Understanding Difficult Biology Words

Volumes of the Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary
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One of the keys to being successful in biology is being able to understand the terminology. Difficult biology words and terms can be made easy to understand by becoming familiar with common prefixes and suffixes used in biology. These affixes, derived from Latin and Greek roots, form the basis for many difficult biology words.

Biology Terms

Below is a list of a few biology words and terms that many biology students find difficult to understand. By breaking these words down into discrete units, even the most complex terms can be understood.


This word can be separated as follows: Auto - troph.
Auto - means self, troph - means nourish. Autotrophs are organisms capable of self-nourishment.


This word can be separated as follows: Cyto - kinesis.
Cyto - means cell, kinesis - means movement. Cytokinesis refers to the movement of the cytoplasm that produces distinct daughter cells during cell division.


This word can be separated as follows: Eu - karyo - te.
Eu - means true, karyo - means nucleus. A eukaryote is an organism whose cells contain a "true" membrane-bound nucleus.


This word can be separated as follows: Hetero - zyg - ous.
Hetero - means different, zyg - means yolk or union, ous - means characterized by or full of. Heterozygous refers to a union characterized by the joining of two different alleles for a given trait.


This word can be separated as follows: Hydro - philic.
Hydro - refers to water, philic - means love. Hydrophilic means water-loving.


This word can be separated as follows: Oligo - saccharide.
Oligo - means few or little, saccharide - means sugar. An oligosaccharide is a carbohydrate that contains a small number of component sugars.


This word can be separated as follows: Osteo - blast.
Osteo - means bone, blast - means bud or germ (early form of an organism). An osteoblast is a cell from which bone is derived.


This word can be separated as follows: Teg - ment - um.
Teg - means cover, ment - refers to mind or brain. The tegmentum is the bundle of fibers that cover the brain.

Key Takeaways

  • To be successful in the sciences, particularly in biology, one must understand the terminology.
  • Common affixes (prefixes and suffixes) that are used in biology are often derived from Latin and Greek roots.
  • These affixes form the basis for many difficult biology words.
  • By breaking these difficult terms down into their formative units, even the most complex biological words can be easily understood.

Additional Biology Terms

For more practice with breaking down biology terms, review the words below. The main prefixes and suffixes used are angio-, -troph, and -trophy.

Allotroph (allo - troph)

Allotrophs are organisms that get their energy from food obtained from their environments.

Angiostenosis (angio - stenosis)

Refers to the narrowing of a vessel, particularly a blood vessel.

Angiomyogenesis (angio - myo - genesis)

A medical term referring to the regeneration of heart tissue.

Angiostimulatory (angio - stimulatory)

Refers to the growth and stimulation of blood vessels.

Axonotrophy (axono - trophy)

Is a condition where axons are destroyed due to disease.

Biotroph (bio - troph)

Biotrophs are parasites that do not kill their hosts. They establish a long-term infection to continue to get their energy from the living cells.

Bradytroph (brady - troph)

Bradytroph refers to an organism that experiences very slow growth without a particular substance.

Cellulotrophy (cellulo - trophy)

This term refers to the digestion of cellulose, an organic polymer.

Chemotrophy (chemo - trophy)

Chemotrophy refers to an organism making its energy by the oxidation of molecules.

Electrotroph (electro - troph)

These are organisms that can obtain their energy from an electric source.

Necrotroph (necro - troph)

Unlike the aforementioned biotrophs, necrotrophs are parasites that kill their host since they survive on the dead remains.

Oligotroph (oligo - troph)

Organisms that can live in places with very few nutrients are called oligotrophs.

Oxalotrophy (oxalo - trophy)

Refers to organisms that metabolize oxalates or oxalic acid.

Biology Word Dissections

For more information on how to understand difficult biology words or terms see:

Biology Word Dissections - Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Yes, this is an actual word. What does it mean?

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Bailey, Regina. "Understanding Difficult Biology Words." ThoughtCo, Jul. 29, 2021, thoughtco.com/difficult-biology-words-373291. Bailey, Regina. (2021, July 29). Understanding Difficult Biology Words. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/difficult-biology-words-373291 Bailey, Regina. "Understanding Difficult Biology Words." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/difficult-biology-words-373291 (accessed June 4, 2023).