Time & Negation in Medical Prefixes

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  • 0:00 Prefixes
  • 0:34 Prefixes Indicating Time
  • 2:36 The Negating Prefixes
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

This lesson is going to cover the prefixes that specify time in medical terminology. We will also look at the prefixes that negate the meaning of a medical term.


You are becoming familiar with different prefixes as you are on your quest to understand medical terminology. Prefixes serve to help narrow down or make the meanings of medical terms more specific. Prefixes can be grouped into categories based on their meanings. The different categories of prefixes are size, time, negative, amount, and location. We are going to discuss the prefixes that indicate time and prefixes that negate things.

Prefixes Indicating Time

There are three main prefixes that indicate time. The first one is pre-. Pre- is a prefix meaning 'before.' This prefix is used in terms such as preoperative and premature. If you have ever had surgery, then you know there are always things you have to do and not do before or prior to having surgery. Those things are considered to be part of the preoperative procedures. The term preoperative means 'before operation' or 'before surgery.'

You may not have thought about the word premature as being a medical term, but in fact it is one. Premature means 'before maturity is reached.' Now we aren't talking about bonds or other investments that haven't matured when you withdraw them. In medical terminology, the term premature tends to act as a prefix for a medical phrase. It can appear in front of various terms like in 'premature birth' and 'premature ejaculation.'

More than one prefix can be used to mean before. The prefix ante- has the same meaning as pre-. These can be used interchangeably when it concerns time. The medical term antepathy would mean 'before a disease or sickness.' This use of ante- signifies time.

You have to be careful with ante- and pre- because these can indicate time or location.

The next prefix indicating time is post-. This prefix has the opposite meaning of pre- and, therefore, means 'after.' So while there were some things that had to happen before surgery, there are other things that should happen after surgery. The term for this would be postoperative. Another medical term using post is postpartum. This means 'after giving birth.' The term is used to describe anything that happens with a woman after she has given birth.

The Negating Prefixes

There are some prefixes that are used in order to give a medical term an opposite meaning. These prefixes negate the meaning of the rest of the term. There are two negative prefixes, and they are a- and an-. Both of these are used to mean 'no,' 'not' or 'without.' Let's look at how these are used. Maybe you have had to go in for surgery, and the doctor told you that you would receive anesthesia. The suffix -esthesia means 'nervous sensation or feeling,' so anesthesia means 'without feeling or nervous sensation.'

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