Medical Terminology: Respiratory Root Words

By Beverley Henderson, Jennifer Lee Dorsey

Each individual part of the respiratory system is equally important. So, you will need to know the medical terminology associated with respiration. The nose without the pharynx or the lungs without the bronchi would be nothing more than spare parts, like on an old junker in a garage.

Similarly, the parts of medical terms must coexist and work together to help you understand their meanings. Prefixes, suffixes, and root words work in harmony to bring the world of the respiratory system into focus. Let’s start at the beginning with prefixes.

Prefix What It Means
An-, a- Without, absent
Endo- Within
Inter- Between
Intra- Within

That was simple enough, right? Suffixes outnumber prefixes by more than half, but you should find the list still quite manageable.

Suffix What It Means
-ar, –ary Pertaining to
-capnia Carbon dioxide
-centesis Surgical puncture with needle to aspirate fluid
-ectasis Stretching or expansion
-gram Record
-graphy Process of recording
-itis Inflammation
-osmia Smell
-ostomy Creation of an artificial opening
-oxia Oxygen
-pnea Breathing
-scope Instrument used to visually examine
-scopy Visual examination
-sphyxia Pulse
-stenosis Narrowing or constricting
-thorax Chest

Root words and combining forms associated with the respiratory system include the following.

Suffix What It Means
Adenoid/o Adenoids
Alveol/o Alveolus, air sac
Atel/o Imperfect, incomplete
Bronch/o Bronchus
Bronchi/o Bronchial tubes
Capn/o Carbon dioxide
Coni/o Dust
Cyan/o Blue
Epiglott/o Epiglottis
Laryng/o Larynx (voice box)
Mediastin/o Mediastinum
Nas/o, rhin/o Nose
Ox/o, Ox/i Oxygen
Pector/o Chest
Pharyng/o Throat
Phren/o Diaphragm
Pleur/o Pleura
Pneum/o Lung, air
Pulmon/o Lung
Py/o Pus
Spir/o To breathe
Thorac/o Chest
Tonsill/o Tonsils
Trache/o Trachea (windpipe)