Human Anatomy:  Describing General Parts of the Body

In order to describe the human body in English, we begin by using general terms. In technical language, the most basic parts of the body are as follows:


Head, Body and Extremities

The body is also called the trunk.

The extremities can be categorized as upper and lower, or superior and inferior.  Thus, the technical description of the arms would be superior or upper extremities, while that of the legs would be the inferior or lower extremities.

Medical professionals need to know both technical and common ways of describing parts of the human body. When discussing illnesses and patients with other nurses and doctors, you will often use technical language. However, when talking with an injured patient, it is important to know common and everyday terms for body parts and illnesses.


Basic Anatomy of the Leg  

How are parts of the leg related to each other?

To discuss locations of body parts we can use two sets of vocabulary. In everyday English we describe locations and relationships with words such as:

above inside  back over
behind  near   side in between
below  next to on top
beside front  under  bottom   


Medical terminology uses a special vocabulary to describe body locations. Provided below are some examples:

anterior superior superficial
posterior inferior  deep
medial proximal external
lateral distal  internal


Terms of relationship

  • A. Anterior - front
  • B. Posterior - back
  • C. Superior - cranial, cephalic - head end, up
  • D. Inferior - caudal - down
  • E. Medial - midline
  • F. Lateral - to side


Terms of comparison

  • G. Proximal - toward trunk
  • H. Distal - away from trunk
  • I. Palmar - palm of hand
  • J. Plantar - sole of foot
  • K. Superficial - toward the surface
  • L. Deep - toward center

leg  body

Exercise 1

Using everyday English, can you describe the relationships of various parts of the leg? Describe to your partner how the following parts of your leg are connected:

Foot; toes; ankle; knee; calf; thigh; hip; shin

How about other parts?

Skin; bones; joints


Try and use all of the descriptor words listed above!

Example:  A) Where is the knee in relationship to the shin?

                    My knee is above my shin.


                B) How is the foot connected to the leg?

                    The ankle connects the foot to the leg.


Basic Anatomy of the Arm

Exercise 2

Using the same descriptors as in exercise 1.1, describe to your partner the relationships of parts of your arms:

Hand; fingers; palm; wrist; forearm; elbow; shoulder


Last modified: Tuesday, 13 June 2017, 9:25 AM