Aphasia vs. Dysphasia

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Words can have literal and common use meanings. This lesson delineates both for aphasia and dysphasia and warns you about a potential pitfall when reading or listening to both words.

Various Meanings

You know how sometimes there are literal meanings and then there are the ones we're all kind of used to? Like, someone who has lost his marbles may be someone who literally lost a bunch of marbles today. Poor guy. Or, it may mean that he has lost his mind in everyday usage.

Well, in medicine, this is sometimes the case. There are similar words that are literally different but in everyday usage are not.

The Literal Meaning of Aphasia vs. Dysphasia

The two words in question are aphasia and dysphasia. Let's look at their literal meanings first. The word aphasia comes to us from three word parts:

  • A-, which means not or without
  • -phasi-, which refers to speech
  • -ia, a state or condition

Putting it all together, the literal word part definition of aphasia is a state or condition without (any) speech. The word dysphasia is almost the same, except that it has the prefix of dys-, which means bad or difficult. Thus, dysphasia refers to a state or condition where the person has difficulty speaking.

The Actual Meaning of Aphasia vs. Dysphasia

Despite the literal differences, in practice, both words are usually used interchangeably. However, Europeans may use dysphasia more often than North Americans, who are more likely to use aphasia. Regardless though, everyone largely means the same thing.

Aphasia and dysphasia refer to a condition where there has been a brain injury, one that has caused a partial or a complete loss of the ability to properly communicate. This may manifest itself in difficulty speaking, reading, and writing, as well as recognizing or understanding what people are talking about or pointing out. The brain injury that causes aphasia/dysphasia can stem from numerous causes, including trauma from a car accident, a stroke, a brain tumor, an infection, and much more.

It was mentioned that aphasia and dysphasia largely mean the same thing. This is because some professionals use aphasia only when there's a complete absence of the ability to properly communicate, while dysphasia is used when there's a partial absence.


There is one giant word of caution that you must take note of before finishing this lesson up as some people get this confused. Although they sound similar when spoken and they look similar when written, aphasia/dysphasia should not be confused with aphagia/dysphagia. The latter two have the suffix of -phagia, which refers to a condition of swallowing. Thus, both refer to a lack or difficulty of swallowing.

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