Jumbled words photo

Learning word structure is an important part of medical transcription. In our medical transcription program, we have complete training on words and word structure.  There are five possible parts to a medical word including a prefix, suffix, root, combining vowel, and combining form. A root is the foundation of a word. The prefix is what comes before the root, and the suffix is what comes after the root. All medical words have a root and suffix. A combining vowel is a vowel that is used to combine medical words. Let’s look at some basic examples:

psychology– psych (mind) is the root, o is the combining vowel, and logy (study of) is the suffix. So we know the word psychology means the study of the mind.

electroencephalogram– electro (electricity) is the root, o is the combing vowel, encephal is the second root (brain), o is the second combining vowel, and gram is the suffix (unit of measure.) So, we know that an electroencephalogram is a way of measuring the electrical impulses in the brain.

electrocardiogram– electro is a root (electricity), o is a combining vowel, cardi is the second root (heart), o is the second combining vowel, and gram is the suffix (test). So, we know that an electrocardiogram is a test to measure the electrical impulses of the heart.

The Terrible Two’s

It is possible to have two word roots in one word and to use more than one combining vowel per word. Look at the word structure of electrocardiogram – both electro and cardio are root words and are combined by using the vowel o.


A prefix is at the beginning of a word and is not a full word itself. Let’s look at some examples:

epiotic – ot (ear) is the root, ic is the suffix (pertaining to), and epi is the prefix (above or on.) So, we know that the word epiotic means above or on the ear.

supraorbital – supra is the prefix (above), orbit is the root (eye), and al is the suffix (pertaining to.) So, supraorbital means pertaining to above the eye.

antibiotic – anti is the prefix (against), biot is the root (life), ic is the suffix meaning pertaining to. So, the word antibiotic means pertaining to destruction/against life – in other words, it’s an agent that kills other microorganisms.

Combining Vowels

Let’s talk more about combining vowels. Combining vowels link the root to the suffix or the root to another root. If a suffix begins with a vowel, then a combing vowel would NOT be used. Look at these examples:

enteritis – enter is the root (intestines), itis is the suffix and begins with a vowel so no combining form would be used. How would it look to type: enteroitis? It just wouldn’t make sense.

pancreatitis – pancreat is the root (pancreas), and itis is the suffix. Since itis begins with a vowel, we do not need to add a combining vowel. We would not want to type pancreatoitis.

Exception to the rule! If a combining vowel is used between two roots and the second root starts with a vowel, the combining vowel is retained. Let’s look at this example:

pneumoencephalography – pneum is the root (lung), o is the combining vowel, encephal is the second root which does start with a vowel (so we KEEP the combining vowel), o is the second combining vowel, and graphy is the suffix (test.)

What is a Combining Form?

There is one other word part that we need to discuss called the combining form. A combining form is made up of a root plus the combining vowel. Let’s look at some examples:

otolaryngology – ot is the root (ear), o is the combining vowel, laryn is another root (throat), o is the second combining vowel, and logy is the suffix (study of) , and the combining forms are ot/o and larnyg/o.

hematology – hemat is the root (blood), o is the combining vowel, logy is the suffix (study of), and the combining form is hemat/o

TRANSCRIPTION TIP: Don’t worry if learning these suffixes, prefixes and root words seems a little confusing at first. At the beginning of each module you will be going through lists of prefixes, suffixes, roots, and combining forms for each specialty. So you are going to get plenty of practice with breaking down medical words into their component parts. In the meantime, just know that learning these things will help you immensely in your transcription career, so make sure you do learn them and review whenever you need to

Sound-Alike Words


Sound-alike words pose a particular challenge to transcriptionists. For example, there is a vast difference between the drugs Zantac and Xanax. It would be a crucial mistake to type the wrong word into a medical report. The best way to avoid problems with sound-alike words is to understand the context of the dictation. In the above example, if the dictator was discussing a patient’s stomach problem the word would probably be Zantac, but if they were discussing the patient’s nerves or stress levels it could be Xanax. When in doubt FLAG IT.

One good thing about sound-alike words is that they are helpful when trying to understand what a dictator is saying. For example, say that you think you hear “metatarsal” but the doctor is discussing carpal tunnel syndrome, then you could think to yourself “what sounds like metatarsal but has to do with the wrist” and hopefully you would come up with “metacarpal.”

You do not need to memorize the lists of sound-alike words and medications. However, do read through it and say each word out loud so you can hear how two completely different words can sound just alike. In our grammar module, you will learn all about sound-alike words so this is just a brief review!

Tip: Be very careful when dealing with a sound-alike word. Remember that ileus with an “e” sounds just like ilium with an “i.”

Also, of note here is that common English words can sound alike too, and you must be careful when transcribing to make sure that you do not mix up words like accept/except, too/two, and your/you’re.
*When comparing courses, ask if they teach laboratory, pharmacology, pathology, computer skills, advanced Microsoft Word, computer and Internet training and FTP skills. Don’t be swayed by expensive courses — read the fine print!

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