LL Medical English - English for Medical and Scientific Professionals

The meaning and origins of “itis”

Do you find it hard to pronounce words that end in “itis”? It’s found in many medical words so the right pronunciation is important. First of all, let’s look at what it means. The suffix “itis” comes from Latin and Greek and means inflammation or a disease characterised by inflammation.[i] It is usually attached to a word root that signifies a part of the body and means that this body part is inflamed. Sometimes it is an acute condition like laryngitis and other times a more chronic condition like hepatitis. One of the earliest uses of this suffix in English was arthritis as early as the 1500s and meaning inflammation of the joints.[ii]

Tip 1 – There are two different “i” sounds

One of the reasons some have trouble pronouncing the suffix “itis” is that each “i” has a different sound. English has 12 different vowel sounds and Spanish 5, for example. As a result, for Spanish speakers, the suffix “itis” is often mispronounced because they pronounce each “i” the same and in the way they pronounce this letter in Spanish (like ee or arth-ree-tees).

Girl holding up two fingers - signifying two things to remember with the pronunciation of "itis".

In English, this suffix is in two parts “i” and “tis”. The first “i” has a long vowel sound which means it sounds like the name of the letter.

Ahy      

The second “i” has a short vowel sound (like the “i” in “sit”)

Tis        

Tip 2 – The stress is on the first “i”

In addition to the two vowel sounds, the accent or stress in the word occurs in the part of the word that is pronounced with the first “i”. For example, let’s take the word gastritis.

It has three syllables:

Ga-stri-tis           Ga-stray-tis (phonetically)

You can see that I wrote the first “i” sound combined with the consonant sound that occurs just before and it is this combined sound that carries the accent.

That’s it!

Common words with “itis” and their pronunciation

Here are a few common medical words with their meaning and pronunciation:

Appendicitis (uh-pen-duhsahy-tis) – Inflammation of the appendix

Arthritis (ahr-thrahy-tis ) – Inflammation of the joints

Bursitis (ber-sahy-tis) – Inflammation of a bursa

Cholecystitis (koh-luhsi-stahy-tis) – Inflammation of the gallbladder

Conjunctivitis (kuhn-juhngk-tuhvahy-tis) – Inflammation of the conjunctiva

Dermatitis (dur-muhtahy-tis) – Inflammation of the skin

Diverticulitis (dahy-ver-tik-yuhlahy-tis) – Inflammation of one or more diverticula

Encephalitis (en-sefuhlahy-tis) – Inflammation of the substance of the brain

Endocarditis (en-doh-kahr-dahy-tis) – Inflammation of the endocardium, the membrane lining the cavities of the heart

Enteritis (en-tuhrahy-tis) – Inflammation of the intestines, especially the small intestine

Esophagitis (e-sof-uhjahy-tis) – Inflammation of the esophagus

Gastritis (ga-strahy-tis) – Inflammation of the stomach, especially of its mucous membrane

Gastroenteritis (gas-troh-en-tuhrahy-tis) – Inflammation of the stomach and intestines

Gingivitis (jin-juhvahy-tis) – Inflammation of the gums

Hepatitis (hepuhtahy-tis) – Inflammation of the liver

Laryngitis (lar-uh n-jahy-tis) – Inflammation of the larynx, the voice box   

Myocarditis (mahy-oh-kahr-dahy-tis) – Inflammation of the myocardium, the muscular substance of the heart  

Peritonitis (per-i-tn-ahy-tis) – Inflammation of the peritoneum or the membrane lining the abdominal cavity

Pharyngitis (far-in-jahy-tis) – Inflammation of the mucous membrane of the pharynx or throat

Plantar Fasciitis (plan-ter fash-ee-ahy-tus) – Inflammation of the fibrous tissue along the bottom of the foot

Rhinitis (rahynahytis) – Inflammation of the nose or its mucous membrane

Sinusitis (sahy-nuhsahy-tis) – Inflammation of a sinus or the sinuses

Thyroiditis (thahy-roi-dahy-tis) – Inflammation of the thyroid gland

Tonsillitis (ton-suhlahy-tis) – Inflammation of a tonsil or the tonsils

Vasculitis (vas-kyuhlahy-tis) – Inflammation of veins, arteries, capillaries, or lymph vessels

Let’s recap the pronunciation of “itis”

We covered three things to remember about words that end in “itis” and how to pronounce them:

  • “itis” means inflammation, or a disease characterised by inflammation
  • the first and the second “i” have a different sound
  • The stress is on the first “i”

That’s all, that wasn’t too hard, was it? We’ve provided a number of examples to help you practise. Now you can apply it to any “itis” words you come across and you’ll sound like a pro.

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Tell us what medical words you find difficult to pronounce in English in the comments below.

Author’s note:

Dictionary.com is a site I like to use because it has many medical terms and they use phonetic spelling in addition to the phonetic symbols (and audio clips) to show how to pronounce words. I use phonetic spelling, not the phonetic symbols in my posts to make it easier for those not familiar with the international phonetic symbols.


[i] “-itis.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/-itis. Accessed 21 May. 2020.

[ii] “-itis.” Dictionary.com, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/-itis. Accessed 21 May. 2020

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