Appendix VII. Vocabulary word origins and mineral names

Many scientific and technical terms we use in the textbook come from Greek or Latin terms. Often these prefixes (which appear at the start of words) or suffixes (which appear at the end of words) are not very intuitive to learn. If you learn some of these terms, you may find it easier to learn scientific vocabulary. Even if you don’t know some vocabulary words on an exam, if you notice that the word contains a prefix you know, maybe you can work out its meaning or at least take a better guess at the answer to the question!  I’ve provided examples for each Greek or Latin prefix and suffix in the tables below.

In addition to the prefixes and suffixes in the tables, there are other chemical prefixes and suffixes that may help you when learning mineral names. Note that not all minerals are named for their chemistry, many are named for famous people and mineralogists or for the places where they were first identified (localities). Students often ask me for an easy and consistent way to remember mineral names – sorry, there is no easy answer to that question! I have provided a list of mineral names and their name origins in this appendix.

Greek prefixes and suffixes

Common prefixes are indicated by a “-” following the Greek term, and suffixes are indicated with a “-” preceding the term. Some terms can appear as either prefixes or suffixes in scientific words, this is indicated with a “-” on either side of the term.


prefix or suffix
meaning examples
an-, a- not anhedral, aphanitic, anion
poly- much/many polyhedral, polymorph
eu- good, well euhedral
-morph- shape polymorph, morphological
-hedral, -hedron having a number of sides polyhedral, dodecahedron
phaner- visible phaneritic
geo- related to the Earth geology, geocentric
-lith- stone lithology, lithosphere, batholith, megalith
-logy study of, science of geology
iso- equal isotope, isostatic
pan- all Pangaea, panorama
meso- middle Mesozoic
palaeo-, paleo- old, ancient Palaeozoic, Palaeontology, paleomagnetism
anthro- human Anthropocene, anthropogenic
-oid like, resembling mineraloid
hydro- of water hydrogen, hydrology, hydroxide, hydroxyl
-ox- sharp, containing oxygen oxygen, oxide, hydroxyl
chalc- containing copper chalcopyrite
Sources: compiled by Joyce M. McBeth (2019) CC-BY 4.0. Etymology –,, and

Latin prefixes and suffixes

prefix or suffix
meaning examples
ex- out of, from, beyond exogenous, example, expert, expand, exoplanet
re- again, back redo, reflect
homo- the same homogeneous
hetero- different heterogeneous
terr- earth, land terrestrial, territory
strat- cover, level stratigraphy, strata, stratosphere
sub- under, below, beneath subduct, submarine, substitute
cat- down, against, back cation, catalogue
de- remove, separate deform, deconstruct
sulf-, sulph- containing sulfur sulfate, sulfide
Sources: compiled by Joyce M. McBeth (2019) CC-BY 4.0. Etymology –,, and

Other prefixes and suffixes

The following prefixes and suffixes are not derived from Latin or Greek roots, and are also found in scientific terminology.

prefix or suffix
meaning examples
neu- un-, non-, dis- neutron, neutral
Sources: compiled by Joyce M. McBeth (2019) CC-BY 4.0. Etymology –,, and

Mineral name origins

Here are some links to webpages that may help you with learning mineral names:

The table below presents name origin information for minerals mentioned in the textbook, and a few additional interesting minerals. I have added in a few mnemonics/characteristics to help you remember the minerals and their names. If you think of more mnemonics, or better ones – let me know and I will add them to the table (and give you credit!)

Name origin (language) meaning Mnemonic/facts
Sulfate minerals
gypsum gypsos (Greek) plaster gyprock (plasterboard) is made of gypsum
anhydrite anhydros (Greek) without water like gypsum, but it isn’t hydrated like gypsum
barite barus (Greek) heavy barium is heavy. It is used in the oilfield to make drilling fluid heavier, and in medicine for gut imaging procedures.
celestite cœlestis (Greek) celestial
Oxide minerals
hematite aematitis lithos (Greek) blood stone colour is a reddish brown, like dried blood (heme)
magnetite Magnesia, Greece named for mineral locality Magnetite is magnetic
corundum kuruvinda (Sanskrit) ruby
Hydroxide minerals
limonite leimṓn (Greek) meadow it is a yellowy-brown colour, sort of like rotton lemons
bauxite Baux (or Beaux) (France) named for a locality
Sulfide minerals
galena galene (Greek) lead ore heavy because it contains lead, and generally forms many shiny, metallic cubes
sphalerite sphaleros (Greek) treacherous sphalerite as a resinous luster, somewhat like amber, it is also often sub-metallic (and often in the same specimen)
chalcopyrite chalkos, pyrites (Greek) copper, strike fire
molybdenite mólubdos (Greek) lead (note: molybdenite doesn’t contain lead!) moly lubricant is made from molybdenum, and molybdenite is also soft
pyrite pyr (Greek) fire gold in colour, like a yellow fire
bornite Ignaz von Born (German) named for a person iridescent blue, like it is “born again”
arsenopyrite arsenikón, pyrites (Greek) pyrite containing arsenic
stibnite stibi (Greek) antimony
cinnabar zinjifrah (Persian) lost cinnamon candies are red like cinnabar
Halide minerals
cryolite krúos, líthos (Greek) ice-stone
fluorite fluere (Latin) to flow the colour of fluorite is often green, like a mountain stream, flowing, fluo
halite háls (Greek) sea the sea is salty, halite forms when you dry out seawater
sylvite sal digestibus Sylvii, François Sylvius de le Boe (Nederlands) salts of Sylvius, named for a person Sylvia Fedoruk was from Saskatchewan, and sylvite is our provincial mineral
Carbonate minerals
calcite calx (Latin) lime
aragonite Molina de Aragón (Spain) named for locality
magnesite Magnesia (Greek) contains magnesium (which is named for a locality)
dolomite Déodat (Dieudonné) Guy Silvain Tancrède Gratet de Dolomieu (French) named for person
siderite sideros (Greek) iron brownish colour like many iron minerals
malachite molochitus (Greek) mallows brilliant green colour, like a copper roof that has tarnished
azurite lazhward (Persian) blue azure, like a dark blue sky
Phosphate minerals
apatite apatáō (Greek) deceptive
hydroxyapatite apatao, hydro- (Greek) deceptive, water-rich our teeth are made of this mineral
turquoise turques (French) turkish bright blue with black veins running through it, used in jewellery
Silicate minerals
isolated tetrahedra minerals
olivine ŏlīva (greek) olive fruit it is an olive-green colour, and the gem version is called peridotite
garnet granatum (Latin) pomegranate colour is reminiscent of pomegranate, and garnet sounds like pomegranate.
chain silicate minerals
single-chain silicate
pyroxene pyr, xénos (Greek) fire, stranger difficult to identify! A dark mineral, found in mafic rocks
double-chain silicate
amphibole amphibolos (Greek) ambiguous hornblende is a common amphibole mineral, amphiboles are dark minerals
sheet silicate
mica micare (Latin) to flash, or glisten
biotite Jean-Baptiste Biot (France) named for a person brown, forms large and very flat crystals
muscovite Muscovia (Latin) Moscow clear, forms large and very flat crystals, almost like a window (and it was used that way historically)
kaolinite Kaoling (Gaoling) (China) named for a locality
illite Illinois (French, from Miami-Illinois Indigenous language) named for locality
smectite smēktis (Greek) fuller earth smectite clays swell (hence “fuller earth”)
talc talq (Arabic) pure talc is a pure white colour
framework silicate
feldspar Feldspat (German) field spar
plagioclase plágios, klásis (Greek) oblique, breaking fracture
labradorite Labrador (Canada) named for locality irridescent blue feldspar crystals in a darker background, often used in jewellery, countertops, or building facades
albite albus (Latin) white Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter has white hair
anothite an, orthos (Greek) not right angle, oblique
orthoclase orthos (Greek) right
microcline mīkrós, klínein (Greek) little, incline
sanidine sanis, idos (Greek) little plate, to see
quartz querz (German; the etymology is complicated!) quartz clear quartz is very common, often a main mineral in sand because it is very hard
amethyst a-methystos (Greek) not drunk forms purple crystals, often found in geodes
citrine citrina (Latin) colour as yellow as citron yellow like a lemon
Native element minerals
gold gold (Old English)  yellow commonly used for wedding rings and other jewellery
copper kyprios (Greek) of Cyprus commonly used in electrical wiring, and in some jewellery
silver seolfor (Old English) [meaning unknown/lost] commonly used in earrings, rings, and other jewellery, a shiny grey colour.
graphite graphein (Greek) to write pencil leads contain graphite, and you can make graphs with them
diamond adamas (Greek) invincible very hard (but brittle!), used in jewellery especially diamond engagement rings
sulfur / sulphur sulpur (Latin) sulfur yellow, often powdery
platinum platina (Spanish) silver (diminutive)
palladium Pallas (Latin) named for an asteroid
mercury Mercurius (Latin) Roman messenger to the gods liquid metal at room temperatures, used to be used commonly in thermometers
opal possibly upala (Sanskrit); or opalus (Latin) stone, precious stone; opal gem quality opal has shiny irridescence in a white or black matrix
Metamorphic minerals
kyanite kyanos (Greek) blue long blue crystals
sillimanite Benjamin Silliman, Sr. (USA) named for person fine grained white granualar
andalusite Andalusia region (Spain) named for locality
garnet granatum (Latin) pomegranate colour is reminiscent of pomegranate, and garnet sounds like pomegranate.
chlorite khlōritis (Greek) green precious stone chlorine gas is yellow-green, chlorite is a yellow-green mica
amphibole amphibolos (Greek) ambiguous
serpentine serpens (Latin) snake serpentine is a mottled green colour like a snake
biotite Jean-Baptiste Biot (France) named for a person brown, forms large and very flat crystals
muscovite Muscovia (Latin) Moscow clear, forms large and very flat crystals, almost like a window (and it was used that way historically)
glaucophane glaukos, phainestai (Greek) sky-blue, to appear a blue mica
Other minerals (not presently in minerals chapter of textbook)
forsterite Adolarius Jacob Forster (German) named for person dark green, like a forest
fayalite Faial Island (Fayal Island) (Portuguese) named for locality
goethite Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (German) named for person iron oxide mineral, colour variable, often black, brown, reddish.
spinel spinella (Latin) little thorn
millerite William Hallowes Miller (Wales) named for person forms needle-like crystals
melanterite melantria (Greek) ferrous sulfate
topaz Topasos Island (Egypt) named for a locality
beryl beryllos (Greek, possibly) blue-green stone
borax bauraq (Arabic) white
Sources: compiled by Joyce M. McBeth (2019) CC-BY 4.0. Etymology –,, and



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