Biology Prefixes and Suffixes Index

You can easily understand scientific terms if you know how they're built.

Dictionary
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Have you ever heard of pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis? This is an actual word, but don't let that scare you. Some science terms can be difficult to comprehend: By identifying the affixes -- elements added before and after base words -- you can understand even the most complex terms. This index will help you identify some commonly used prefixes and suffixes in biology.

Common Prefixes

(Ana-): indicates upward direction, synthesis or buildup, repetition, excess or separation.

(Angio-): signifies a type of receptacles such as a vessel or shell.

(Arthr- or Arthro-): refers to a joint or a junction that separates different parts.

(Auto-): identifies something as belonging to oneself, occurring within or occurring spontaneously.

(Blast- , -blast): indicates an immature developmental stage.

(Cephal- or Cephalo-): referring to the head.

(Chrom- or Chromo-): denotes color or pigmentation.

(Cyto- or Cyte-): regarding or relating to a cell.

(Dactyl-, -dactyl): refers to a digit or tactile appendages such as a finger or toe.

(Diplo-): means double, paired or twofold.

(Ect- or Ecto-): means outer or external.

(End- or Endo-): means inner or internal.

(Epi-): indicates a position that is above, on or near a surface.

(Erythr- or Erythro-): means red or reddish in color.

(Ex- or Exo-): means external, out of or away from.

(Eu-): means genuine, true, well or good.

(Gam-, Gamo or -gamy): refers to fertilization, sexual reproduction or marriage.

(Glyco- or Gluco-): pertains to a sugar or a sugar derivative.

(Haplo-): means single or simple.

(Hem-, Hemo- or Hemato-): denoting blood or blood components (plasma and blood cells).

(Heter- or Hetero-): means unlike, different or other.

(Karyo- or Caryo-): means nut or kernel, and also refers to the nucleus of a cell.

(Meso-): means middle or intermediate.

(My- or Myo-): means muscle.

(Neur- or Neuro-): referring to nerves or the nervous system.

(Peri-): means surrounding, near or around.

(Phag- or Phago-): pertaining to eating, swallowing or consuming.

(Poly-): means many or excessive.

(Proto-): means primary or primitive.

(Staphyl- or Staphylo-): referring to a cluster or bunch.

(Tel- or Telo-): denoting an end, extremity or final phase.

(Zo- or Zoo-): pertaining an animal or animal life.

Common Suffixes

(-ase): denoting an enzyme. In enzyme naming, this suffix is added to the end of the substrate name.

(-derm or -dermis): referring to tissue or skin.

(-ectomy or -stomy): pertaining to the act of cutting out or the surgical removal of tissue.

(-emia or -aemia): referring to a condition of the blood or the presence of a substance in the blood.

(-genic): means giving rise to, producing or forming.

(-itis): denoting inflammation, commonly of a tissue or organ.

(-kinesis or -kinesia): indicating activity or movement.

(-lysis): referring to degradation, decomposition, bursting or releasing.

(-oma): indicating an abnormal growth or tumor.

(-osis or -otic): indicating a disease or abnormal production of a substance.

(-otomy or -tomy): denoting an incision or surgical cut.

(-penia): pertaining to a deficiency or lack.

(-phage or -phagia): the act of eating or consuming.

(-phile or -philic): having an affinity for or strong attraction to something specific.

(-plasm or -plasmo): referring to tissue or a living substance.

(-scope): denoting an instrument used for observation or examination.

(-stasis): indicating the maintenance of a constant state.

(-troph or -trophy): pertaining to nourishment or a method of nutrient acquisition.

Other Tips

While knowing suffixes and prefixes will tell you much about biological terms, it's helpful to know a few other tricks for deciphering their meanings, including:

  • Breaking down words - Breaking down biological terms into their component parts can help you decipher their meanings.
  • Dissections - Just as you might dissect a frog "to separate (it) into pieces," as Merriam-Webster explains, you can also break down a biological term to "expose" its "several parts for scientific examination."