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Page 1 Vocabulary Study Guide for the HESI® exam

Nurses with a greater range in their vocabulary have greater chances of communicating correctly than those that do not. In the operating room or on the floor, nurses must be able to communicate effectively and having a robust vocabulary is a key part of being able to do that.

The Vocabulary section of the HESI exam covers both medical vocabulary as well as vocabulary used in everyday language. Although it is impossible to memorize every word in the English language, mastering these key concepts is essential to doing well on this portion of the test.

Medical Terminology

Unlike many other jobs, a medical position requires a working knowledge of a litany of concepts and terms that are largely foreign to the populace at large. To brush up on this aspect of the medical field, read as much and as frequently as possible. Read textbooks, read journals and reports, and read articles related to the medical field. This will allow you to catch a glimpse not only of terminology, but of usage as well.

Study terms and their usage. While vocabulary is essential to communicating and understanding others in the medical field, you must not only be able to identify the meanings of words, but also be able to put those words into action and place them properly in sentences. Be sure to also study context and placement.

Common Medical Prefixes and Their Meanings

Medical prefixes function the same way that standard prefixes do; they are used to alter the meaning of a root word. In the medical field, prefixes are usually used to describe the state of a patient, or a procedure. Here is a list of the most common medical prefixes and their meanings:

A/Ah ― Without

Arteri ― Artery

Arthro ― Bone joint

Bi ― Twice/double

Carcin ― Cancer

Chol ― Bile

Cis ― On the same side of

Crani ― Head/skull

Cyt ― Cell

Derm ― Skin

Ect ― Outer/outside

Ferri ― Iron

Gyn ― Woman

Hema ― Blood

Hist ― Tissue

Hyster ― Uterus

Kerat ― Cornea

Kinesi ― Movement

Lacto ― Milk

Leuko ― White

Mast ― Breast

Melan ― Black

Necro ― Death

Onco ― Tumor

Osseo ― Bone

Pan ― All/entire

Common Medical Suffixes and Their Meanings

Like traditional suffixes, medical suffixes are used to bring further clarity to a root word and are attached to the end of a root. These words are frequently applied to words to denote an operation or procedure. The most common medical suffixes are identified as follows:

Ac/Acal ― Of/pertaining to

Aemia ― Blood condition

Algia ― Pain

Centesis ― Surgical puncture

Crine ― To secrete

Cyte ― Cell

Dynia ― Pain

Ectasis ― Expansion/dilation

Ectomy ― Surgical procedure/removal

Genic ― Formative

Gnosis ― Knowledge Graph ― Record/picture

Iasis ― Condition

Iatry ― Field of medicine

Icle ― Small

Ismus ― Spasm/contraction

Itis ― Inflammation

Lysis ― Destruction/separation

Oma ― Mass/collection

Penia ― Deficiency

Pepsia ― Digestion/digestive tract

Plasty ― Repair/reconstruction

Plexy ― Stroke/seizure

Rrhagia ― Rapid flow of blood

Scopy ― Viewing

Tensive ― Pressure

Common Vocabulary Concepts

“Vocabulary” is a word used to describe one’s verbal arsenal. Your vocabulary reflects significantly upon your breadth of knowledge, as it reveals how much exposure you have had to advanced concepts―not merely in the medical field, but in all academia, and even in day-to-day life. Someone with a well-rounded vocabulary is capable of retaining language needed to function on a coherent level with other adults and of engaging in more “high-minded” discussion, such as current events or academic concepts.

The greatest asset in developing a solid vocabulary is the ability to read thoroughly and efficiently. While some amount of your vocabulary can be developed through speaking and practice, reading exposes you to words you might not encounter any other way, and it reveals methods of speaking you might not have considered outside of your social circle. To develop a well-rounded vocabulary, place your primary focus on reading items of all natures, ranging from magazine articles to academic journals, to novels. Exposure is key to nurturing an expansive vocabulary.

To assist in your development, three basic vocabulary concepts are identified: prefixes, suffixes, and root words.


A prefix is an add-on placed ahead of a word to change or enhance its meaning. “Pre” is an example of a prefix used to denote “before.” “Post” is another prefix used to denote “after.” The following is a list of the most common prefixes and their meanings.

Anti ― Against

Co ― With/alongside

Dis ― Not

Ex ― Out of/former

Il/Im ― Not/without

Inter ― Between

Non ― Without

Omni ― All/every

Post ― After

Pre ― Before

Sub ― Under/below

Trans ― Across

Un ― Not


Suffixes are the opposite of prefixes; they come after a word, though they are still used to change or further explain a root word. Suffixes can be more difficult to identify than prefixes, but as you read, you will find that you are familiar with most of the common suffixes used in the English language today. The most frequently used suffixes denote the passage of time.

Here is a list of the most common suffixes.

Able ― Capable/capable of being

Ate ― Become

Dom ― Place/state of being

Er ― More than/one who

Esque ― Like/reminiscent of

Ful ― Notable for

Ish ― Having the quality of

Ist ― One who

Ment ― Condition of

Ness ― State of being

Ship ― Position held

Y ― Characterized by


Roots are words that contain the idea or thought being prevailed upon by prefixes and suffixes. In the word “beautiful,” for instance, the root of the word is “beauty,” while the suffix is “ful.” Roots can be difficult to identify because they may require alteration to function with a prefix or suffix, as in the case of “beautiful.” For this reason, it is pivotal to familiarize yourself with common prefixes and suffixes; once you are familiar with the most common ones, you can more readily discover the root of words bearing additions. A few examples are given as follows:

Preview: “Pre” is the prefix, while “view” is the root.

Interchangeable: “Inter” is the prefix, “change” is the root, and “able” is the suffix.

Fanciful: “Fancy” is the root, while “ful” is the suffix.