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Hi! I have a question regarding a few medical terms... basically when do you use the suffix "al"???

1. Spine oncology vs Spinal oncology

2. Spine tumor vs. Spinal tumor

3. Oncologic surgery vs. Oncological surgery

4. Spine oncological surgery vs. spinal oncological surgery vs. oncological spine surgery vs. other?

Is there a grammatically correct way?? I have seen all forms!

Last edited by rafdelag
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Hello, rafdelag, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange.

There are cases where adjectives ending in -ic and -ical mean the same thing, and others where they don't. By way of introduction, you can read this old thread.

@rafdelag posted:

1. Spine oncology vs Spinal oncology

2. Spine tumor vs. Spinal tumor

3. Oncologic surgery vs. Oncological surgery

4. Spine oncological surgery vs. spinal oncological surgery vs. oncological spine surgery vs. other?

Broadly speaking, when both forms coexist with a similar meaning we can find two cases: (a) the root noun of adjectives ending in -ic describes the substance or the material (electric wire: wire transmitting electricity), and, in the case of adjectives ending in -ical, the mentioned noun describes the subject-matter (electrical engineer: engineer dealing with electricity), or (b) both adjectives can be used to refer to the same concept (electric/electrical wire).

I think the case with oncologic/oncological is (b): both adjectives can be used to refer to the same concept, i.e. dealing with oncology. Therefore, both options under (3) are correct.

Nouns can also be used attributively instead of the adjective, in which case they are semantically stronger (spine tumor = tumor in the spine Cf spinal tumor = tumor of a spinal kind). Therefore, and considering the semantic sublety I mentioned, both options under (1) and (2) are correct.

As regards (4), when used attributively nouns must come immediately before the nouns they modify, so you can say oncological spine surgery or spinal oncological surgery (I prefer the former to avoid the cacophonic presence of two consecutive -al adjectives), but NOT spine oncological surgery as this clashes with the rule I mentioned about attributive nouns immediately preceding their noun heads.

Last edited by Gustavo, Co-Moderator

Hello, rafdelag, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange.

There are cases where adjectives ending in -ic and -ical mean the same thing, and others where they don't. By way of introduction, you can read this old thread.

Broadly speaking, when both forms coexist with a similar meaning we can find two cases: (a) the root noun of adjectives ending in -ic describes the substance or the material (electric wire: wire transmitting electricity), and, in the case of adjectives ending in -ical, the mentioned noun describes the subject-matter (electrical engineer: engineer dealing with electricity), or (b) both adjectives can be used to refer to the same concept (electric/electrical wire).

I think the case with oncologic/oncological is (b): both adjectives can be used to refer to the same concept, i.e. dealing with oncology. Therefore, both options under (3) are correct.

Nouns can also be used attributively instead of the adjective, in which case they are semantically stronger (spine tumor = tumor in the spine Cf spinal tumor = tumor of a spinal kind). Therefore, and considering the semantic sublety I mentioned, both options under (1) and (2) are correct.

As regards (4), when used attributively nouns must come immediately before the nouns they modify, so you can say oncological spine surgery or spinal oncological surgery (I prefer the former to avoid the cacophonic presence of two consecutive -al adjectives), but NOT spine oncological surgery as this clashes with the rule I mentioned about attributive nouns immediately preceding their noun heads.

Dear Gustavo, Thank you for your time and explanation!! This was very helpful!

Last edited by Gustavo, Co-Moderator

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