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Practices of Science: The Language of Science

At first glance, the language of science has lots of long words that look foreign and unfamiliar. But a closer look at scientific language can reveal that many long words are made of smaller, recognizable parts. And although they come from foreign languages—Greek and Latin for the most part—the words are more familiar than a first glance might reveal.


Let’s look at an example word, biology.


Biology can be broken into two parts, or morphemes: bio- and -logy.


The morpheme bio- refers to life, and the morpheme -logy refers to the study of something. So, taken together, the word biology refers to the study of life.


These morphemes can be combined with other morphemes to create new words. Below are some words that use the morphemes bio- and –logy. Check out the list of words you made using these two morphemes:

bio- -logy
biography geology
biochemistry cardiology
biodegradable anthropology
biopsy virology
biodiversity zoology


What do these words mean? Use the grid of morphemes below to understand the words.

bio- -logy
-graphy = writing geo- = earth
-chemistry = study of chemicals cardio- = heart
-degradable = capable of decomposition anthropo- = human
-opsy = sight; seeing viro- = virus
-diversity = variety of forms zoo- = animal


What does the word morpheme mean? Work with a group to come up with a definition for this word.



Image caption

SF Fig. 1.1.1. Ichthyology is the scientific study of fishes. Crocodilefish (Cymbacephalus beauforti)

Image copyright and source

Image courtesy of Nick Hobgood, Wikimedia Commons

Most words that refer to science concepts come from Latin. Some of the Latin words originally came from Greek or from Arabic, but it is the more modern Latin forms that we use today. Science words tend to stay in Latin regardless of what language is used. For example, this text is written in English, but even if it was written in Spanish, the science words would stay the same because they are in Latin.


Break these words from Module 3 Biological Science into their smaller morphemes. (Remember that the words will not always break cleanly into the exact letters shown here. For example, the word cylindrical is made up of cylinder and -ical).


SF Table 1.0.1. Vocabulary words from Module 3 Biological Science and their morphemes
Vocabulary word Morpheme + definition Morpheme + definition


Question Set
  1. Complete the empty cells of SF Table 1.0.1.
  2. How many of the morphemes do you already know the meaning of?
  3. How many can you guess?
  4. Are any of the morphemes from English instead of Latin? List your examples.
  5. Look up any morphemes you don’t know and fill in their meanings.
Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.