How to read medical terms

Medical Terms Animated2

Although this article is called “How to Read Medical Terms”, a better title would have been “How to Translate Medical Words” because that is what we do, we translate terms which have multiple linguistic origins to vernacular English.

Medical words are not read as we normally read English, from left to right. Rather, they are read in an order related to their components, prefixes, root terms, suffixes, and combining vowels.

Let’s take as an example the word [preperitoneal], where the prefix is [pre-], the root term is [-periton-] and the suffix is [-eal].  Read in normal left to right English the word would translate as “anterior (aspect of) peritoneum pertaining to”, which does not sound correct.

The proper way is to read the suffix first, the prefix second, and the root term last. Thus, this translation would read as “pertaining to (the) anterior (aspect of) the peritoneum”. There are exceptions of course, but the rule presented here applies to most medical words.

In the absence of the prefix, the word is translated suffix first and root term second.

When a word contains combined root terms they are read in the way they are written, from left to right, as they will have already been placed in a proximal to distal relationship, otherwise the word would be wrongly constructed.

There are more nuances to Medical Terminology, but they go beyond the objectives of "Medical Terminology Daily". For a complete course on Medical Terminology for your company, contact CAA, Inc.

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