3.4 Prefixes for Number and Size


Prefixes are often used to provide details concerning numbers and size. They provide added detail and specifics concerning the topic at hand. Although there are not many of these prefixes, they are still very important aspects of medical terminology. They will be discussed below with examples and practice questions to solidify your knowledge.

 

Table 3.18. Number Prefixes

PREFIX MEANING EXAMPLE OF USE IN A MEDICAL TERM
nulli- none
uni- one
bi- two, both
bin- two
tri- three
quadri- four

 

Fig. 3.20

Key Concepts

Numbers are often used in medical terminology, especially in the form of prefixes. For example, the terms unilateral and bilateral make it clear whether one side of the body or both sides are being discussed.

The triceps, shown in Fig. 3.20, is a large, thick muscle on the dorsal part of the upper arm. It often appears as a horseshoe shape on the posterior aspect of the arm, and the main function of the triceps is the extension of the elbow joint (Physiopedia, 2022). The prefix tri- (“three”) refers to the muscle’s three attachment points—the medial head, lateral head, and long head.

 

Table 3.19. Prefixes for Amounts

PREFIX MEANING EXAMPLE OF USE IN A MEDICAL TERM
hemi- half
multi- many
oligo- few, very little
pan- all
poly- many, much

 

Fig. 3.21

Key Concept

When a baby is born with one or more extra fingers or toes, it is referred to as polydactyly (“pertaining to many digits”). It is a common condition, and approximately one out of every 500 to 1,000 babies is born with the condition (Boston’s Children’s Hospital, 2022). This is one of the most common congenital (“present at birth”) hand abnormalities and often runs in families.

Other medical terms with the prefix poly- are listed in Table 3.20 below.

 

        Table 3.20. Examples of poly-

MEDICAL TERM MEANING
polydipsia pertaining to much thirst
polydactyly pertaining to many digits
polycystic pertaining to many cysts
polymyositis inflammation of many muscles
polyuria pertaining to much urine
polyneuropathy disease condition of many nerves
polyposis state of many polyps

 

Table 3.21. Prefixes for Size

PREFIX MEANING EXAMPLE OF USE IN A MEDICAL TERM
macro- large, long
micro- small

 

Fig. 3.22

Key Concept

A macrophage, shown in Fig. 3.22, is a type of white blood cell (WBC) that works by surrounding and killing microorganisms (National Cancer Institute, n.d.). It also removes dead cells and stimulates the action of other immune system cells.

 

Exercises

 

Attribution

Unless otherwise indicated, material on this page has been adapted from the following resource:

Carter, K., & Rutherford, M. (2020). Building a medical terminology foundation. eCampusOntario. https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/medicalterminology/ licensed under CC BY 4.0

References

Boston Children’s Hospital. (2022). Polydactyly. https://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions/polydactyly

National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Macrophage. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/macrophage

Physiopedia. (2022). Triceps brachii. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Triceps_brachii

 

Image Credits (images are listed in order of appearance)

Triceps brachii muscle07 by Anatomography, CC BY-SA 2.1 Japan

X-ray of polydactyl feet (Reeve 48693), National Museum of Health and Medicine (3298021231) by National Museum of Health and Medicine, CC BY 2.0

Giemsa Stain Macrophage Illustration by Noah Smith, CC BY-SA 4.0

License

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The Language of Medical Terminology by Lisa Sturdy and Susanne Erickson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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