, which are pronounced similarly to the short vowels, but held longer so that they take about twice as long to pronounce. We lack the letters in English to distinguish between long ‘o’ (omega) and short (omicron), or long ‘e’ (eta) and short epsilon. Some methods of transliteration use macrons over the long vowels to indicate this distinction (but you do not need to use macrons in transliteration for this class.)

In other classes, you have probably encountered many examples of the use of Greek letters as part of English scientific and medical terminology. In this lesson, you will practice identifying and naming all the Greek letters, filling in any missing gaps in your knowledge. A chart of the Greek letters and their English equivalents can be found in a separate document in this lesson.

Learning the English equivalents to Greek letters can help you to spell and remember Greek word elements, but simply recognizing and knowing the names of the letters is also a useful skill in itself. Greek letters are used very frequently in medical and scientific writing and nomenclature.

Examples of use of Greek letters:

· Classifying types of receptors or other molecules: a-adrenergic

· Classifying types of chemical linkages: b-galactosidase

· Standing for variables in an equation: q (an angle)

· Standing for a mathematical operation: S (meaning "the sum of" what follows)…

· …Or, for a computed value that has a special meaning: c2 test

· Abbreviation for a Greek prefix (micro-) in terms of measurement: mgram …

· …Or, by analogy, in physician's shorthand: mscopic

· The sound or shape of the Greek letters can also be used as descriptive terms in the formation of medical terms:

o gammacism: mispronunciation of the "g" sound

o sigmoid: having the shape of the letter "s," for example, the sigmoid colon.

Part II

Learning objectives: Learn the rules of transliteration from Greek into English. Learn patterns of Latinization that will help to recognize various forms of Greek bases.


In the previous section, you may have noticed that there is no letter corresponding to h in the Greek alphabet. However, you may be familiar with words of Greek origin that have an h in English. Whenever a Greek word begins with a vowel or the letter rho, that letter is accompanied by a breathing mark. A smooth breathing mark looks like an apostrophe and makes no difference to the pronunciation:



without, outside




A rough breathing mark looks like a backward apostrophe and indicates that the word is pronounced with an initial puff of air. A rough breathing mark is transliterated with the letter h. Initial upsilon is always accompanied by a rough breathing mark. Other vowels may have either a rough or smooth breathing, depending on the word.



over, above



the other (of two)

In addition to vowels, when the letter rho was used at the beginning of a word, it was always accompanied by a rough breathing mark. This explains the prevalence of the combination rh in English words of Greek origin. Examples include:



measured motion




Spelling Rule

When bases beginning with rh are preceded by another word element in compounds, the r is usually doubled and the h retained:




In the previous section, you compared the Greek and Latin alphabets. You found that there are a number of Greek letters which are not represented in the Roman alphabet, and vice versa.

Many medical terms of Greek origin have come down to us through Latin. The reason is that medicine was more advanced in Greece at an earlier point in history. When the Latin physicians began to write descriptions of their observations and theories, they adopted Greek medical terms into their own language. Latin was much more widely known than Greek during the Middle Ages, and hence English retains the Latinate spellings of many words of Greek origin. Probably the most common is the use of the letter c to transliterate the Greek kappa. In Latin, this c was always hard, but in English pronunciation it sometimes becomes soft c.

kephale the head cephal- microcephaly


Before the letters gamma, kappa, chi, and xi, gamma had a nasal sound. These combinations are transliterated as follows:

gg -ng-

gk -nk-

gc -nch-

gx -nx-


A diphthong is a combination of two vowels which are pronounced together as a single sound.

The major diphthongs in Greek are








In Latin they are:







As you can see, some of the Greek diphthongs are represented in Latin by different combinations, namely ae for ai and oe for oi. In addition, Latin had no diphthong equivalent to the Greek ou; when it was necessary to represent this sound in words adopted from Greek, the letter u was used (this is one of the few times u is correctly used instead of y in transliterating Greek upsilon.) The following chart shows the most commonly accepted transliterations in English of Greek (and Latin) diphthongs:









ei or i







Lesson Nine Vocabulary

For additional information on the anatomy of the eye, see the URL link in this lesson.








conjunctiva; the mucous membrane covering the eyeball

[L. conjunctiva, -ae]


pupil of the eye


cornea [L. cornea, -ae]


ciliary body of the eye


cyst, sac; bladder






cornea; transparent tissue of the anterior eyeball


labyrinth, inner ear




tympanic membrane


eye [L. oculus, -i]

op-, ops-, opt-

vision, seeing








pupil of the eye [L. pupilla, -ae]


retina [L. retina, -ae]


sclera; tough white covering of the eyeball [L. sclera, -ae]


to look


tympanic membrane





up, back, again


down, downward, completely

CAT- before vowels or h


before, in front of


change; after, next

MET- before vowels or h


on both sides, around, both




flow, discharge


an instrument for viewing or observing

Compound Suffix











excessive flow or discharge, (especially of blood)


the act of viewing, observation

Lesson Nine Tutorial

Nouns borrowed from other languages do not always adapt well to the rules for formation of plurals in English. For example, if we followed the usual English rule to form the plural of fibrosis, we would end up with fibrosises. In order to avoid such awkward terms, the classical Greek plural form is still used for certain words borrowed from Greek (including coinages with Greek suffixes). As a rule, the more awkward the English form would be, the more likely the classical form is to be retained. The following chart lists several of the important Greek suffixes and their usual classical plurals. Also included are suffixes which have predictable rules for the formation of generic adjectives.

Noun-forming Suffix

Greek Plural

Adjective-forming Suffix





myopia, myopic




neurosis, neuroses, neurotic



-(o)mat- (use as stem to add any other suffix)

trauma, traumata, traumatic




arthritis, arthritides, arthritic




phalanx, phalanges, phalangeal

The ending –oma requires special attention. The correct plural form is –omata (although increasingly one hears of carcinomas and so forth—evidently not too much of a stretch for the English ear). In Greek, these would be third-declension nouns, with stems ending in –omat-. Therefore, whenever any other suffix is to be added, such as ic, or –osis, it is added to the form ending in –omat-. This holds as well for words borrowed from Greek which end in –ma, such as trauma (adj., traumatic) and asthma (asthmatic).

Nouns formed using the suffix ia give rise to adjectives ending in –ic. When such nouns are formed with a base ending in –s, the adjective often uses an alternate form of the base, ending in –t. So for example, for all compounds formed on the base KINES- (akinesia, dyskinesia, hyperkinesias, etc.) the adjective form ends in -kinetic. Other examples are epilepsyà epileptic;, anesthesiaà anesthetic; dysplasiaà dysplastic.

Vocabulary Notes


The complete Greek form of this base, ophthalmos, and its Latin equivalent ophthalmus, are sometimes used as suffixes to name terms for diseases of the eye. (e.g. exophthalmos, protruding eyes).


The words sclera, cornea, and conjunctiva all originate from Latin adjectives. In the original terms, these adjectives were used to modify the first-declension noun tunica, which means “coat, covering.” Hence tunica sclera, “the hard coat;” tunica cornea, “the horn-like coat;” etc. The final –a in each term comes from the first-declension feminine ending, because tunica is a feminine noun. Over time, the noun dropped out, and the adjectives alone were used to name the structures.

Lesson Ten Vocabulary

The third column lists a number of Latin forms to be learned along with this lesson.



Latin form


(blood) vessel, duct

aort-, aortic-


aorta, -ae



arteria, -ae


atrium (a chamber of the heart)

atrium, -i









cor, cordis, n.


wide, broad




nipple-like projection

papilla, -ae





sanguin-, sangui-



septum, dividing wall

septum, -i




to send




quick, fast


tension, stretching, tone



valv-, valvul-



(blood) vessel, duct

vas, vasis, n. (irregular gen. pl. = vasorum)



vena, -ae

Compound Base




lymph node

combination of LYMPH + ADEN, "gland"


lymphatic vessel

combination of LYMPH + ANGI, "vessel"




swelling, esp. with fluid


stoppage, obstruction


state, condition, quality of


an instrument for measuring

Compound Suffix





dilation, expansion


loss or suppression of blood flow


the act of measuring


abnormal narrowing

Lesson Ten Tutorial

Cardiovascular Anatomy & Physiology

There are four chambers in the heart: an atrium and a ventricle on each side. Blood leaves the heart when the muscular left ventricle contracts, forcing its contents into the aorta, the largest artery in the body. Various major arteries branch off the aorta and continue to subdivide into smaller and smaller arteries, which carry oxygenated blood to all parts of the body. In the target tissues, the smallest arteries divide into beds of tiny (microscopic) blood vessels called capillaries. The oxygen carried in the blood is exchanged across the walls of the capillaries for carbon dioxide produced in the tissues by metabolic processes. The deoxygenated blood is then carried back to the heart by a system of veins which flow together into the vena cava (Latin cavus, -a, -um, "hollow"), which flows directly into the right atrium of the heart. The entire process is called circulation ("the act of moving around in a circle").

The pace of the heartbeat is determined by a small node of specialized cardiac muscle cells which automatically depolarize in a regular rhythm. These cells are located in the right atrium near the sinus of the vena cava, and hence known as the sinuatrial (or simply sinus) node. The electrical impulse generated at this SA node spreads across the whole heart, causing the cardiac muscle fibers to contract. During systole (Greek for "contraction"), atria and ventricles both contract, and blood is driven into the pulmonary vessels and aorta. During diastole (Greek, "dilation"), the heart muscle relaxes and the chambers fill with blood. [FYI, the final "e" in both these terms is pronounced: SIS-toh-lee, di-AS-toh-lee.]

The SA node is the normal "pacemaker" of the heart; external impulses from the nervous system can influence the heart rate, but are not required to maintain normal rhythm. A regular heartbeat generated from this node at a "normal" rate (as defined by convention) is termed sinus rhythm. Any interruption of the regular pace of this cycle is termed an arrhythmia. Arrhythmias can be further described by the bases tachy- (too fast) or brady- (too slow), or by adjectives which locate the origin of the irregular impulse (e.g. junctional, atrial, etc.)

Latin Diminutive Suffixes

Diminutive suffixes have the meaning "small, little;" when added to the end of a term they have the effect of "downsizing" the object in question. For example, from Latin mus, "mouse," comes musculus, "little mouse." (Evidently the rippling motion of muscles suggested the image of little mice scampering under the skin.) Patella means "little dish," and clavicula "little key." The endings are summarized in the table below:

Masc., Fem. & Neuter Nominative Singular Forms

Diminutive Element without inflected ending

Anglicized form

-culus, -cula, -culum


-cule, -cle

-illus, -illa, -illum



-olus, -ola, -olum



-ulus, -ula, -ulum



-ellus, -ella, -ellum



In some words, the special meaning of the diminutive suffix has been lost over time. A Latin word which was originally a diminutive may be absorbed into the medical vocabulary with a specific, technical meaning. Although bacillus literally means "little rod," the important feature for microbiologists is that it denotes "rod" as opposed to "sphere." Sometimes the specifically diminutive meaning was lost in classical times: maxilla is "jaw" and capillus "hair" even to the Romans. In such cases, noting that the ending is a diminutive suffix is mostly a matter of etymological interest (and sometimes amusement).

In other cases, the diminutive ending is deliberately used to coining a new medical word. Such terms make an explicit distinction between a structure and a smaller version of that structure. For example, artery can refer to any of the vessels which carry blood away from the heart and into the tissues, but arterioles, "little arteries" are specifically the tiny arterial branches which immediately precede the capillary beds. Similarly, venules are the minute veins into which the capillaries return deoxygenated blood. These diminutives are important for you to recognize because they carry real information about the meaning of the term.

Some of these coinages use the complete "Latin" endings (-olus, -culus, etc.), but others use Anglicized versions, in which the inflected ending (-us,-a, or -um) is replaced by silent "e" or drops out completely. These can be found in the third column of the chart above. Note especially the Anglicized form –cle, which corresponds to the Latin ending -culus. Although the "u" drops out in the English suffix, the base corresponding to such words usually keeps it (e.g. ventricle is the name of the structure, but the base for building a more complex term is ventricul-). Words which use the Anglicized suffixes are thoroughly English words which form plurals in the usual way: arterioles, venules, ventricles, etc.

Terms which use the full Latin forms can be treated like any other Latin vocabulary you have learned. Strictly speaking, the diminutive element (listed in the second column) is the portion which is inserted between the original Latin base and the inflected endings. This creates a new "base" to which endings of the first or second declension can be added. The words so formed have gender, which is why the masculine, feminine, and neuter nominative singular forms are listed in the table above. If a term borrowed into English retains the Latin form, its plural usually also follows the Latin rules according to its declension: bacillus, pl. bacilli; vestibulum, pl. vestibula, etc.

When working with Terminologica Anatomica exercises, be sure not to mix Anglicized and Latin forms!

Vocabulary Notes


This suffix refers not simply to swelling in general, but to swelling due to accumulation of excess fluid.


This term is built from the Greek base isch- (not on your vocabulary list), meaning "suppress, check," and the familiar base hem-. It refers to a lack of blood supply to a particular tissue, such as might be found due to arterial narrowing or obstruction.


This Latin base for "heart" is used rarely compared to the Greek cardi- (learned in the next lesson). This is a good thing, because it easily can be confused with a look-alike Greek base cord- (from chorde) which means "the spinal cord, or any anatomical cord structure."


Lymph is a clear fluid which is collected from the tissues into its own separate vessels (lymphatics, lymphatic vessels), filtered through small, rounded structures called lymph nodes, and eventually returned to the venous circulation. The cellular component of lymph consists mostly of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell with important immune system functions. In most terms, the base lymph- refers to the fluid, but it can also be short for "lymphocyte," or refer to the entire lymphatic system in general. Note also the specific combinations lymphaden- for "lymph node" and lymphangi- for "lymphatic vessel."


A base used broadly to refer to any small projection, ranging from nipple (papilla) of the breast, to the normal "bumps" on the surface of the tongue, to the microscopic projections of the dermis into the epidermis. Note the diminutive! There is also an Anglicized form, papule.


Also appears in many terms in the diminutive form vascul-.


This base, which you learned in Lesson 8 with reference to the ventricles of the brain, will now be seen in a different context: the ventricles (lower chambers) of the heart. Common to both uses is the basic meaning of the Latin ventriculus as a hollow chamber, or literally, "a little belly."

Lesson Eleven Vocabulary



Latin form


air, gas


weight, pressure


alveoli, terminal air sacs in lungs

alveolus, -i


bronchus (major airway within the lungs)

bronchus, -i


bronchiole (smaller airways in the lungs)

bronchiolus, -i




old age, elderly person


physician, medicine, treatment


larynx, voicebox


sharp, acute; rapid; acid; oxygen




diaphragm; phrenic nerve; mind (see Lesson 7)


pleura (membrane surrounding the lungs)

pleura, -ae





pulm-, pulmon-







silica, silicon dioxide


to breathe


end, completion


trachea (major airway outside lungs)

trachea, -ae




science of, study of


a person who studies or practices


a person who practices or is skilled in





medical treatment of; medical treatment by means of

Compound Suffix



medical treatment of, esp. indicating medical specialty pertaining to the treatment of


a person who studies or practices


a person trained or skilled in a type of therapy

Lesson 11 Tutorial

Respiratory anatomy and physiology

The pharynx, or throat (you’ll learn this base in a future lesson) is the crossroads of the respiratory and digestive systems: it connects to the nasal passages above and divides into the esophagus and larynx (laryng-) below. The larynx is an elaboration of cartilage and muscular folds which guards the airway and is responsible for the production of the voice (phon-)—hence known colloquially as the "voicebox." The trachea (trache-) is the major airway of the body, a cartilaginous tube that extends inferiorly from the larynx. If the trachea is blocked, air cannot reach the lungs.

At the "root" of the lungs, the trachea divides and becomes a bronchus (bronch-) leading into each lung. Within the lungs, the bronchi further subdivide, and these smaller airways are known as bronchioles (bronchiol-; note the diminutive element). At the end of the smallest bronchioles are tiny air "sacs" known as alveoli (alveol-). These represent the terminal structures of the respiratory system. Respiratory gases such as oxygen (oxy-) and carbon dioxide enter and leave the bloodstream across the very thin walls of the alveoli and the respiratory capillaries.

The lungs fill most of the volume of the thorax, except for the heart and a central area, the mediastinum, where the trachea, esophagus, and aorta cluster together. The lower border of the thoracic cavity is marked by the diaphragm, (phren-) a flat membranous muscle which separates the thoracic organs from the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm is also the major muscle driving respiration. A tough membrane called the pleura (pleur-) surrounds each lung and also lines the outer walls of the thorax, ultimately enclosing a space which NORMALLY is very tiny, but which may in disease conditions fill with air, pus, water, or blood. Such conditions are named with terms ending in –thorax (i.e. hydrothorax). The pleura adhering directly to the lungs is known as the pulmonary or more commonly visceral pleura ("viscer-" = "inner organs"), while the parietal pleura ("pertaining to the walls") is further subdivided into areas called costal, diaphragmatic, and mediastinal.

Body-part suffixes

As described above, when -thorax is used as a suffix, it indicates an abnormal condition associated with that structure. This is one example of a common practice in medical terminology in which a Greek or Latin word is used, in its original form, as a suffix indicating a condition. A few you have already seen in passing are -ophthalmos (a condition of the eye) and -derma (a condition of the skin). The suffix -cardia is also in this category; although it bears a resemblance to the common noun-forming suffix -ia, the "i" is part of the base, and the "-a" is the inflected Greek ending in the nominative singular. Many other examples could be cited, but are not worth memorizing since they appear only rarely. It is more profitable for you to be aware of the pattern so that you recognize such uses when you encounter them.

Vocab Notes


This compound form is used both in a "prefix" position (atelencephalia, "incomplete development of the brain") and as part of a suffix (myelatelia, "incomplete development of the spinal cord.) The base tel(e)- (without the negating "a-") is also used in a variety of terms, such as telencephalon and bradyteleokinesis.


This base can mean "weight" in the sense of mass (e.g. body weight) or "pressure" of various types (the pressure of touch, the pressure of a gas, etc.)


This base is related to the Greek third-declension noun pneuma, pneumatos, meaning "spirit, breath, wind." The other form of this base, pneumat-, comes from the stem of this noun. Just to confuse you, pneum- is also sometimes used as an abbreviated form of pneumon-, the Greek base for "lung." You will have to use context to distinguish the two meanings.

phren- and phrenic-

Yes, this is the same base you've seen once before in Lesson 7. How does the same word come to mean both "mind" and "diaphragm"? In much the same way that contemporary English speakers can say both "I love you with all my heart" and "My father just had open-heart surgery." There is an ancient tradition of locating the seat of feeling and emotion in the general abdominal area rather than the brain: for the Hebrews, one's "bowels are moved with compassion;" while for the Greeks the midriff (diaphragm) area was the seat of passion and energy. While these identifications may seem quaint and outdated, we now know that there is an entire "enteric nervous system" attached to and regulating the digestive organs, which contains as many neurons as the spinal cord. The digestive organs also seem particularly responsive to emotional states--when you feel your stomach cramp with anxiety or make a decision based on a "gut feeling about it," pause to consider just how accurate the ancient writers were!

One particular nerve associated with the diaphragm is called the phrenic nerve because it supplies the motor control of the diaphragm (and hence of respiration). It also carries sensory impulses from the parietal pleura and even the membrane lining the abdominal side of the diaphragm. Irritation of the phrenic nerve is one possible cause of the hiccups, which are involuntary, spasmodic contractions of the diaphragm.

It would be logical if phren- always referred to the diaphragm and phrenic- to the nerve, but in practice it is not always so simple.

Terminologica Anatomica

Terms with "Nested" Genitive Nouns

The Latin terms we have looked at so far consisted of one noun in the nominative and one in the genitive.

corpus tibiae, "the shaft of the tibia"

Many Latin terms, however, consist of more than two words. By definition there cannot be more than one noun in the nominative, but there may be two, or a whole series, of nouns in the genitive. For instance, we may name "the surface OF the shaft OF the tibia." In this case, "surface" is the thing being named, so we want the nominative of the noun facies. To say "of the shaft of the tibia," we take the original term (corpus tibiae), and put it entirely in the genitive case.

facies corporis tibiae

Tibiae was already in the genitive case, so its form has not changed. However, the noun corpus has been changed from nominative to genitive. The entire genitive term corporis tibiae is now taken as a unit modifying facies.

Word order makes clear the meaning of the term. The word in the nominative case always stands first in the term. If more than one genitive noun follows, consider it to be a case of "nested" terms. Translate in the order the nouns appear in the term, with "OF THE" in front of each noun.

EXAMPLE: Compose a term meaning "the pit in (i.e., of ) the head of the femur."

  • We begin with the thing being named, which will be in the nominative case. The thing pointed to in this term is NOT the "head," nor the "femur." Confusion often arises over this point, so you should be careful to make sure you understand. Just because a structure is larger doesn't mean it is the "thing being named." If this gives you trouble, consider the title "President of the United States." The title is naming a person, the "President," while the place, "United States" gives more information, telling which country the president leads. Similarly, in this term, the anatomical marker, a "pit" in the bone, is the thing being named. We will want the nominative singular of the Latin noun fovea.
  • Next, we turn to the rest of the term. "Head" is caput, capitis, and "femur" is femur, femoris. If this structure were being named on its own, the term would be caput femoris. But in this term, each of the nouns is preceded by "OF THE," so we know they should both be in the genitive.
  • The complete term is fovea capitis femoris.


Another reason that a term may contain more than two nouns is apposition. This is when two nouns which refer to the same thing are used in a term (or a sentence) without a verb connecting them. Usually they are placed next to ("ad-positioned") each other, with one noun giving additional information.

  • In the sentence "The defendant, Mr. Gill T. Jones, claimed he was at work at the time of the crime," Mr. Jones is in apposition to "the defendant."
  • "My dog, a Golden Retriever, loves to play 'fetch'" (dog = Golden Retriever).

The most common example of apposition in Latin anatomical terms is the pairing of the noun musculus with a second noun which further specifies the type of muscle:

musculi flexores

musculus extensor

In English, we simply translate both nouns together: "the flexor muscles," etc.

Lesson Twelve Vocabulary








color, pigment


orangish-yellow, tawny








blue-gray, green-gray


equal, same, alike






black, dark, pigment



niger-, nigr-



rosy, pink

rub-, rubr-







all, whole, entire; widespread



Number Prefixes

MONO-, uni-


DI-, bi-


TRI-, tri-


TETRA-, quadri-





1) morbid fear of; avoidance of (psychiatry);

(2) the quality of staining poorly with a dye (histology)


someone who fears; something which stains poorly


love; attraction to, affinity for;

abnormal attraction to (psychiatry);

ability to accept a dye or stain (histology)


a cell or organism which has an affinity for

Lesson Twelve Vocab Notes


A number of Latin words containing this base give rise to useful medical terms, including the Latin adjectives albidus and albus (both meaning "white"), the noun albumen ("white of an egg"), the noun albugo ("white spot"), and its corresponding adjective albugineus. You should have no need to memorize these words, because when you see terms based on them, remembering that "alb-" means "white" should be a sufficient aid to learning/understanding the terms.


This base refers to the yellowish discoloration of the skin caused by buildup of bilirubin in advanced liver disease. Although it is used in only a few terms, those terms are important and quite common. Chronic alcohol abuse is a major cause of cirrhosis.


This is another base with a very specific usage. γλαυκος is a Greek adjective for a light grey/blue/green color. Ancient Greek medical writers used it to describe an opacity they observed in the lens of patients' eyes, coining the term γλαυκωμα. (This is an example of a very ancient term in which the suffix -oma had not yet acquired its specific medical meaning of "tumor"). Today glaucoma still refers to eye disease, but has come to mean, specifically, "a condition of increased pressure in the eyeball and atrophy of the optic nerve." Glaucoma is a major cause of blindness.

is- and anis-

Almost always appears as the combining form iso-. This base is most common in terms from the molecular sciences, where it often acquires highly technical meanings. For instance,

as a prefix in chemical nomeclature: indicates an isomer, or molecule with the same composition of atoms in a different arrangment

in immunology: designates similarity in species, or similarity in individual genetic makeup

In many more general terms, iso- indicates similarity in a quality such as type, category, species, etc. In contrast, the negative compound aniso- ("unequal, dissimilar") more often refers to an inequality in a measurable quantity, such as size, volume, or strength. It is often used to compare something which should be symmetrical on opposite sides of the body, but isn’t: the first finger longer on one side than the other, the radial pulse weaker on one side than the other, etc.


Usually refers to the dark-brown-to-black color of melanin, the pigment produced by the body and present in varying amounts in skin, hair, and eyes.

pan- and poly-

In terms describing pathology, pan- usually indicates that "all the parts of a structure" are involved (rather than "all such structures"). For example, panotitis indicates that all the parts of the ear are inflamed, not that there is inflammation of both ears. As with any rule, there are exceptions. Panarthritis can mean both "inflammation of an entire joint," and "inflammation of all the joints." If there is only one such structure in the body, then "whole, entire" is obviously meant: pancarditis, panencephalitis, etc.

To indicate that many of the same type of structure are involved in a disease, the prefix poly- is used. Poly- can often be translated as "multiple," "several," or "more than one." It need not indicate that the majority of such structures are affected.

The final "y" of poly- never elides.

rub-, rubr-

Those who continue in a medical profession may learn the four signs of inflammation by their classical Latin names: dolor (pain), tumor (swelling), calor (heat), and rubor (redness). The latter noun is directly related to this base.


The prefixes for numbers listed in this lesson all end with a vowel. Like any prefix, they do NOT need to be followed by an additional combining vowel. The final "o" of mono- sometimes elides; the final vowels of the others rarely do so, even when followed by a vowel.

-philia and -phobia

These compound suffixes derive from the Greek verbs φιλεω ("to love") and φοβεω ("to fear"). They occur in all sorts of terms--ancient, Renaissance, and modern. You may already have seen them in non-medical words (Philadelphia, bibliophile) or "medical" terms that have come into common usage (arachnophobia, homophobic). In modern medical terminology these suffixes are very common, and they have acquired a wide range of technical meanings along a "size" scale from molecules and cells to microorganisms to humans.

You should be able to distinguish between the following uses:

In chemistry, these suffixes are used as a pair of opposites, as in hydrophilic vs. hydrophobic molecules. In this context, -philia refers to an attraction of some kind (hydrostatic, acid-base, etc.) which allows two molecules to solvate, bind to, or otherwise position themselves near one another. However, except for the example above, -phobia is rarely used to describe molecular interactions. It is more informative to describe a molecule according to what it is attracted to than what it is not!

Histology (the science of studying various tissues at the microscopic level) and pathology (the study of diseased tissues) have extended this meaning of -philia to the cellular level. Because most cells and organelles are transparent under a microscope, histologists use a wide array of special stains and dyes to visualize tissues and make contrasts apparent. Depending on their chemical composition, different cellular structures have an affinity for different types of dye. More will be said about this in the next lesson; for now, distinguish carefully between the suffix -philia, which forms abstract nouns indicating "the quality" or "the ability" to accept a particular stain, and -phil (also spelled -phile), which indicates a concrete thing: a specific type of cell which accepts such a stain.

By analogy, -phobia is sometimes used to indicate the quality of staining poorly with a particular dye, but -phobe in this context is quite rare.

In microbiology, the concrete suffix -phile (sometimes -phil) is used to indicate an organism which grows well under particular conditions. The base describes the condition: hemophile, an organism which grows best in media containing blood; aerophile, an organism which grows well under atmospheric oxygen pressures; etc.

The suffix -phobia is reserved chiefly for the context of psychiatry. Here it means "extreme, abnormal, or morbid fear of," and forms many terms in which the base indicates the specific object of fear. Most of us have heard of arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, but what about hygrophobia (fear of moisture), or triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number thirteen)? Once used in a corresponding sense, -philia meaning "extreme/ abnormal/morbid attraction to" is used less and less in modern psychiatry. The suffix -phobe for "a person who has a phobia" is also rare.

The suffix -phile is not used of a person with a psychiatric disorder, but retains its original meaning "lover, someone attracted to" in a number of non-pathological contexts. Do you know anyone who is a bibliophile (lover of books) or a Francophile (an admirer of all things French)?

Terminologica Anatomica 12: Intro to Latin Adjectives

An adjective is a descriptive word that modifies (gives more information about) a person, place, or thing. In English prose, an adjective directly precedes the noun it modifies:

my red notebook

a difficult semester

the round ligament

the anterolateral surface

In certain other languages, such as Spanish or Italian, the adjective usually comes after the noun:

la casa bianca

the white house

un problema medico

a medical problem

Another feature of adjectives in Romance languages is that the adjective must agree in gender with the noun it modifies. An adjective that describes a feminine noun will have a feminine ending, and so forth. You can see this in the examples above.

These patterns for adjective use in the Romance languages derive directly from Latin. In Latin anatomical terminology, the adjective always follows the noun which it modifies.

substantia nigra

situs inversus

vena cava

corpus callosum

A Latin adjective must agree with the noun it modifies in all three grammatical attributes: gender, number, and case. Like nouns, adjectives have a stem which remains unchanged, to which inflected endings are added to indicate the attributes. A major difference between Latin adjectives and nouns are that while the gender of each noun is fixed, an adjective may occur in any gender depending on what noun it modifies. For instance, consider the following sets of terms, in which the same adjective is inflected to modify different nouns.

foramen magnum

the large opening

arteria magna

the large artery

caput longum

the long head

flexor longus

the long flexor muscle

In the first rows, the adjectives both have the neuter nominative ending -um because foramen and caput are both neuter nouns. In the second column, the adjectives change to a feminine ending to agree with arteria and a masculine ending to agree with flexor.

As you can see, when you work with Latin adjectives, the gender of each noun becomes very important. In the next lesson, you will learn more about the endings adjectives use to show gender, number, and case. But first, so that you get off to a good start, the "Terminologica Anatomica" questions in this lesson's exercises will help you to review the gender of nouns you have already learned.

Lesson Thirteen Vocabulary




base, basic (i.e. non-acidic)


dawn; bright red or pink color


little grain, particle


dissolution, lysis (see corresponding suffix)


neither; neutral




few, little


to eat


plasma (fluid portion of the blood)


varied, irregular






clot; (as abbreviation for thrombocyte) platelet




an excess of cells in the blood (of a cell type indicated by the base).


destruction, disintegration; breaking down; dissolving, decomposition; surgical loosening


lack, deficiency (especially of a type of cell)


wasting away, atrophy; tuberculosis


formation, making, production


splitting, fissure

Terminologica Anatomica: First-Second Declension Adjectives

accessorius, -a, -um

accessory, complementary, supplementary

albus, -a, -um


circumflexus, -a, -um


describing a circular arc

coronarius, -a, um

coronary, encircling like a crown

cutaneus, -a, -um

cutaneous, pertaining to the skin

dexter, dextra, dextrum

right, on the right side

externus, -a, -um

toward the outside

fibrosus, -a, -um

fibrous, made of or pertaining to fibrous tissue

flavus, -a, -um


internus, -a, -um

internal, towards the inside

interosseus, -a, -um

pertaining to between bones; interosseous

longus, -a, -um


medius, -a, -um


niger, nigra, nigrum


profundus, -a, -um


proprius, -a, -um

proper (belonging specifically to one structure)

ruber, rubra, rubrum


sinister, sinistra, sinistrum

left, on the left side

supremus, -a, -um


venosus, -a, -um

full of veins, provided with veins

Lesson 13 Vocabulary Notes

Hematology is the study of blood, its components, and their production.

Blood is a mixture of cells and fluid. The cells are produced in the bone marrow. The fluid volume comes from ingested water and is kept in balance by a delicate system of controls and counter-controls. Many kinds of molecules can be dissolved and carried in this fluid. In fact, the more medical science has uncovered the inner workings of this vastly complicated organ, the more we can appreciate the truth of the ancient saying, "…the life of the flesh is in the blood…" (Leviticus 17:11). The blood absorbs vital nutrients and oxygen from the digestive tract and lungs, carries them to the tissues, exchanges them for the waste products of metabolism, and is purified in the kidneys. Its concentrations of various ions are critical to proper heart and brain function. It contains a whole army of cells which defend the body from invading microorganisms, and thousands of unique antibodies which "flag" foreign material for destruction. It delivers hormones from the pituitary, adrenal, and many other glands, which affect the function and growth of numerous body parts. If the vessels it flows in are damaged in any way, this amazing fluid even contains elements which interact to stop up the leaks in its own plumbing.

Historically, the different types of blood cells were named according to how they appeared under a microscope, with bases describing size, color, or shape. As we have learned more about the complexities of the immune system, most of these names have become entirely inadequate to describe the actual functions of the cells. But however uninformatitve they may be, the historic terms are firmly entrenched in medical terminology, so remembering what makes an eosinophil different from a neutrophil, and so forth, is one of those major memorization tasks for students of human biology!

For the exercises in this lesson, you will need to understand the different categories of blood cells and their names. You do NOT need to know details about what each kind of cell does. If you are not already familiar with this material, please spend some time exploring this website on Blood. (For some good pictures, see Blood Cell Histology )

There are not very many bases and prefixes to learn in this this lesson, but you will need to study the following notes carefully in order to understand how they are used. There are a number of patterns of formation which are unique to hematological terms . When combined with vocabulary you already know, the vocabulary from this lesson forms a huge number of terms, and many of these are very common.



This base comes from the versatile Greek verb luein, which in its broadest sense means "to loosen. " Its more specialized meanings include "to free" and "to destroy (by breaking in pieces)." All of these are relevant to the derivatives of this verb in medical terminilogy. For instance, when applied to cells, the suffix -lysis indicates a process in which the membrane dissolves and the cellular components are "freed" into the surrounding medium--thus destroying the cell. A -lysin (remember the suffix -in, "a chemical substance") is a type of antibody which fixes to a cell that the body considers foreign. This triggers an immune system "attack" which results in lysis of that cell.


This base means "eating" and can be used in several contexts. Cellular "eating" is called phagocytosis (an example of the suffix –osis used to refer to a normal process). In this process, a phagocyte enfolds a particle, piece of foreign matter, or even another cell within its own membrane and then "digests" it with cytoplasmic enzymes.

The base also refers to "eating" as a human behavior. An abnormal eating condition is often named by adding to this base the suffix suffix -ia and a prefix such as dys-, hyper-, hypo-, etc. This is analogous to the formation of many other "behavior" or "ability" terms with bases such as lex- (dyslexia), kines- (akinesia), or geus- (hypergeusia).


In hematology terms, this base refers to red blood cells of wildly varying shapes (normal RBC’s have a very consistent shape, like a flattened sphere). Distinguish this from anis-, which in hematology terms means variation in size. In other contexts, it can refer to a varied or "mottled" appearance. It comes from a Greek word meaning "elaborate, many-colored."

ser- and plasm-

  • Serum refers to the fluid that is left when both cells and clots are removed from the blood. If blood is removed from the body or a patient dies, the blood will quickly begin to congeal as the clotting cascade is set in motion. Serum is the non-cellular fluid left when the clotting process has finished and clotting factors are used up. In laboratory science, serum is sometimes used to mean immune serum, a preparation of antibodies derived from the blood of a subject who has been exposed to a certain antigen.
  • Plasma is the fluid portion of the blood (everything except the cells) as it circulates in the human body. In addition to water, the plasma contains varying concentrations of ions, nutrients, enzymes, clotting factors, antibodies, and other proteins. Fresh frozen plasma can be administered to patients with a clotting factor deficiency, but it has to be frozen promptly after donation and used as soon as it is thawed, or clotting will result.
  • The base ser- can also refer to any fluid of watery consistency. A membrane producing such a fluid (such as the outermost layer of the lining of abdominal or thoracic organs) is referred to as a serous membrane or simply serosa. The latter term comes from the Latin adjective serosus ("serous"), using a feminine ending because it has been shortened from tunica serosa.


The spleen is a large organ in the left upper portion of the abdominal cavity, just beneath the diaphragm. It is the largest single mass of lymphatic tissue in the body, and an important part of the immune system. In early life, it is a site of hematopoiesis. Macrophages in the spleen are responsible for removing and destroying worn-out red blood cells.


Means "clot," but may also be short for thrombocyte. A thrombocyte, or "platelet," is a small blood cell with no nucleus whose main function is to provide the physical material to plug up any injury to the vascular wall. This is very handy when you cut your finger, but when the walls of blood vessels are damaged due to more chronic causes, such as atherosclerosis, it can be very problematic. Clots can block up entire blood vessels, causing ischemia (diminished blood supply) in vital organs such as the heart (heart attack) or brain (stroke). But with too few platelets, a patient can seriously hemorrhage from even a minor injury. An important goal of hematologists is keeping a patient’s clotting system in proper balance.



The so-called granulocytic leukocytes are named using this suffix, according to the kind of stain they accept. There are three major types: basophils (basic stain), eosinophils (eosin, a bright pink acidic stain), or neutrophils (neutral stain).


This nearly-obsolete suffix was used to describe the "wasting" of tuberculosis. It lives on chiefly in the term myelophthisis, which is replacement of the hematopoietic material in the bone marrow by other tissue (with consequent pancytopenia).


This suffix is similar, but not identical, to -genesis. The root in gen- goes back to a verb meaning "to be born," where as the root of poiesis means "to make, form." This root is the source of the English word poem (literally "something formed or fashioned.") Poiesis is used for the production of blood cells. Especially note the distinction between thrombo(cyto)poiesis (the generation of thrombocytes, or platelets) and thrombogenesis (the formation of clots in the blood).

-penia, etc.

There are special suffixes for indicating an excess or deficiency of cellular components of the blood. These are used instead of the prefixes hyper- and hypo- that you have already learned.

  • For a condition of too few of a given cell type, the suffix -penia is affixed to the name of the cell: granulocytopenia, leukocytopenia, etc. Often, the "-cyt" is simply dropped from the term: granulopenia gives enough information to understand the term. (The suffix -penia is also sometimes used of a deficiency of a type of tissue or substance in the body. )
  • For conditions in which the number of a certain cell type is significantly increased, one of several suffixes is used. The compounds -cytosis (etymologically, "an abnormal condition of cells") and -cythemia ("a condition of cells in the blood") both carry this technical meaning when affixed to a base which indicates a type of blood cell. Notice that the initial "h-" of the base hem-, although usually dropped in the compound suffix -emia, is retained in this suffix. The resulting th- is pronounced as a single consonant and the vowel in –cyt- becomes short: say “sith-EE-mi-a.”
  • A special case is granulocytic cell line, where the suffix -ia is simply added to the term ending in -phil. Be alert to the possibility of confusion here! A term such as basophilia should NOT be analyzed as if its etymology were BAS- + -O- + -PHILIA, which would mean "the quality of being attracted to a basic stain." The correct analysis of such a term is [BAS- + -O- + -PHIL] + -IA, that is, the suffix -ia (indicating a state or condition) added to the term basophil- (indicating a type of cell). Since -phil as a suffix means "a type of cell which is attracted to…," in these terms it is analogous to the -cyt- in -cytosis or -cythemia. To say "neutrophilocytosis" would be redundant.

Terminologica Anatomica 13: First/Second Declension Adjectives

Let's return briefly to the example of Latin adjectives we used in the last lesson:

foramen magnum

the great opening

arteria magna

the large artery

caput longum

the long head

flexor longus

the long flexor muscle

The adjectives in these terms are called "First/Second Declension" because they use endings from these two declensions to form a full set of masculine, feminine, and neuter forms. They use first-declension forms in the feminine, and second-declension for masculine and neuter. Remember, adjectives do not have a gender of their own. An adjective needs to be able to take on any gender, to agree with the noun it modifies.

Dictionary Entry for Adjectives

The dictionary entries for 1st/2nd declension adjectives look like these:

longus, -a, um


magnus, -a, -um

great, large

In each entry, the first form in the list is the masculine nominative singular. The stem is found by removing the masculine inflected ending -us. The other two forms in the list tell you that this adjective uses the ending -a for the feminine nominative singular, and -um for the neuter nominative singular. This order is always the same: masculine, feminine, neuter. These endings are added to the stem, which does not change. Because this type of entry contains all the information you need to work with the adjective, there is no need to write out the complete forms. However, if the entries above were expanded, they would look like this:

longus, longa, longum

magnus, magna, magnum

Notice how this is different from the dictionary entry for nouns. For nouns, the first form is the nominative, and the second is the genitive singular. However, the dictionary entry for an adjective shows only the nominative forms, in all three genders. Like nouns, all the other forms are found by adding the appropriate ending to the stem.

Endings of 1st/2nd Declension Adjectives

Because these adjectives use endings borrowed from declensions you already know, there are almost no new endings to be learned in this lesson! The paradigm for these adjectives is summarized in the table below:

Endings of 1st/2nd Declension Adjectives




Nom. sing.





Gen. sing.




Nom. plural




Gen. plural




Masculine nominatives in "-er"

There is a sub-type of 1st/2nd declension adjectives whose masculine nominative singular ends in -er (instead of the regular -us). In these adjectives, the masculine nominative singular is an exception; all the other forms are built on a stem in which the -e- of the masculine ending has dropped out.

For example, the stem of the adjective dexter is dextr-. The feminine and neuter nominatives are dextra, dextrum. All the other forms are regular, using the stem dextr-. Adjectives of this type will be written out in full in the dictionary entry.

Noun-Adjective Agreement

A Latin adjective must agree with the noun it modifies in all three attributes: gender, number, and case.

Agree with does not mean "look the same as."

Repeat this to yourself three times!

Agree with does not mean "look the same as."

If you use a first-declension adjective to modify a third-declension feminine noun, the endings will look different, even though they indicate the same gender, number, and case. (For instance, articulatio fibrosa). Three of the four terms in the table above exemplify this as well: magnum is neuter to agree with, but does not look like, foramen; longus is masculine to agree with flexor.

Word Order

A Latin adjective always comes after the noun it modifies. In terms with just one nominative noun, this is easy. In the next lesson, you will learn more about word order when there are two or more nouns in a term.


You can also find this list of adjectives in the Vocabulary List for this lesson. While it may look like a lot, most of them come from bases you already know. A few differ from the corresponding English adjective by just one letter: cutaneus (Latin) vs. cutaneous (English); interosseus vs. interosseous. You might also recognize the suffix "-ose," (minus the final "e") meaning "full of," inside some of these adjectives.

accessorius, -a, -um, accessory, complementary, supplementary

albus, -a, -um, white

circumflexus, -a, -um, circumflex, describing a circular arc

coronarius-a, -um, coronary, encircling like a crown

cutaneus, -a, -um, cutaneous, pertaining to the skin

dexter, dextra, dextrum, right, on the right side

externus, -a, -um, external, toward the outside

fibrosus, -a, um, fibrous, made of or pertaining to fibrous tissue

flavus, -a, -um, yellow

internus, -a, -um, internal, towards the inside

interosseus, -a, -um, pertaining to between bones, interosseous

longus, -a, -um, long

medius, -a, -um, middle

niger, nigra, nigrum, black

profundus, -a, -um, deep

proprius, -a, -um, proper (belonging specifically to one structure)

ruber, rubra, rubrum, red

sinister, sinistra, sinistrum, left, on the left side

supremus, -a, -um, highest

venosus, -a, -um, full of veins, provided with veins

The following is a summary of Latin nouns you have learned in Lessons 5-12. Gender is not listed where it can be easily deduced from the declension of the noun:

alveolus, -i

ligamentum, -i

aorta, -ae

linea, -ae

apex, apicis, m.

lobus, i

arcus, -us, m.

musculus, -i

area, -ae

nervus, -i

arteria, -ae

nucleus, -i

atrium, -i

oculus, -i,

bronchiolus, -i

papilla, -ae

bronchus, -i

pleura, -ae

caput, capitis, n.

processus, -us, m.

cerebellum, -i

radix, radicis, f.

cerebrum, -i,

rete, retis, n.

cor, cordis, n.

retinaculum, -i

corpus, corporis, n.

septum, -i

extensor, extensoris, m.

sulcus, -i

fascia, -ae

tendo, tendinis, m.

fissura, -ae

thalamus, -i

flexor, flexoris, m.

trachea, -ae

foramen, foraminis, n.

tractus, -us

fossa, -ae

vas, vasis, n. (irregular gen. pl. vasorum)

fovea, -ae

vena, -ae

ventriculus, -i

Lesson 14 Vocabulary






rod, rod-shaped bacterium [L. bacillus, -i]


life; living organism, microbe


sperical bacterium [L. coccus, -i]


a people, a population




parasitic worms






death [L. mors, mortis]


dead body, dead tissue


roundworm (of the phylum Nematoda; a type of helminth)




plant; microorganism of the plant kingdom

pur-, purul-







seed, spore


bunch of grapes; the bacterial genus Staphylococcus


twisted; the bacterial genus Streptococcus





vir-, viru-, virid-





an agent that kills


disease condition or process; esp. parasitic infection


pathological cell death






bacterial infection


a bacterium nourished by (with a base indicating necessary conditions for its growth)

Terminologica Anatomica: Third-Declension Latin Adjectives



distalis, -e


proximalis, -e


dorsalis, -e

dorsal, toward the back side

ventralis, -e

ventral, toward the belly side

lateralis, -e

lateral, toward the side

medialis, -e

medial, toward the middle

brevis, -e


centralis, -e


collateralis, -e

collateral, secondary, not direct

communis, -e

common (shared by or supplying two or more structures)

plantaris, -e

pertaining to the sole of the foot; plantar

superficialis, -e

superficial, close to the surface

Lesson 14 Vocabulary Notes

Vocabulary Notes

bacill- and cocc-

These bases denote the two major shapes of of bacterial cells. Baccilus and coccus are used as suffixes to name types of bacteria, and sometimes used as nouns on their own.


You probably are more used to seeing this base together with its combining vowel: bio-.

In general, it means "life." There are many terms ending in -biosis (adjective in -biotic) which describe not disease conditions but rather "existence" or "the ability to live" under certain conditions. For example, macrobiosis = "longevity," or probiosis = "an association between two organisms that promotes the life processes of both."

The base can also refer to living microorganisms, as in the term antibiotic for a drug which kills or suppresses infectious agents.


In ancient Greece, demos originally meant "district, land"--especially a country district as opposed to city--but came eventually to refer to the people who lived there: δημοκρατια (democracy) means "rule of the people." Epidemic literally means "upon the people;" an apt description for the attack of plagues and other outbreaks of disease. Both senses of the ancient word are represented in the term epidemiology, the name for the statistical study of disease patterns in both populations and geographical areas,.


A rare base from the Greek nosos, "disease;" Do NOT use it interchangably with -pathy. Originally terms ending in -itis were feminine Greek adjectives modifying nosos, e.g., nosos arthritis, "disease of the joints." Today you will most often hear this base in the term nosocomial infection, one which is acquired in the hospital (nosocomion).


You will hear this suffix most often in anaphylaxis, a singularly confusing term. The prefix ana-, remember, can mean "up," "back," or "again/anew," so the term appears to mean something like "protection again" or maybe "increased protection." The scientists who originally coined the term were studying the decrease in "protection" which they observed on a repeated inoculation with the same toxin.

The modern meaning refers to the immune reaction when the body encounters an otherwise harmless substance to which it has become "hyper-sensitive" (i.e., allergic). This reaction can only happen if there has been a previous exposure to the substance, which perhaps makes the choice of prefix meaning "again" suitable. However, this immune response, far from being "protection," is an over-reaction which damages the body's own tissues and can be fatal in extreme cases.

staph- and strept-

The genus names Staphlylococcus and Streptococcus each describe the appearance of bacterial colonies (not an individual bacterium) under a microscope. The colonies of Staphylococci bear a resemblance to "clusters of grapes," " while Streptococci grow in "twisted" chains.

The bases staph- and strept- alone are frequently used as abbreviations for these genus names. For example, staphylodermatitis means "skin inflammation due to Staphylococcus" and strepolysin means "a hemolysin produced by Streptococcus."

Both bases also have other uses. Strept- is occasionally used to name other organisms which also have a "curved " or "twisted" appearance. And as you will see in Lesson 15, evidently the little hanging mass of flesh at the back of your throat also looked like a "bunch of grapes" to someone, so the Greek base staphyl- also refers to this structure—although it is better known by its Latin name, uvula.

Tutorial: Types of Microorganisms

Microbiology is the study of very tiny organisms, most of which require a microscope to view. There are four major types:

  • Bacteria are organisms consisting of a single cell. Most have a cell wall in addition to a cytoplamic membrane. Bacteria are further classified according to shape, the patterns they form as they grow in colonies, affinity for certain stains (particularly a two-dye process called Gram stain), and conditions under which they are able to grow (with or without oxygen, requiring certain nutrients, etc.)
  • Viruses are tiny packages of genetic material surrounded by a capsule. They cannot produce their own energy, so they must infect a host cell and use its resources to reproduce themselves. When the cell dies, additional virus "packages" are released to go forth and continue the process.
  • Fungi are hard to pin down. You would recognize some (mushrooms) as plants, but unlike true plants they have no chlorophyll and can't use photosynthesis to obtain energy. Instead, like many bacteria, they break down organic substances to obtain nutrients. Fungi include yeasts and molds. Most fungal infections occur in immunocompromised patients.
  • Parasites are tiny animals that perfer to take up residence inside you and let you find the food sources! Parasitic infections are endemic in many developing countries which lack clean water sources.
    • Protozoa are single-celled eukaryotic organisms such as amoebae.
    • Helminths (worms) include roundworms (nematodes) or flatworms.

Terminologica Anatomica 14: Third-Declension Adjectives

You now know how to work with adjectives which use a combination of endings from the first and second declensions. The second type of Latin adjectives are those which use the endings of the third declension.

Remember that nouns of the third declension can be masculine, feminine, or neuter. For instance,

radix, radicis, f.

flexor, flexoris, m.

caput, capitis, n.

Except for the nominative (which is unique to each word), the endings for masculine or feminine nouns are exactly the same: radices, flexores, etc. The neuter nouns have a different pattern in the nominative plural: capita. The genitive pattern is the same for all three genders.

Similarly, adjectives of the third declension use the same pattern for the masculine and feminine gender. There are different forms for the neuter nominative, as described below.


Because third-declension nouns are not predictable in the nominative singular, you did not learn any endings for this case. Third-declension adjectives, however, are much more regular. The masculine or feminine nominative singular ends in -is, and the neuter in -e. Remove the -is from the nominative singular to find the stem. These new endings are highlighted in the table below:



Nom. sing.



Gen. sing.



Nom. plural



Gen. plural



The only other difference you will notice is the appearance of "-i-" in the endings -ia for the neuter nominative plural and -ium in the genitive plural of all genders. These endings are also used by some third-declension nouns, but they are used for all third-declension adjectives found in medical terms.

Dictionary Entry

The dictionary entry for a third-declension adjective lists only two forms: the masc/fem. nominative and the neuter nominative. For example:

distalis, -e, distal

plantaris, -e, pertaining to the sole of the foot, plantar

This makes them look a bit like nouns, which also list two forms, so you have to be alert. Remember that the dictionary entry for nouns gives the nominative and genitive singular. The endings -is, -e do not fit the pattern of any noun declension, so if you see these, you know you are working with a third-declension adjective.

Third-declension adjectives preferred

The lack of differentiation by gender and the fact that -is is the ending in both the nominative and genitive makes it a bit tricky to figure out what a particular form in a term is. For instance, brevis ("short") can be any of five different things:

  • masculine nominative singular
  • feminine nominative singular
  • masculine genitive singular
  • feminine genitive singular
  • neuter genitive singular.

On the other hand, having fewer endings to work with makes composing terms much easier! Perhaps because of this simplicity of endings, third-declension adjectives are much more common in Latin anatomical terminology compared to first/second declension. When Neo-Latin writers needed to coin an adjective that was unknown in classical Latin, they almost always gave it third-declension endings. You will be able to understand many third-declension adjectives which you have not formally memorized, just by recognizing bases which you have learned or which closely resemble their English counterparts. The vocabulary for this lesson contains a short list of adjectives which you should learn thoroughly, but most of these will already look very familiar!

An example of an anatomical term using third-declension adjectives which is still in the active medical vocabulary is fossa ovalis (the depression in the atrial septum of the heart where the embyronic foramen ovale used to be). Once you recognize that ovalis, -e is a Latin adjective, I’m sure you can figure out what it means! Another example is cor pulmonale (cardiohypertrophy due to chronic lung disease). You should be able to recognize the base on which this adjective is built.

Lesson 15 Vocabulary






cheek [L. bucca, -ae]


cardiac (proximal) portion of stomach








gums [L. gingiva, -ae]




lips [L. labium, -i]


tongue [L. lingua, -ae]


tooth, teeth


mouth [L. os, oris, n.]


palate, roof of the mouth [L. palatum, -i]


throat [L. pharynx, pharyngis, f.]


pylorus, distal portion of stomach [L. pylorus, -i]








palate, roof of the mouth


uvula [L. uvula, -ae]






an opening between two tubular structures


an opening between two epithelial surfaces


irrigation, injection of fluid




surgical formation of an opening





Terminologica Anatomica



cavus, -a, -um


palmaris, -e

palmar; pertaining to the palm of the hand

transversus, -a, -um

transverse, situated crosswise

Lesson 15 Tutorial: The Digestive System (Part I)

This lesson is quite heavy on anatomical terms, so once again we review the relevant anatomy. The digestive system can be thought of as--because, in fact, it develops from--one long tube from mouth to anus, with various elaborations, pouches, etc. along its length. The mouth (or-, stomat-) is an elaborate cavity mostly filled by the large tongue muscle (lingu-, gloss-), the roots of which extend inferiorly further than most laypeople realize. The roof of the mouth, called the palate (palat-, uran-), separates the oral and nasal cavities and consists of both bony and muscular tissue. Posteriorly, the thin bony plate (hard palate) gives way to muscular tissue called the soft palate, which forms a partial septum between the oral cavity and the nasopharynx, the portion of the throat which extends behind the nasal cavity. The most visible part of the soft palate is the uvula (uvul-, staphyl-), a projection of soft tissue from the posterior edge of the palate. The two bases for this structure are closely related in meaning: uvula is a Latin diminutive meaning "little grape."

The process of digestion begins in the mouth, as teeth (dent-, odont-), cheek muscles (bucc-), and tongue cooperate to break down food mechanically. Glands (sialaden-) around the mouth produce saliva (sial-), a secretion which functions as a lubricant, helps dissolve food, and even contains protective antibodies. Enzymes in the saliva begin the chemical breakdown of sugars in the food before it has even left the mouth.

Swallowing is accomplished by a carefully coordinated series of muscular movements. The chewed food is shaped between the back of the tongue and the hard palate into a small ball, or bolus. The contraction of muscles in between the soft palate and tongue then squeezes the bolus into the oral portion of the pharynx. Since the pharynx (pharyng-) is the intersection between the respiratory and digestive systems, several mechanisms are required to keep food from going "down the wrong pipe." The soft palate lifts, closing off the nasopharynx, while other muscles raise the larynx close to the epiglottis, a small flap of tissue at the base of the tongue near the laryngeal opening. As the bolus slides through the pharynx, it presses the epiglottis over the opening of the larynx, preventing food from being misdirected into the lungs.

The muscular tube connecting the pharynx and stomach is called the esophagus (esophag-), a Latin transliteration of the Greek οισοφαγος (the British spelling oesophagus still retains the diphthong). It descends through the thoracic cavity, running mostly posterior to the trachea, and joins the stomach (gastr-) just after it passes through an opening in the diaphragm. A ring of circular muscle at the lower end, called the lower esophageal sphincter, relaxes to let the food pass through.

Think of the stomach as a large, slightly J-shaped dilation or pouch along the route of the digestive tube. The upper portion nearest to the esophageal junction is called the cardia (cardi-), probably because of its proximity to the heart. Glands in this region secrete mucus (blenn-) which helps to coat the surface of the stomach and protect it from its own harsh environment. Digestion (-pepsia) takes place as food is churned together with a mixture of acid and enzymes (such as pepsin) which break down complex nutrients into their component molecules. The distal end of the stomach is called the pylorus (pylor-), which comes from the Greek for "gatekeeper." Here the tube begins to narrow again and is surrounded by a thick wall of muscle, the pyloric sphincter, which controls the rate at which the contents of the stomach pass into the intestines.

For the rest of the journey through the abdomen, stay tuned for the next episode…

Lesson 15 Vocabulary Notes


Be careful to distinguish this suffix from -pyrexia, "fever."


Although listed as a suffix in your vocabulary, this element is more often used as a word in itself. It comes from the Greek verb anastomoō, "to furnish with a mouth," and is related to the base stom-. Historically, it refers to an opening or communication between two structures, especially between two blood vessels. Modern medical terminology uses it for a natural opening or communication, to be distinugished from the suffix –stomy, which is "surgical creation of an artificial opening" or the opening so created.

fistula, pl. fistulae

A fistula is an abnormal connection or passage from any surface covered with epithelium to any other such surface. Causes include defective fetal development (for instance, failure of the esophageal and tracheal tubes to completely separate) or erosion of the separating tissue (in chronic inflammation or dysplasia). Fistulae typically connect two cavities, or a cavity and a surface, that should not be connected! Even in the rare cases in which this term describes a surgically formed opening, the surgeries so named are either experimental procedures with the intestinal tracts of animals or formation of anastomoses which radically alter the pattern of circulation.

Lesson 16 Vocabulary







bil-, bili-


cec-, caec-

cecum [L. cecum, -i]






gall bladder


common bile duct


colon, large intestine


feces; filthy, dirty


duodenum [L. duodenum, -i]


(small) intestine


liver [L. hepar, hepatis, n.]


ileum [L. ileum, -i]


jejunum [L. jejunum, -i]


abdomen, abdominal wall


stone, calculus






rectum [L. rectum, -i]


internal organ, viscus




internal organ, viscus [L. viscus, visceris, n.]




a malignant tumor (of epithelial origin)


a condition of stones in


rupture, bursting


a standing still, stoppage of flow


surgical or therapeutic crushing (i.e. of a stone)

Terminologica Anatomica



manus, -us, f. *


pes, pedis, m.


ramus, -i


digitus, -i


*manus is an exception to the rule that fourth-declension nouns are masculine.

Lesson 16 Tutorial: Digestive System II

The Abdomen

The abdomen (abdomin-, celi-) is the region of the body which lies in between the thorax and pelvis (although some anatomists consider it to include the pelvis). It is more or less filled with the soft internal organs (viscer-, splanch-), held in place by connective tissue and served by an extensive network of nerves and blood vessels. A membrane of connective tissue called the peritoneum (periton-) lines this cavity and the surfaces of the internal organs. The peritoneum lies very close to the abdominal wall (lapar-) muscles anteriorly but posteriorly separates the abdominal cavity from the retroperitoneal space (vertebral region, kidneys, etc.).

The Intestines

Although the intestines are one continuous tube, sections can be described which are distinct either on gross or microscopic examination.

The small intestine (enter-) is long, narrow, and compacted somewhat randomly in multiple loops and coils into the lower abdominal space. The portion of the small intestine nearest the stomach is called the duodenum, from the Latin for "twelve" because it is supposedly about "twelve finger-widths" in length (25 cm). The pancreatic duct (pancreatic-) and common bile duct (choledoch-) open into the intestine here, beginning the next stage in digestion. The remaining length of the small intestine is specialized for the absorption of nutrients. The jejunum ("empty") and ileum (L. from the Greek for "to roll out, twist") together compose about 20 feet of small bowel.

The large intestine (col-) is shorter, larger in diameter, and fixed in location. It is the "trash compactor" of the body, reabsorbing water from the waste matter (copr-. sterc-) in preparation for excretion.The large intestine begins at the ileocecal junction in the lower right-hand corner of the abdomen, below which the cecum, (cec-) ("blind pouch") forms a sort of cul-de-sac, terminating in the appendix. After the cecum, the colon is divided into sections which are named according to their anatomical relationship. The ascending, transverse and descending colon form three sides of a slightly rounded square, ending on the lower left side across from the ileocecal junction. Finally, the sigmoid colon takes a slightly "S-shaped" curve before ending in the rectum (proct-, rect-, Latin for "straight"), a straight canal leading directly downwards to the anus (an-).

If this re-absorption does not function properly, diarrhea with a dangerous potential for dehydration can result. The colon is also heavily colonized with bacteria. Most of these are innocuous, living off the nutrients not absorbed by their human host. If the normal balance of bacterial flora is disrupted, however, overgrowth of certain bacterial strains can be extremely destructive.

Accessory Digestive Organs

The pancreas (pancreat-, Gk. for "all flesh") secretes additional digestive enzymes, together with a highly basic solution which neutralizes the stomach acid.

The liver (hepat-) is an extremely important organ with various metabolic functions. Blood coming from the intestines, enriched with nutrients, first passes through the liver, which filters any foreign particles and begins detoxification of toxins and metabolism of many drugs (including alcohol). The liver produces a substance called bile (bil-, chol-), which aids in the digestion and absorption of fats. Bile is drained from the liver by the right and left hepatic ducts (hepatic-), stored and concentrated in the gall bladder (cholecyst-) and conveyed to the duodenum by the common bile duct (choledoch-). If gall stones (lith-) precipitate from over-concentrated bile and block any of the ducts, the flow of bile can be stopped, causing bile to accumulate in the liver or even spill back into the blood.

Vocabulary Notes


So far you have learned the suffix -oma for a benign tumor. Malignant tumors are of two types, depending on the embryonic origin of the tissue of which the tumor is formed. A malignant tumor formed from épithelial tissue, which includes glandular tissue, is called -carcinoma rather than -sarcoma. Karkinos is the Greek for "crab" and the equivalent of the Latin cancer. To ancient physicians, these appearance of these tumors with their irregular margins and radiating blood supply evidently suggested the feisty marine animal.


Usually refers to the small intestine, but sometimes means the intestines in general.


Be careful not to confuse with ili- with an “i,” the base for the ilium or hip bone.

hepat-, pancreat-, and -ic

The form of either of these bases ending in the suffix -ic often, but not always, specifies the hepatic or pancreatic duct rather than the organ itself.


This is the second common usage of the suffix -iasis: in combination with the base lith-, it refers to a condition of stone formation with all the accompanying symptoms.


Literally "stone;" but used of any hard mass or deposit (for instance, coprolith is a rare term for a mass of impacted feces, while hypodermolithiasis is a condition of subcutaneous calcium deposits) The term calculus, (Latin for "pebble") is more specific. Usually calculi are composed of salts of organic or inorganic acids, or of material such as cholesterol. They are most commonly found in the bile ducts/gall bladder and in the kidneys. In both locations, blockage of a duct can cause extreme pain and cause toxic substances to accumulate in organs or blood. Therapeutic crushing (-tripsy) can be carried out mechanically or by using sound waves.

Terminologica Anatomica 16: Combining Nouns and Adjectives in All Cases


You have now learned two ways that additional information can be added to describe a noun in a Latin term:

    1. You can add a second (or third or fourth) noun in the genitive case. This noun might tell where the structure is located (cervicis), what it belongs to (carpi), etc.
    2. You can modify the noun directly with an adjective. The case, gender and number of the adjective will be dictated by the noun. Like a genitive noun, an adjective can give information about location (dorsalis, medialis), but it can also describe the composition, character, or size of the noun in a way that other genitive nouns cannot (brevis, venosus, proprius, etc.)

We have both these methods in English, too, and sometimes use them interchangeably. Consider:

the syllabus for this class

this class's syllabus

the door of the car

the car door

the president of America

the American president

Compass Conventions

Although the same is often true in Latin, for the sake of this computer-graded course, you should be careful not to confuse these two methods. The Compass exercises will observe the following conventions:

  • A genitive noun will always be represented in English by "OF THE…" or a similar phrase ("for the…," "in the…" etc.)
  • If a question calls for an adjective to be used, an adjective will be used in the English.

For example, the term ligamentum carpi transversum could be accurately translated as "the transverse carpal ligament”--turning the Latin genitive noun carpi into an adjective in English. However, for clarity, in this course we will say "the transverse ligament of the wrist." We will only use the adjective carpal in English to correspond to the adjective carpalis in Latin.

So far, we have worked only with terms which use a noun plus either another genitive noun or an adjective. But there are many anatomical Latin terms which combine both types of description. In this lesson, you will learn some principles for working with such terms.

Adding a Noun in the Genitive

In medical Latin terms, an adjective will never precede the noun it modifies--but it may not come immediately after it, either. As we learned before, the nominative noun always comes first in the term, so a nominative adjective, if there is one, comes later. If the term also includes a noun in the genitive, it often (not always) comes in between the nominative noun and adjective. For example, in arteria nasi externa, "the external artery of the nose," the genitive nasi comes in between the noun arteria and the adjective which modifies it, externa.

If it is helpful, look back at the general principles for adjective order described in the last lesson. You can think of the genitive nasi as providing the same type of information as a “body-part” adjective such as nasalis. The same principle would then apply, that words specifying region of the body often precede adjectives which give more detail, such as externus, dorsalis, or medialis. But if this line of thinking tempts you to to lose track of the “Compass Conventions” described above and treat the genitive of a noun interchangeably with the adjective which comes from the same base—then forget it!


If there is more than one noun in a term, it is the agreement of gender, number, and case which shows you which noun the adjective agrees with. Outside of context, the form externa could be feminine nominative singular or neuter nominative plural. In this term therefore, since there is no way it could modify nasi (masculine genitive singular), you know it must be feminine nominative singular modifying arteria.

Adjectives in the Genitive

A term may have adjectives modifying both the noun in the nominative and a noun in the genitive. When this is the case, the adjectives usually closely follow their respective nouns:

ramus collateralis arteriaum intercostalium

"a collateral branch of the intercostal arteries"

Both adjectives in this term are third-declension. Collateralis is masc. nom. sing. modifying ramus: "a collateral branch." Intercostalium, on the other hand, is genitive plural. (Once we establish that it modifies arteriarum, we also know that it is feminine.) When a noun in the genitive is modified by one or more adjectives, it translates into English with "OF THE" preceding the complete noun-adjective unit: "of the intercostal arteries."

Sometimes all the adjectives in the term may modify the genitive noun:

sulcus arteriae temporalis mediae

"the groove for the medial temporal artery."

Resolving Ambiguities

The most important thing in determining which noun the adjectives modify is grammatical agreement (intercostalium cannot modify ramus, nor can mediae modify sulcus), but sometimes you need to use word-order patterns such as these to help you resolve ambiguities. In the example above, although temporalis could be nominative modifying sulcus, you might say to yourself:

"Hmm, if that were the case, it would be more likely to come immediately after sulcus, not in the middle of the "artery" part of the term."

Meaning may also help you decide. In ramus meningeus nervi maxillaris, if you were at all tempted to group maxillaris with ramus meningeus (in spite of the word order, which should be your first clue), you would have to consider which of two meanings makes the most sense:

"the maxillary meningeal branch of a nerve" (taking maxillaris as nom. sing. with ramus)


"the meningeal branch of the maxillary nerve" (maxillaris = gen. sing. with nervi)

The former suggests that any number of nerves might have a "maxillary meningeal" branch. You think,

"How likely is that? Nah. Those are pretty different--and specific--structures: one is a bone in the face, and the other is the lining of the skull."

It's much more likely that there's a particular nerve named "maxillary" which has several branches, one of which is "meningeal.” If you have a choice between putting one adjective with each noun vs. leaving a general noun like "nerve" naked with no adjective to dress it up, go with one for each noun.


  • Rule 1: An adjective will never come before the noun it modifies
  • Rule 2: An adjective must agree in case, gender, and number with the noun it modifies

Lesson Seventeen Vocabulary




male, man


secret, hidden


  1. urinary bladder
  2. any small fluid-filled sac





fer-, lat-

to bear, carry, bring


marriage, sexual union; gamete, reproductive cell


gamete, reproductive cell


(organs of) reproduction [<>genitalis, -e]


glomerulus, (filtering apparatus of the kidney)


seed; gonad (organ that produces gametes)




passage or canal; the external opening of such a passage










prostate gland


renal pelvis




seed; semen


seed; spermatozoa, semen

test-, testicul-

testes, testicle(s) [L. testis, testis, m.]




ureter (tube which conducts urine from the kidneys to the bladder)


urethra (tube which conducts urine from the bladder to the external surface) [L. urethra, -ae]


duct, vas deferens


bladder; any vesicle (a small sac containing liquid or gas)


animal, living thing


yoke, joining, pairing

Combining Form


other, differing from normal


different, differing from normal


the same, alike





condition of the urine or of urination

May refer to 1) presence in the urine of a substance not normally found (indicated by the base); 2) appearance of the urine (e.g. with a "color" base, or 3) with a prefix, the act of urination

-PLOID (adj.),

multiple in form; having a (specified) multiple of chromosomes.

Both are used with elements such as allo-, hetero-, homo-, eu-, as well as "number" prefixes.

-PLOIDY (noun)

the number of haploid sets in a cell


bearing, carrying, bringing, producing


marriage, sexual union, reproduction

-ent, -ant

-ing; carrying out an action indicated by a verbal base.

Forms adjectives corresponding directly to Latin participles ending in –ens, -entis or –ans, -antis; for example, efferent from efferens.

Lesson 17 Vocabulary Notes

The urinary system in males is closely linked with the reproductive system, so the two are traditionally treated together in many textbooks of anatomy and medicine under the heading of “male genitourinary system.” The female urinary system is similar, except for a considerably shorter urethra and minimally developed prostate gland.

For excellent descriptions of the urinary system and male reproductive system, follow these links.

The suffix -ploid

The element -pl- indicates “fold” or “how many times.” For example, triple = “threefold” or “three times over,quadruple = “fourfold,” etc. You can see the same element in the bases hapl- and dipl- contain the same element, but are probably not as familiar to you (in common English, we use “single,” which comes from a different root, or “double,” which is related to dipl- but has undergone sound changes).

The –oid portion comes from the Greek word eidos meaning “form” or “type.” It is essentially the same suffix that you learned in Lesson 6.

The compound of these two elements gave rise to an independent suffix -ploid meaning "multiple in form," and a corresponding noun form, -ploidy. In molecular biology this suffix is used to indicate that a cell contains a certain number of sets of chromosomes. The base usually indicates the number, for example, diploid or triploid, but may also indicate a state that is normal (euploid) or abnormal (aneuploid) for the species in question.

Normal non-reproductive human cells are diploid, that is, they have two copies of every chromosome. A haploid set in humans consists of 23 chromosomes (including 22 that are the same in males and females, and one that can be an X or Y chromosome depending on sex), so the total number of chromosomes in each normal cell is 46. Each of these 23 different chromosomes is known by a number (except X and Y), has a distinct shape, and can be visually distinguished under a microscope when stained with certain dyes.


This base comes from Greek that literally translates "upon the twins" (i.e., the testes).


The root of this base is the ancient Greek verb gameo, "to marry," and the corresponding noun gamos, "marriage." Greek gametes was a "husband,” and gametis "a wife." It is appropriate, then, that in modern medical terminology gamete has come to mean either of the reproductive cells, egg or sperm, which come together in conception.

Mature gametes are haploid cells: they contain just one of the individual’s two copies of each chromosome. A process of random assortment assures that each individual gamete has a different combination of copies. When the ovum and sperm combine in conception, they thus create a new diploid cell that has a copy of each chromosome from each parent—and is a genetically unique individual.


This base derives from the Greek gonh, meaning “seed.” It is fairly rare in this form—unfortunately, just about as common as gon- meaning “knee,” so you have to use context to tell them apart. It can, however, be easily distinguished from the base for “angle,” which almost always appears as the combining form gonio-.

Gon- can be found in a number of terms in which it refers fairly generally to reproductive cells, the organs that produce them, or the process of begetting. For instance, gonocyte is another term for an immature gamete or “germ cell,” while gonocele is a cystic swelling of the epididymus.

Gonad is a general term in both males and females for an organ that produces the reproductive cells, or gametes. Used as a base, it is much more common than gon- alone.


The basic meaning "a yoke, a joining" leads to both of the particular uses of this base in medical terminology. The zygomatic bone in the face is appropriately named, as it joins the maxilla to the sphenoid, temporal, and frontal bones, completing the outer portion of the eye socket. Usually the base zygomat- is used when this bone is meant, but sometimes the abbreviated form zygo- is used instead.

The other meaning of this base is in the sense "joining, sexual union." A zygote is the diploid cell which results from the union of two haploid gametes. The suffix –zygous is often used when comparing the two copies that an individual possesses of any given portion of DNA. For instance, if the two “paired” chromosomes are identical at that point, the cell or individual is said to be homozygous.

fer-, lat-

These two forms of the irregular Latin verb meaning "to carry" have many derivatives in general English, as well as in medical terminology. Like other verbal bases you have learned (vers-, duc-, etc.), -fer can be combined as a suffix with a variety of Latin prefixes. The lat- form is less common as a suffix, but when it is found, usually appears as -late. The English verbs transfer and translate both derive from this Latin root, although their specific meanings have diverged over time.

Terminologica Anatomica 17: Participles

A participle is an adjective derived from a verb.

In English, we have two types of participles: active and passive. Active participles are formed from the verb (in the form "to _____") plus the ending -ing. When used to modify a noun, an active participle shows that the noun is doing that action. Study the following examples:


to run

to sing

to bleed

Active participle




Used as an adjective

a running joke

a singing telegram

a bleeding heart

Passive participles, on the other hand, describe something that has been done to the noun. The regular form of the passive participle in English ends in -ed, but there are many common verbs which have "strong" or irregular forms.


to twist

to bear

Passive participle



Used as an adjective

a twisted mind

Born in the USA!

Although there are many derivatives of Latin passive participles in medical terminology, we will work with the forms of the active participle. Since a participle is an adjective, in Latin it must agree in gender, case, and number with the noun it modifies. Therefore, unlike the participles in English, Latin participles have inflected endings.

The Latin active participle basically follows the pattern for third-declension adjectives. The one major difference is in the nominative singular, which ends in –ns in all genders.

The vocabulary entry for a participle gives the nominative and genitive singular forms. (Yikes! That means it looks like a noun!) Here are a few examples:

Nom. & Gen. Singular


communicans, communicantis


descendens, descendentis


The reason is for this odd-looking dictionary entry is simply that this the minimum amount of information you need to be able to work with a participle. Unlike other adjectives, participles have the same nominative singular for in all three genders, so there is no need to give a list of nominative forms (such as –us, -a, -um).

The genitive form is given because, like third-declension nouns, it is the genitive that determines the stem of the participle. The stem of all participles ends in nt-, and the vowel preceding the stem is always either “e” or “a.” So whenever you see the pattern “-ens, -entisor “-ans, -antis,” you know you are looking at a participle.

In all forms except the nominative, the third-declension endings are added directly to the participle stem. The combination of the unique participle stem (with either the vowel “e” or “a”) and the inflected endings can be summarized as follows:



Nom. Sing.

-ens (-ans)

-ens (-ans)

Gen. Sing.

-entis (-antis)

-entis (-antis)

Nom. Plural

-entes (-antes)

-entia (-antia)

Gen. Plural

-entium (-antium)

-entium (-antium)

For example, here is the declension of deferens:



Nom. Sing.



Gen. Sing.



Nom. Plural



Gen. Plural



Translating participles

This is the easy part. You can often translate a participle by knowing the bases and prefixes that compose the original Latin verb. For example, deferens, deferentis, can be analyzed as follows:






“down from” or “away from”



to carry, bear


participle stem

turns verb into adjective ending in ing

--, -is, etc.

inflected endings

Putting these elements together yields the definition "carrying down/away from." Vas deferens is the Latin name of the seminal duct, which carries the sperm away from the testis down towards the urethra.

When there is a direct English descendent of the Latin verb, the English translation may simply be the base from the Latin participle, with ing substituted for ens/-ans. For instance, the translation of ascendens is “ascending,” and communicans is “communicating.”

Participles to learn:

abducens, abducentis, leading away

afferens, afferentis, carrying towards

ascendens, ascendentis, ascending

comitans, comitantis, accompanying

communicans, communicantis, communicating

deferens, deferentis, carrying (down away) from

descendens, descendentis, descending

efferens, efferentis, carrying out (from)

recurrens, recurrentis, running back, turning back on itself

perforans, perforantis, perforating, making/running through a hole (used of muscles or nerves which run through other structures)

Lesson Eighteen Vocabulary




amnion; amniotic fluid


primitive, ancestral


cervix of the uterus [L. cervix uteri]




embryo; (in humans, the unborn offspring up to 8 weeks of development)


the vulva


fetus; (in humans, the unborn offspring from 8 weeks of development until birth)


to bear, carry, be pregnant


to be pregnant


woman, female



men-, menstru-

menses, menstrual bleeding; the monthly female reproductive cycle (literally, L. mens, "month").




form, shape, structure



nasc-, nat-

to be born

NEO- (always as combining form)



umbilicus, navel; umbilical cord


egg, ovum; sometimes ovary





ovi-, ovo-



to release an egg, ovulate

par-, part-

to bear, give birth (to)

PED- (British spelling PAED-)



perineum (the region between the external genitalia and the anus) [L. perineum, -i]




fallopian tube; oviduct


abnormal development


childbirth, labor


uterus [L. uterus, -i]


  1. the vagina
  2. any "sheath" structure [L. vagina, -ae ="sheath"]


vulva, female external genitalia [L. vulva, -ae]

Ordinal Number Base


Corresponding Latin Adjective



primus, -a, -um


second; following

secundus, -a, -um



tertius, -a, -um



quartus, -a, -um



quintus, -a, -um





beginning of


conjoined twin


a woman who has given birth

with a Latin prefix indicating number of live births; or, alone with a number, as "para 3"


a woman who has been pregnant

with a Latin prefix indicating number of pregnancies



Lesson Eighteen Tutorial

The Female Reproductive System

The female reproductive system, like the male, consists of internal organs and the external genitalia. Vulva (vulv-, episi-) is a collective term for the external genitalia, including the labia majora, labia minora, (literally "greater" and "lesser lips"), clitoris, perineum (perine-), and vulvovagina glands. In yet another metaphor drawn from the Roman house, the entrance to the vagina is known as the vestibule.

The vagina (vagin-, colp-) itself is a muscular tube that extends for several inches posterosuperiorly and terminates in the fornix, or arch-shaped structure, into which the cervix (cervic-) of the uterus (uter-, hyster-, metr-) protrudes slightly. The opening of the cervix into the vagina is known as the external uterine os (L. os, oris, "mouth, opening"), and the point at which it opens into the wider portion of the uterus is the internal os. The uterus is a slightly pear-shaped, small (only about 3 inches total length in a non-pregnant woman), hollow organ that lies deep in the pelvis between the bladder and rectum. The wider portion of the uterus is called the corpus.

On either side of the uterus are the twin ovaries (ovari-), which from before her birth contain all the eggs (oo-, ov-, ovi-) that a woman will ever produce. In each reproductive cycle, a primitive egg in one of the ovaries, called an oocyte, develops into a mature ovum and is released from the surface of the ovary. The oviducts (also known as the uterine or Fallopian tubes) are narrow tubes which originate from either side of the uterus and end in a broad flare near the surface of each ovary. This distinctive shape accounts for the Greek name salpinx (salping-), which literally means "trumpet." This flared portion allows the tube to "capture" the newly released egg and sweep it towards the uterine cavity using thousands of tiny cilia. This transport is slow, however, and the ovum remains in the oviduct during the approximately 24-hour period in which it is receptive to fertilization by sperm. If conception is to take place, it happens here, and the embryo (embry-) continues its journey towards the uterus, where it will implant about 3 days after fertilization. Implantation in the lining of the oviduct results in an ectopic pregnancy, a very serious medical situation because it is often not discovered until the growing embryo ruptures the tube.

The endometrium, or inner uterine lining, is a hormonally responsive tissue that undergoes marked changes in the course of the menstrual cycle. At the time of ovulation (ovul-), the endometrium is maximally thickened and filled with blood vessels. If an embryo does not implant, the surface layers of the endometrium break down and are shed as the menses (the process is called menstruation) (men-, menstru-). This base is borrowed from the Latin word for "month," because in an average woman the cycle repeats about every 28 days.

Zero-suffix terms

You have already seen a number of terms composed of a prefix or base plus the classical name of a body part. In these terms, no suffix is used except the usual nominative inflected ending of the body-part noun in its language of origin (usually Greek). Examples that should already be familiar include hydrothorax, dextrocardia, exophthalmos, macroblepharon, etc. Such terms often refer to a condition affecting the anatomical structure that is named, for example, "(a condition of) fluid in the chest cavity." This lesson provides several more bases and corresponding nouns which form terms in the same manner, listed in the table below:


Name/Suffix Form




amniotic sac















fallopian tube

Vocabulary Notes


This base derives from the Latin noun cervix, which has the general meaning "neck." It is used for two very different part of the human anatomy: the cervical region of the spine, and the "neck," or narrow outlet, of the uterus. While the base can refer to either of these two areas, the noun cervix, whether in Latin or English terms, is used only for the latter (the full Latin term is cervix uteri). Confusion is most likely to arise in the use of the adjective cervical, which provides no context in itself to help you decide which structure is meant. The meaning must be inferred from the broader context in which this term is used.


This form of the suffix, which reflects the original Greek ending, is used to form the adjectives meaning "pertaining to an embryo." The adjectives embryonic and embryonal both exist, although the former is the most common.

embryo- and fet-

These bases refer to different stages in human development, somewhat arbitrarily designated. The diploid cell that results from the union of egg and sperm is termed a zygote. Thereafter, the developing individual is called an embryo until approximately the eighth week of development. (Due to the convention which dates pregnancy from the end of the last menstrual period, this will be the tenth week of pregnancy for most women). The transition marks the point at which all of the systems which will be needed for life outside the womb are present, albeit in a rudimentary form, and from this time until birth the term fetus is appropriate. The general term conceptus can be used of any stage and includes all the tissues that are products of conception, such as the embryonic membranes and placenta.


You may be familiar with this base from such common English words as hysterical and hysterics, but there's nothing "convulsively funny" about the medical history which gave rise to these terms. In the works of the ancient Greek medical writers, hysteria was considered to be a condition of of a choking sensation, convulsions, and speechlessness caused by a displacement or "wandering" of the womb. Treatment consisted of persuading this organ, which was conceived of as like an "animal" with a life of its own, to return to its normal position and cease from impinging on the organs of respiration. This might be accomplished by the use of spells, charms, or by applying noxious or pleasant odors to the appropriate parts of the body. Well into the nineteenth century, even after the science of anatomy had shown that the uterus is well-rooted in place by its supportive ligaments, the term persisted as a somewhat pejorative description of emotional upset in women, including possibly an "attack of nerves" or fainting spell.


Distinguish the Greek zero-suffix form -metra from the compound -metrium (metr- + -ium), which indicates "a layer or membrane" of the uterus.


Can mean "form" or "shape" in a general sense, but often refers specifically to the overall body plan or structure of an organism. This is especially true in the context of embryology. For instance, the term morphogenesis refers to the process by which cells of the early embryo differentiate and establish the basic structure of the organs and parts of the body.


With very rare exceptions, this base almost always occurs in its combining form (i.e., together with the combining vowel "-o-.")


The British spelling paed- retains the diphthong from the original Greek pais, paidos, meaning "child." It thus has the great advantage of distinguishing this base from another ped-, the base derived from the Latin pes, pedis which means "foot." Although the latter base does not appear on your vocabulary list for this course (the Latin noun does), you should be aware of the potential for confusion.


This base derives from an original Greek word perinaion, used by Galen and other medical writers to refer to the region between the scrotum and anus. (In modern usage it denotes the same basic region in either male or female anatomy). It thus bears no relation etymologically to the Latin base an- ("anus"), nor should you analyze the combining form perineo- as if it were a compound of the prefix peri- and base neo-. The ending of the Latin form of the noun, perineum, is the equivalent of the Greek neuter ending -on in the original term.

Ordinal Numbers

Cardinal numbers are those you use for counting: one, two, three, etc. Ordinal numbers, as the name implies, are those that refer to numerical order (L. ordo, ordinis): first, second, third, etc. Each of the Latin ordinal-number bases has a corresponding 1/2nd declension adjective. There are also English adjectives ending in -ary derived from some of these bases. You may notice that some of the Latin bases for ordinals and cardinals seem unrelated, such as bi- meaning "two" but secund- meaning "second." The Latin adjective secundus derived originally from a verb meaning "to follow." The English form secondary retains a hint of this meaning. For instance, when applied to symptoms or diseases, secondary means that the problem in question is subsequent to some other cause, the primary disease.

The suffixes -gravida and -para

These suffixes create feminine nouns that refer to a woman who has been pregnant or given birth. A Latin base is added which indicates the number of times for each occurrence. The base used with -gravida is inclusive of the current pregnancy, so a woman who is pregnant for the first time is a primigravida. -para means "having borne" in Latin, but in technical obstetrical usage it refers to the number of times a woman has carried a pregnancy past 20 weeks, regardless of number of fetuses or even whether there was a live delivery.

These suffixes can also be used as stand-alone terms, followed by a subscript or Roman numeral indicating the number of pregnancies. This is read as "gravida two," "para three," etc. This information is an important part of every woman's medical record, and in clinical practice you are likely to see or hear shorthand notation such as "G2 P1." This could indicate, for instance, a woman who has delivered one infant (or twins) and is now in her second pregnancy, or, a woman who is not currently pregnant, but has had one early abortion and carried one pregnancy to term--or any number of other combinations.

Terminiologica Anatomica 18: Names of Muscles

This is one area in which the hard work of learning the Latin declensions can really pay off! The official names of most of the muscles in the human body are pure Latin. These names carry meaning which can be a great help in learning human anatomy if the Latin words are understood, not just memorized.

A muscle is usually named for one of three things:

  1. Location: the structures it lies near or attaches to
  2. Shape (often in combination with #1)
  3. Action: what it does, the structure it moves

A complete Latin muscle name always begins with the noun musculus followed by either A) a modifying adjective, or B) a second noun in the nominative.

Muscle Names Using Adjectives

If an adjective is used, the form must be masculine nominative singular. Adjectives usually describe the shape or location of the muscle. For example:

musculus longus capitis

the long muscle of the head

musculus transversus abdominis

the transverse (i.e. horizontal, crosswise) muscle of the abdomen

When a general adjective is used (such as "long" or "transverse"), it is often followed by a noun in the genitive that further specifies location (capitis, "of the head;" abdominis, "of the abdomen"). Alternatively, the name may be a Neo-Latin adjective which describes structures that the muscle is attached or related to:

musculus brachioradialis

muscle related to the upper arm (brachium) and radius

musculus pubovesicalis

muscle related to the os pubis and the bladder

Your knowledge of Latin bases can help you to understand the meaning of these specially coined adjectives. In such cases, the bases in the adjective specify location, so a genitive noun is rarely necessary.

Muscle Names Using Nouns

The second kind of muscle name uses another noun in the nominative case. This is called apposition (see Lesson 11 for more details). Nouns which are used in muscle names tell what the action of the muscle is. They usually end in –or, which you will recognize as a Latin suffix that means "something that causes or does (an action)."

Because any part of a term which is "always" present can easily be implied if it is left out, in actual usage musculus is frequently dropped from the beginning of muscle names. The nouns typically used to name muscles thus take on greater specificity in meaning: not just "something which (does)," but "a muscle which…." You have already learned two such nouns: flexor, "a muscle which bends (or flexes)," and extensor, "a muscle which straightens (extends)." The vocabulary for this lesson includes several more such names, most of which you can analyze from bases you have already learned. For example, ab-duct-or is literally "something (i.e., a muscle) which leads away," and tens-or is "something which stretches or makes tight."

In this kind of term, the noun is often followed by a genitive noun specifying the structure on which the muscle acts. For example,

flexor digitorum brevis

the short muscle that bends the toes*

tensor fasciae latae

a muscle that stretches the broad fascia

If a further adjective in the nominative is added, it typically comes after the genitive noun, as in the first example, where brevis modifies flexor. These adjectives usually add greater specificity: the "short" flexor of the toes is distinguished from the "long" flexor (flexor digitorum longus), and so forth. Other common adjectives are "deep" vs. "superficial" and the comparatives "anterior," "posterior," etc. (which will be discussed further in the next lesson).

Moving from Latin to "English"

The "English" name of many muscles are not really "English" at all, but are formed by simply using the Latin name with muscle at the end of the term instead of musculus in front. This applies equally to names which use nouns after musculus and those which use adjectives. The exact form of the Latin name is kept: gluteus maximus muscle, biceps brachii muscle, palatoglossus muscle, etc. Just as in Latin, the word muscle is often left off, being easily understood if the hearer has enough knowledge of anatomy to recognize the name as belonging to a muscle.

This works well because most muscle names are unique. They are either not shared by other structures, such as arteries and nerves, or the names of other structures have been Anglicized, so that when a Latin name is used, it must refer to the muscle. The convenience of this approach may be one reason that we still use the Latin names: it is easy to distinguish the tibialis anterior muscle from the anterior tibial artery or nerve.

Even when muscle names have been Anglicized, the names still draw directly from the Latin source. For example, the musculi interossei palmares are the "palmar interosseous muscles" (probably Anglicized to avoid having to use the Latin plural), and musculus obliquus externus abdominis becomes the external oblique muscle (with "of the abdomen" left off because there is no other pair of internal and external oblique muscles anywhere else in the body).

While you will encounter many other interesting Latin words in muscle names, the vocabulary words selected for this lesson are those which should prove most useful to you, either because they are very common or because it is useful to know the meaning of their English derivatives (oblique, transverse, quadrate) as well as their form in Latin.


Nouns for muscle names

(All of the following are masculine 3rd-declension nouns, following the same pattern as flexor, flexoris—the nominative form is the same as the stem. You will rarely encounter these nouns in anything but the nominative singular, but if you should need to use another case, add the 3rd-declension endings directly to the stem ending in –r.)

abductor, muscle that abducts (draws laterally, away from the midline of the body or of a structure)

adductor muscle that adducts (moves medially, towards the midline)

levator muscle that lifts

sphincter muscle that draws a circular opening closed

tensor muscle that stretches or makes tight

Other Nouns

*digitus, -i, finger or toe (depending on context)

hallux, hallucis, m. the big toe

pollex, pollicis, m. the thumb


rectus, -a, -um, straight

obliquus, -a, -um, diagonal, on a slant

quadratus, -a, -um, square-shaped, four-sided

transversus, -a, -um, situated crosswise, horizontal

-ceps (ending used to form muscle names) with a number prefix, having a certain number of heads

Lesson Nineteen Vocabulary




starch, polysaccharide

calc-, calci-







chemical; chemistry, molecular structure and interactions



  1. (n.) genetically identical progeny of a single parent cell;
  2. (v.) to produce such progeny




1) ring, circle, cycle

2) ciliary body of the eye (see Lesson 9)


round body, ball




glucose; sweetness; (occasionally as abbreviation) glycogen


immunity; the immune system, defense against infection; antibodies

kal-, kali-




mut-, muta-, mutat-

to change




tumor; bulk, volume


peptide (chain of two or more amino acids); peptide bond (–CO-NH- bond)


drugs, medicine


sugar, saccharide

scrip(t)-, scrib-

to write


  1. the (human) body;
  2. any "body" or self-contained mass
  3. (abbreviation for) chromosome




fermentation; enzyme

Number Prefixes

















molecule composed of repeating units

used with prefixes such as mono-, di-, poly-, etc. to indicate the number of units.



usually with a descriptive prefix, indicates a particular portion or segment of something.


something which bears or carries

sometimes used of a chemical group which determines a characteristic indicated by base


a body or mass

often used to name any small entitry or self-contained unit visible under a microscope, such as chromosome, ribosome, etc.


the number of copies of a particular chromosome in a cell

contrast with -ploidy, which indicates the number of sets of chromosomes in a cell

-valence, -valency

(adj. valent)

literally, "strength," technically, chemical combining power

with prefix such as mono-, di-, etc., describes number of electrons available for forming chemical bonds

Chemical Suffix



an enzyme


an alcohol, -OH group


carbohydrate, sugar

-in, -ine

a chemical substance, often a hormone or protein

Lesson Nineteen Tutorial: A Quick Tour of Molecular Biology

This rather long tutorial provides a basic overview of several areas of molecular biology which are described by vocabulary from this lesson, as well as notes on the specific use of vocabulary elements. Those with a strong science background will find that much of this material is already familiar, and indeed, the treatment here is vastly simplified compared to what is studied in actual biology classes. However, since this class is intended to be accessible to all, regardless of science background, these notes are provided as a general reference. Everyone should read at least the sections on "Polymers," "Metabolism," and "Cancer Terminology," which are the most terminology-focused.


Enzymes are molecules which facilitate the chemical reactions of other molecules, called the substrate(s), while remaining unchanged themselves. This process is called catalysis (from cata- + -lysis; in Greek the combination means "dissolution.") Some enzymes break bonds between molecules, some form bonds, and some do both, taking a chemical group from one molecule or position and moving it to another. The names of enzymes use the suffix –ase. The base generally follows one of two patterns: either it indicates the substrate on which the enzyme acts, or it indicates the action which the enzyme performs.


Many of the most important biological molecules are polymers, large molecules which are composed of repeated subunits. Some polymers are homogeneous, as in glycogen, which is composed of identical molecules of the sugar glucose. Many other important biopolymers are composed of molecules which have the same general chemical structure, but vary in their particular characteristics. For example, proteins, or polypeptides, are composed of units called amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids commonly found in proteins, and it is the particular sequence of amino acids that makes each protein unique and determines its biological function.

Nucleic acids (see below), lipids, and carbohydrates can all be polymers. For shorter polymers, Greek number prefixes are used to indicate how many subunits a particular molecule contains. A disaccharide is a carbohydrate composed of two simple sugars linked together; a tripeptide is a chain of three amino acids, etc. Larger molecules simply use the prefix poly-.


Metabolism is a general term for the overall processes of breakdown and synthesis of molecules in the body. It comes from the ancient Greek word metabole, meaning "change, a changing." This word is a compound of the prefix meta-, which you should recognize, and a verbal base bol-, the basic meaning of which is "to throw." By analogy, two other Greek words using different prefixes have been borrowed to name the two branches of metabolism: anabolism ("a raising up," the synthesis of more complex molecules from simpler ones) and catabolism ("a breaking down," the reverse process). These compounds also were used in ancient Greek, but with rather different meanings! Anabole was "something thrown up, a mound of earth" or "something thrown around, a cloak, " while katabole was "a foundation," "a paying down," or "a periodic attack of illness"!

Structure & Replication of DNA

The repository of genetic information is a polymer called DNA, for deoxyribonucleic acid. The units of the polymer are called nucleotides, or bases. There are four unique bases in DNA, each abbreviated by a letter: A, G, C, and T.

A molecule of DNA consists of two individual chains of nucleotides, or strands, which coil around one another in a helical shape. Each base on one strand is "paired" with a different base on the opposite strand: A pairs with T, and G pairs with C. The strong interactions between each pair of bases hold the two strands together and give the molecule its characteristic shape.

The genetic information is contained on each strand of the DNA. For instance, if one strand bears the sequence AGT, the opposite strand will bear the complementary sequence TCA. The mechanism of DNA replication is semiconservative. As the DNA is replicated, the strands unwind from one another, and each strand acts as a template for the formation of a new complementary strand. An enzyme called DNA polymerase recruits the appropriate free nucleotide to bond with each base in the template strand (A for a T, G for a C, etc.) and moves along the strand, catalyzing the reaction which adds each nucleotide in turn to the end of the growing chain. Other enzymes assist by unwinding the strands of the original DNA, getting the initial new chain started, filling in gaps, etc. After replication, each of the two new molecules of DNA contains one old and one new strand. The strand with the sequence AGT will direct the formation of a new strand with the complementary sequence TCA, and vice versa.

The "Central Dogma"

Replicating the DNA creates more copies of the genetic information, but the information itself is useless unless it can be "read" and acted upon. The process by which this is carried out in biological systems is known as the "Central Dogma" of modern biology. It is a two-step process which is summarized as:

DNA (1)à RNA (2)à proteins

The metaphor of written language can help us understand the process by which the information in the DNA is retrieved and used. In fact, this metaphor gives rise to some of the technical terms which are used to describe the process.

Think of a DNA sequence as a set of instructions for assembling a beaded necklace. There are 20 types of beads (= amino acids), and the instructions indicate the order in which they should be strung together. Each group of three letters (= bases) is a "word" which specifies a particular type of bead. However, there is a complication! The person who is assembling the necklace only understands the Greek alphabet (= RNA)! Before the assembly can be carried out, the instructions must be transliterated, or transcribed, with an appropriate Greek letter substituted for each English letter. This is equivalent to the first step of protein production, transcription ("writing across"). The DNA sequence is first converted to a chain of ribonucleic acid, or RNA. The units of RNA are similar, but not identical, to the bases of DNA, in roughly the way that the Greek t is similar to T.

The step in which the RNA guides the production of protein is called translation. Translation implies more than just substitution of letters: to translate a message into a another language, one must actually understand the meaning of each word. In this analogy, each "word" (group of three bases) specifies a particular amino acid to be added to the string. Small units called ribosomes are the "factory assembly line workers" which carry out the translation step. They attach to each strand of RNA, read the instructions contained there, and assemble the protein accordingly.


Antibodies, or immunoglobulins, are proteins which recognize the shapes of and attach themselves to certain molecules, which signals the body to treat those molecules or the cells on which they appear as "foreign invaders." The body has the ability to produce vast numbers of unique antibodies, each produced by an immune cell with a slightly different set of genetic information. Once a particular molecule, or antigen, has stimulated the immune system, a cell line is maintained which produces antibodies to that substance. If the substance is encountered again in the future, the antibodies allow an immediate and increased immune response, destroying the offending invader. This delicately balanced system can be a two-edged sword. It provides immunity, for instance against infectious disease, and is the basis of the extremely effective technique of vaccination. On the other hand, allergies result when the body treats a harmless and ordinary substance, such as pollen, as an antigen. Perhaps even more devastating are the autoimmune diseases, in which the body develops an immune response to its own tissues. The management and treatment of these diseases is very difficult, since suppressing the immune system makes the patient extremely susceptible to infectious microorganisms.

Cancer Terminology

With a new prefix from this lesson, you can now analyze the term neoplasm—literally "new formation." A neoplasm is any growth which proceeds out of pace with the surrounding tissues and does not stop growing when the stimulus to growth is removed. Technically the tumor is a neoplasm and the process which gives rise to it is neoplasia, but the latter is often used as a synonym for the former. The term covers a broad spectrum of abnormal growths. On one extreme are growths in which the cells resemble normal, mature cells in almost every way, except that they are reproducing when they should not be. These benign tumors remain in the place where they originated, do not cross limiting membranes or otherwise spread, and often appear as circumscribed (circum-, "around" + scrib, "to write") masses with smooth borders or even their own capsule. They can, however, be dangerous, especially if through their sheer bulk they impinge on other structures and compromise essential bodily functions. Malignant cells, on the other hand, demonstrate bizzare changes, often losing differentiation and becoming difficult to identify as any one particular tissue.

The spectrum of such changes is described by a set of words based on the suffix plasia. A mild degree of pre-cancerous change in tissues is referred to as dysplasia, or "abnormal formation." More severe transformation, such as that seen in malignant tumors which regress into pre-differentiated states, is called anaplasia, or "backward formation." Both should be distinguished from metaplasia, which is the substitution of one type of tissue for another; for example, the transformation of the mucosa of the stomach into a glandular mucosa which resembles that of the intestines.

Malignant tumors invade the surrounding tissue and may spread through the blood and take up residence in other tissues, a process called metastasis (meta-, "change," + -stasis, "standing, position"). Cancer, the common name for a malignant neoplasm, is a borrowing of the Latin word for "crab." The Greek equivalent is karkinos, which gives rise to the base carcin-. The name may have been suggested by the appearance of these tumors, with ragged edges invading the surrounding tissue and a radiating blood supply. When carcinoma is used as a suffix, it refers to a cancer originating in particular types of tissue (-sarcoma used for other types), but as the base carcin- it can refer to all kinds of malignancies.

Tumor was originally a much more general term, being the Latin for any state of swelling. However, this meaning has largely disappeared until it now refers specifically to neoplastic growth. The Greek base onc- also meant "swelling, increase in volume," a meaning still preserved in the term oncotic pressure, and from that came to mean "tumor." It now generally means "cancer, malignancy," and ironically is the preferred base for terms describing the microscopic, molecular-level study of cancer. A commonly heard example is oncogene, for a DNA sequence which has the potential to give rise to cancer.

Terminologica Anatomica 19: Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

This lesson discusses adjectives that describe something by comparing it to something else.

Positive, Comparative, and Superlative Degree

All adjectives have a quality called "degree":

  • The positive degree of an adjective is the "plain, ordinary" form of the adjective. Most of the words you think of when you think "adjective" are in this category. Using an adjective in the positive degree asserts that the thing you’re talking about has the quality described by the adjective. Examples of adjectives in the positive degree are: red, short, quick, ugly, superficial, etc. Note that the word "positive" here has nothing to do with the actual meaning of the adjective, in the sense of having positive or negative connotations. Bad is an adjective in the "positive" degree.
  • The comparative degree of an adjective does just what it sounds like: compares the thing you’re talking about to something else, with respect to the quality described by the adjective. English adjectives ending in "-er" are comparatives (deeper, longer, smaller, faster, etc.). English also has a second way of forming comparatives: for certain adjectives, instead of adding the "-er" ending, we use the positive degree together with "more": more superficial, more abundant, more generous, etc. Knowing which adjectives are which is easy for native speakers but a challenge for those trying to learn English as a second language!
  • The superlative degree asserts that the thing you’re talking about has the quality described by the adjective to a VERY GREAT, or GREATEST POSSIBLE extent. In English these are adjectives ending in "-est," or beginning with "most." Examples include brightest, longest, most important, most beautiful, ugliest, etc.

In English, there are also certain sets of adjectives that do not follow the usual pattern in forming comparatives and superlatives. These include groups such as "good, better, best," "few, less, least" and "many, more, most." Similarly, there are certain Latin adjectives, most importantly, the words for "great/big" and "small," which have irregular comparative and superlatives. You can’t predict these comparative and superlative forms from the positive form; they have to be learned individually as vocabulary words.

Latin Comparatives

Once you get these concepts down, the actual forms of the Latin comparatives and superlatives are not difficult. Comparatives are basically third-declension adjectives, but they have a different pattern in the nominative singular. The nominative masculine/feminine form ends in -ior and functions as the stem to which the endings are added in all other cases. The neuter nominative form, however, ends in -ius instead of -ior. Here is the declension of the comparative adjective anterior, "further towards the front."



Nom. sing.



Gen. sing.



Nom. pl.



Gen. pl.



Anterior, posterior, superior, and inferior are unusual comparatives in that they have no positive degree form. They are "comparative" mostly in the sense that they form pairs of opposites. The anterior part of a structure is "anterior" by virtue of being closer to the front than the posterior part, and vice versa. Other common comparatives are the irregular forms major (positive degree, "magnus") and minor ("smaller," the positive degree is parvus, -a, -um, meaning "small," which is not part of the vocabulary for this course).

It is also possible to form a comparative from the stem of any adjective simply by adding the element -ior (-ius in the neuter nominative singular). For example: brevis, "short," à brevior (n. brevius), "shorter." Profundus, "deep," à profundior, etc. However, these forms are not very common.

Latin Superlatives

To form the superlative, simply add the endings "-issimus, -a, -um" (for masculine, feminine, neuter respectively) to the stem of the adjective and then decline exactly like all the other first/second declension adjectives you have learned. Irregular superlatives may not have the "-issi-" element, but they too are 1/2nd declension adjectives (for instance, maximus, -a, -um, "greatest")/


Because the pattern of endings is what determines the declension of a word, adding a comparative or superlative ending to a stem may result in an adjective of a different declension from the positive degree. Comparatives are 3rd declension adjectives, regardless of whether the initial adjective was 1/2nd or 3rd declension. Similarly, superlatives are always 1/2nd declension.

Examples: (two regular and one irregular)




brevis, -e

brevior, brevius

brevissimus, -a, -um

longus, -a, -um

longior, longius

longissimus, -a, -um

magnus, -a, -um

major, maius

maximus, -a, -um


Positive Adjectives

latus, -a, -um, wide, broad

magnus, -a, -um, great, large

Comparative Adjectives

anterior, anterius, further toward the front

inferior, inferius, lower

posterior, posterius, further towards the back

superior, superius, higher

major, maius, greater, larger

minor, minus, lesser, smaller

Superlative Adjectives

maximus, -a, -um, greatest, largest

minimus, -a, -um, least, smallest


pars, partis, f., part



The usage of this suffix is a little tricky. Although it means "and," it’s not a complete word in itself; it can never stand alone in a sentence. Instead, it is added to the END of a word, in order to connect that word with the word BEFORE it. So a phrase such as nasus labiaque would translate "the nose AND the lips." Pedes manusque: "the feet AND the hands." Got that?

Lesson Twenty Vocabulary




adrenal (or suprarenal) gland; the hormones it produces




to secrete




force, energy, power


to pour


milk; (in chemical terms) galactose


sweat, sweating


pituitary gland, hypophysis


horn, horny


milk, lactation


breast, mammary gland [L. mamma, -ae]


breast, mammary gland


medulla, any marrow-like structure, the center of a part [L. medulla, -ae]


fingernail or toenail


thick, thickened


hair; pilus (a hair-like bacterial structure) [L. pilus, -i]


sebum, sebaceous gland [L. sebum, -i]


to cut




heat; temperature


thyroid gland or hormone




to turn (towards)


fingernail or toenail [L. unguis, unguis, m.]




-able, -ible

capable of being

with a verbal base indicating the action that is possible


a promoter or stimulant of

especially used of secretions



forms adjectives that describe various modes of secretion


the science of motion under the influence of forces


turning towards, having an affinity for, stimulating, acting on

Lesson 20 Tutorial: The Endocrine System and Skin

The Endocrine System

Hormones are small "messenger" molecules which induce important physiological effects in cells equipped with the appropriate receptors. There are three basic types of human hormones: amines, proteins or peptides, and steroid hormones. The latter are unique in that they can cross cellular membranes freely, and thus interact with intracellular rather than membrane-bound receptors. The secretion of hormones into the bloodstream, where they can have effects on multiple tissues at a long distance from the secreting organ, is known as endocrine secretion. The following are some of the important endocrine organs of the body and their major products:

  • The adrenal glands are small glands located in the retroperitoneal cavity, just above each kidney. They consist of two discrete parts, which have different secretions.
  • The inner layer, or medulla, primarily produces epinephrine, the neurohormone released in times of stress which initiates the so-called "fight or flight" reaction. Another name for this hormone in lay language is adrenaline, which, you may notice, is just a direct translation of the Greek name with a Latin prefix and base.
  • The outer layer of the adrenals is called the cortex. While this is a general term for the outer layer (literally, "bark,") of any structure, the adrenal cortex is probably the most important structure so named, except the cerebral cortex

of the brain. The adrenal cortex produces many steroid hormones, some of which bear its name, such as the glucocorticoids cortisol and corticosterone. The products of the adrenal cortex have a wide variety of functions. The glucocorticoids have important widespread effects on protein and carbohydrate metabolism and are critical for life. Aldosterone, a mineralcorticoid, acts on the kidneys to regulate sodium/potassium balance and total extracellular fluid volume. The adrenals also secrete precursors to the sex steroids, androgens (such as testosterone) and estrogens.

  • The endocrine pancreas refers to the islet cells of the pancrease, which secrete insulin and glucagon direcltly into the bloodsteam. (By contrast, the secretions of the exocrine part of the pancreas are released via ducts directly into the lumen of the intestine.) These hormones have opposing actions and are responsible for cellular uptake or release of glucose depending on the body's fasting or fed state. Dysfunction of insulin production, whether from autoimmune or other causes, leads to diabetes, a disease marked by chronic hyperglycemia and its many unpleasant consequences.
  • The great "master gland" of the endocrine system is the pituitary gland, or hypophysis, which is located just below the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus.
  • The posterior pituitary (neurohypophysis) consists of glial cells and axons extending from neuron cell bodies in the hypothalamus. The posterior pituitary axon terminals store hormones produced by the hypothalamic cells and released them directly into the bloodstream. The hormones produced are oxytocin and antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which acts on kidney tubules to promote reabsorption of water.
  • The anterior pituitary is composed of glandular tissue, and is thus called the adenohypophysis. Many of its hormone products are regulators of other endocrine glands. For instance, ACTH, or adrenocorticotropic hormone, stimulates the production of hormones from the adrenal cortex, and TSH, thyroid stimulating hormone, governs the thyroid. The pituitary also produces growth hormone, also called somatotropin because it promotes overall growth of the body, and gonadotropins such as luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicular-stimulating hormone (FSH). The latter are best known for their role in the female ovulatory cycle, but their action on the testes is also necessary for spermatogenesis.
  • The thyroid gland is located in the anterior neck. It can be palpated only by a skilled examiner, except when enlarged, when it can be easily seen as the condition goiter. Its product, thyroid hormone, increases the body's overall metabolic rate, with concomitant effects such as increase in cardiac output, respiration, heat production, digestive rate, and appetite.
  • The parathyroid glands are four tiny glands just posterior to the thyroid. They produce parathyroid hormone, which acts on the bones and kidney to increase serum calcium and decrease phosphate.

The Skin

If you were asked to name some major organs of the human body, "skin" would probably not be the first to come to mind. This under-appreciated organ makes up around 16% of an adult's body weight and performs a number of critical functions. It is first of all an immune organ: the body's first line of defense against pathologic microorganisms and toxic substances. Whenever the barrier of the skin is breached, the potential for infection exists. In addition to keeping invaders out, the skin also forms a barrier which keeps the body's water content in. Without it, dehydration and death would quickly result. The skin is also a sensory organ, full of nerve endings that transmit information about pressure, temperature, and pain. Finally, through the action of the sweat glands, it plays an important role in the regulation of body temperature.

The skin is made up of two major layers, the dermis, a layer of connective tissue, and the epidermis, a stratified squamous epithelium (see vocab note below) with five histologically distinct layers. In the stratum basale, or innermost layer, the cells are constantly dividing, giving rise to new epidermal cells. The cells age as they move upward through the layers, eventually becoming flattened and enucleated, and are shed from the outer surface of the body (at a rate of about 1.5 pounds of skin per year!) The epidermis also contains lymphoctyes, macrophages, and melanocytes (cells which store the pigmented granules melanin, the amount of which determines skin color).

Epidermal cells produce keratin (Gk. keras, "horn,"), a type of protein found in horn, hair, nails, feathers, scales, and the like. The keratin content increases as the cells reach the outer layer, which is called the stratum corneum ("corn-" is Latin for "horn," as in cornucopia, a "horn of plenty"). Unfortunately, the same Latin and Greek adjectives were used to name the tough "horny" layer, or tunica cornea, of the eye, so it can be a challenge to distinguish which system is meant when you encounter these bases in medical terms.

Embedded in the dermis and hypodermis (a layer of subcutaneous connective tissue, not considered part of the skin) are a number of types of glands. The sebaceous glands of the dermis secrete and oily fluid known as sebum through ducts which open into the hair follicles. Cells lining these ducts fill with fat droplets, then eventually burst, releasing their contents into the duct mixed with the remnants of their cellular components. This is known as holocrine secretion, because the entire cell is incorporated into the secreted material.

The dermis also contains sweat glands, which are of two types: eccrine and apocrine. The former are found throughout the body, while the latter are concentrated in areas such as the axilla, areola, and anus. The eccrine glands (ex- + -crine) contain cells which release secretory granules into the lumen of simple tubular ducts, which open onto the surface of the skin. The apocrine glands are much larger and open into hair follicles. In apocrine secretion, the apical part of the cell is shed as part of the secretion, producing a more viscous solution.

Vocabulary Notes

chron- An important adjective formed from this base is chronic, which refers to a disease that is long-lasting, slowly progressive, or relapsing and remitting in nature. The opposite adjective is acute (literally, "sharp,"), for a condition which is new, rapid in onset, and often requires a time-critical response.

medull- This base derives from the Latin medius, "middle," and can refer to any soft, marrow-like part, especially in the center of the structure. Medull- can be a synonym for almost anything that the Greek myel- refers to, although the latter is a more common and more specific designation for the bone marrow or spinal cord. It is also used to name several anatomical structures that myel- is not used for. The kidneys and adrenal glands both have a central portion named the medulla. Usually this will be prefaced with the appropriate adjective, such as renal or adrenal. Medulla oblongata is the full Latin name for a portion of the brainstem (myelencephalon in Greek, which means basically the same thing), and the base medull- used alone often refers to this structure.

pachy- Pachymeninx is another term for the dura mater, the tough outer layer of the covering of the brain.

thel- Although the original meaning of this base is "nipple," (and it still has this meaning in a few terms, such as thelarche and thelorrhagia), it is much more common in modern medicine as part of the compound epithel-. The term epithelium was originally coined to describe the thin skin over the nipple, but later came to have a much broader meaning. Epithelium is one of the four major types of body tissue (along with connective tissue, muscle, and nerve). An epithelium consists of cells which adhere tightly to one another, forming a continuous thin layer or sheet. All the surfaces of the body, inner and outer, are lined with epithelium. Epithelia can be further classified, often by the shape of the cells, as in "colmunar," "squamous," etc.

thyr- From the Greek word for "shield," describing the shape of the gland. Thyr-oid means "resembling a shield." Thyroid is thus both an adjective and a noun (when short for thyroid gland). It is used in medical terminology as an adjective meaning "pertaining to the thyroid gland," for example in thyroid hormone. Adjectives from other suffixes, such as -ic, do not exist.

trop- This base literally means "turning." It is seen rarely as a base, but gives rise to a number of suffixes each with slightly different meanings. In this course, we will focus on the suffix -tropic, an adjective which usually describes the action of a molecule on some target tissue. A related compound is -tropin, used for naming such a molecule. Other suffixes you should notice are -tropia, for an abnormal deviation of the eyeball (exotropia, anisometropia), and -tropism, for the movement of living organisms towards or away from some stimulus (chemotropism, thermotropism, etc.)

Terminologica Anatomica 20: From Greek to Latin, and Useful Abbreviations

Although much of the modern medical vocabulary originated as Greek, historically Latin has been the bridge by which many Greek terms arrived into modern medical English. Therefore, much of our focus in this course has been on understanding some rudimentary aspects of the Latin language, such as gender and noun-adjective agreement. In order not to confuse you, we have so far tried to draw a sharp distinction between "English" and "Latin" medical terms. However, the lines are not always so clear. This lesson will present some of the original Greek endings and their common Latin equivalents, and will introduce terms that blend medical "English" terms, often using Greek suffixes, with Latin adjectives.

Latin Equivalents to Common Greek Endings

Like Latin, Greek is an inflected language with gender and case. There are three declensions in Greek, which roughly correspond to the first three declensions in Latin. Let's start by considering some structures whose Greek names you should already be familiar with, either as a Latin nominative which has been borrowed directly from the Greek, or because they are used in zero-suffix terms:











The ending -a can be feminine in both Latin and Greek, so many feminine nouns that originally ended in alpha or eta kept the -a ending when borrowed into Latin. However, in Greek -ma can also be part of a neuter nominative ending in the third declension (see below).

You may notice the ending -os occurs several times among the Greek names of the structures in this list. This is a very common masculine ending in Greek--the equivalent of the 2nd-declension ending -us in Latin. Many other Greek words originally ending in -os were Latinized before they became part of our English vocabulary. For example, the original form of the word esophagus is esophagos.

Some Greek neuter nouns ending in -on changed to -um, the equivalent neuter ending, when borrowed into Latin. An example is perineum (see the vocab note in lesson 18). Other familiar scientific terms, such as ganglion and electron, kept their Greek ending unchanged when borrowed into English (although they have undergone other changes in transliteration, such as the rendering of double-gamma as "-ng-" and kappa as "c.") The -on in still other terms, such as axon and ion, actually comes from a different, third-declension Greek ending containing a long "o" vowel (omega).

The ending -on, because it carries the information that the noun is neuter and singular, implies the meaning "thing." As such, it has been used in some medical and scientific terms in which it is not an original Greek ending. This is especially true of terms that refer to somewhat abstract concepts, such as a point in space or a (sub)unit of a structure. For example, the Greek for "kidney" is nephros, a masculine noun. The modern term nephron, which derives from this base, refers to any one of the many tiny tubules in the kidney in which urine is concentrated.

Similarly, the application of hydraulic principles to anatomy generated the term capillaron for a modular unit of cells together with the capillaries that provide their blood supply, and genetics gave us codon for a series of three DNA bases, the unit of genetic information that "codes" for one amino acid in a protein sequence. The base used for such coinages need not even be of Greek origin. Capill- is a Latin diminutive, and codon comes directly from the English "code"!

Latinized, Multiple-Word Terms

Up until this point, we have avoided confusing you by drawing a fairly sharp line between "English" medical terms (compounded from prefixes, bases, etc.) and Latin anatomical terms, complete with nouns, adjectives, gender, inflected endings, and so forth. Therefore we excluded from the exercises many examples of terms which do in fact blur this line, such as polyarteritis nodosa or myxoma sarcomatosum. There are, however, many such terms, and it is not difficult to understand them.

Many diseases have a "Latin" name. Since most of these names date from an earlier period of medicine when terminology was not so standardized, many of them are redundant and some have been replaced by more modern alternatives. For example, myasthenia angiosclerotica is now known by the thoroughly English term "intermittent claudication." However others, such as lupus erythematosus, otitis media, or erythema multiforme are still the current best designations for their respective conditions, the terms which you will find them under in modern pathology books. They are particularly common in the field of dermatology.

As you can see, most of these terms consist of a noun, with a suffix indicating some type of disease, plus a Latin-inflected adjective. A great variety of adjectives are used in such terms, but they are almost always first-second declension. We could not list, nor could you learn them all, but you will find that many of them can be easily analyzed using prefixes, bases, and suffixes you have already learned (a short list of some very common examples is given for reference at the end of this document). A Latin adjective for almost any English adjective exists. Two common patterns are:

  • Adjectives ending in -ic simply use the English adjective as the stem add an inflected ending -us, -a, or -um. For example: chronica, hemorrhagicum, seborrheicum, epidemica, etc.
  • Many others are formed by adding -osus, -osa, or -osum to a base or compound. This is the full Latin form of the suffix -ose or -ous, which means "characterized by, full of." So the Latin for nervous is nervosa, fibrous is fibrosa, etc.

Within the term, the gender of the adjective, as always, matches the gender of the noun, and the gender of a "Latinized" (or Greek-derived) noun is determined by its suffix. Thankfully, a relatively limited number of Greek suffixes make up a great percentage of these terms, so it is possible to simply learn the gender imparted by each suffix. Some of the most important are as follows:

  1. Suffixes ending in -ma, including -oma, -ema, and -nema, create neuter nouns. Hence adenoma fibrosum, "a fibrous glandular tumor," and the name of the causative organism of syphilis, Treponema pallidum (not, as frequently miswritten, pallida).
  2. The suffixes -ia, -itis, and -osis create feminine nouns. In fact, this is true of almost all Greek nouns ending in -sis.
  3. The Greek suffix -es, as a nominative singular, is usually masculine. Genus names, such as Anopheles or Streptomyces are common examples. There are very few masculine "disease" suffixes. On the other hand, there are a large number of Latin or Latinized nouns in -us which, naturally, are masculine and take a masculine adjective. The suffix -us is also used to designate a malformed fetus, especially a partial conjoined twin, according to the type of deformity. For example, an amorphus is a fetus with rudimentary head, limbs, and heart, an acardius is a conjoined twin without its own heart, etc.

Biological nomenclature is another area in which you may find these rules useful. Rules of official international taxonomy in zoology, botany, microbiology, etc. dictate that every species must have a Latin name. Many genus names that you might recognize are actually Latinized eponyms after a researcher who discovered or worked on that organism: Salmonella (Daniel Salmon), Brucella (Sir David Bruce), Shigella (Kiyoshi Shiga), Yersinia (Alexandre Yersin), to name just a few.

Useful Latin Phrases and Abbreviations

If you spend any time in a hospital looking at charts or pharmacological prescriptions, you are likely to see many of the following abbreviations used. If you've ever wondered what they stand for…now you know! (Note: some of these, because of the high potential for medication errors, are now in disfavor with the regulatory agency that oversees and accredits hospitals, although they persist among older physicians. For example, "qd" is too easy to confuse with "qid," so "daily" and "every 6 hours" are now required in patient charts instead)


Latin Term



aura dextra

right ear


auris sinistra

left ear


ante cibum

before a meal


ante meridian

before noon


bis in die

twice per day





et cetera

and others, and the rest





oculus dexter

right eye


oculus sinsiter

left eye


post meridian

after noon


per os

by mouth


per rectum

by rectum


pro re nata

as needed, as required


quaque die



quaque hora



quaque hora somni

nightly at bedtime


quater in die

four times per day








ter in die

three times per day

Latin phrase


in situ

in place

in vitro

literally, in glass, i.e., in a test tube or other experimental vessel

in vivo

in life, in the normal living state of an organism

Useful Latin 1/2 declension adjectives

For reference while working on the exercises; do not need to be memorized.

chronicus, -a, -um, chronic = slowly progressive, lasting a long time, having a recurring or relapsing course

circumscriptus, -a, -um, having a clearly define border, circumscribed

congenitus, -a, -um, inborn, genetic, hereditary

diffusus, -a, -um, widespread, thinly spread

durus, -a, -um, hard

hemorrhagicus, -a, -um, hemorrhagic, characterized by profuse bleeding

nodosus, -a, -um, characterized by or full of nodes