biology vocabularyYou’ve got a big biology test coming up, you take a look at your study guide, and you don’t have a clue what any of those words mean. Chloroplasts? Amniotic egg? What language is this!? While it would be impossible to memorize the definitions for every single word used in every biology class in history, there are a handful of common definitions that will help you ace that upcoming exam. By understanding common biology vocabulary, you can use the prefixes and suffixes to determine what other vocabulary words mean. Before you know it, you’ll be using these terms in every day sentences – leaving others to ask “what does that mean?!”


Allele: Alternate forms of a gene for individual traits. When an individual inherits two recessive alleles for one specific trait, genetic disorders such as albinism can be the result. Alleles are inherited by parents and determine aspects of individuals such as their particular blood type.

Chromosome: Part of the cellular structure in which genes are located.

Dominant Trait: The relationship between two alleles in which one masks the expression of the other.

Heredity: The transfer of traits from one generation to the next.

Heterozygous: An individual or pair of genes that has two different alleles for a particular trait.

Homozygous: An individual or pair of genes that has two of the same alleles for a particular trait.

Recessive Trait: When two alleles of the same gene expression are present. Since there is no dominant trait involved, there is nothing to mask the expression of the recessive trait.


Annual Plant: A plant that grows, matures and dies within the course of one year.

Adventitious Roots: Roots that extend from the upper parts of a plant, such as from its stem, leaves or branches.

Biennial Plant: A plant that grows, matures and dies within the course of two years.

Chlorophyll: Chlorophyll is the green pigment found in various plants, responsible for trapping light and “feeding” the plant during photosynthesis.

Cellulose: A carbohydrate that is one of the main structural components of the cell wall of a plant.

Dormancy: A condition in which a plant or a seed remains in a neutral, inactive state for an extended period of time. The plant or seed does not die, but it is not actively growing either.

Perennial Plant: A plant that can grow and mature for over two years, producing many flowers, fruits or seeds over and over again over the course of many years.

Photosynthesis: The process of plants converting light into energy.

Self-pollination: The process of a plant pollinating itself, and extending the life cycle of the particular type of plant. Plants can self-pollinate when they have both female and male parts, such as apricot, cherry and peach trees.


Adaptation: The ability for an animal or human to respond to a change in its environment in a healthy way in order to become better suited to the environment.

Amniotic Egg: A fluid-filled egg found within reptiles, mammals, and birds that allows these terrestrial animals to lay eggs.

Carnivore: An animal or human that eats strictly meat, no plants.

Diurnal: Descriptive of any type of animal that is awake and active during the day yet asleep at night.

Endothermic: An animal that has the ability to produce its own body heat.

Herbivore: An animal or human that eats strictly plants, no meat.

Omnivore: An animal or human that eats both plants and meat.

Helpful Prefixes and Suffixes

When I was in 5th grade, I walked into my classroom to find the word ‘pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis’ written on the board. My small little 5th grade brain almost exploded just looking at it. What on Earth does this word mean? How am I ever supposed to remember how to spell it? While remembering how to spell it is a whole different ball game, my teacher broke down the word into different parts that all had a particular meaning relating to the actual definition of the word. The next time you’re faced with a difficult vocabulary word, take a look at its different parts. Do you know what any of them mean? If you understand basic biology prefixes and suffixes, you are well on your way to understanding many difficult terms.

Aqua – meaning water. Think aquaponic, aquamarine, and aquarium.

Bi – meaning two or twice. Think biennial and bipods.

Bio – meaning life. Think biology and biologist!

Derm or Dermic – meaning skin. Think hypodermic, dermatology, dermatitis.

Ectomy – meaning to cut out. Think tonsillectomy or cystectomy

Hemo meaning blood. Think hemoglobin or hemorrhage.

Hetero – meaning different or other. Think heterozygous.

Homo – meaning alike or the same. Think homozygous and homosapien.

Hydro – also meaning water. Think hydroponic.

Hypo – meaning under or less than. Think hypocalcemic or hypoallergenic.

Hyper – meaning over or more than. Think hyperactive or hyperbole.

Itis – meaning inflammation. Think appendicitis.

Macro – meaning large. Think macrobiotic or macrocosm.

Micro – meaning small. Think microscope or microorganism.

Plasm – meaning substance. Think cytoplasm or plasma.

Pneumo – meaning air or lungs. Hey, remember that long word I mentioned before? This word is actually the medical term for a lung disease that miners get. Cool, huh?

Some – meaning body. Think chromosome.

While this is certainly not an all-encompassing list of every term you may encounter, having a basic understanding of all of these terms can help you succeed in your biology class and in life afterwards. If you want to learn more about the basics of biology, Udemy has a great course that will outline many common biology vocabulary words and concepts.

If you’re having trouble retaining all of the information you are learning, you may need to restructure your study habits. You have the ability of learning and mastering any vocabulary – no matter how difficult – you just need the focus and motivation to do so. By creating flash cards, having someone else quiz you and breaking down the words so that they make more sense, you can transition these definitions from your short term memory to your long term memory. This will help you not only pass your biology exam, but understand the English language at a deeper level throughout your life.

Featured course

VCE Biology Units 3 and 4

Last Updated May 2017

  • 2 total hours
  • 29 lectures
  • All Levels
5 (5)

A guide to the VCE year 12 (units 3 and 4) course | By Mandy Lobley

Explore Course

Biology students also learn

Empower your team. Lead the industry.

Get a subscription to a library of online courses and digital learning tools for your organization with Udemy for Business.

Request a demo