[ hem ]
/ hɛm /
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See synonyms for: hem / hemmed / hemming on Thesaurus.com

verb (used with object), hemmed, hem·ming.
to fold back and sew down the edge of (cloth, a garment, etc.); form an edge or border on or around.
to enclose or confine (usually followed by in, around, or about): hemmed in by enemies.
an edge made by folding back the margin of cloth and sewing it down.
the edge or border of a garment, drape, etc., especially at the bottom.
the edge, border, or margin of anything.
Architecture. the raised edge forming the volute of an Ionic capital.
Should you take this quiz on “shall” versus “should”? It should prove to be a quick challenge!
Question 1 of 6
Which form is used to state an obligation or duty someone has?

Origin of hem

First recorded before 1000; Middle English hem(e), Old English hem, probably akin to ham “piece of enclosed land, enclosure”; see origin at home

Other definitions for hem (2 of 3)

[ hem ]
/ hɛm /

(an utterance resembling a slight clearing of the throat, used to attract attention, express doubt, etc.)
the utterance or sound of “hem.”
a sound or pause of hesitation: His sermon was full of hems and haws.
verb (used without object), hemmed, hem·ming.
to utter the sound “hem.”
to hesitate in speaking.

Origin of hem

First recorded in 1520–30; imitative

Other definitions for hem (3 of 3)


variant of hemo- before a vowel: hemal.
Also especially British, haem-.
Compare haemat-.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does hem- mean?

Hem- is a combining form used like a prefix meaning “blood.” It is used in many medical terms, especially in pathology.

Hem- comes from the Greek haîma, meaning “blood.”

Hem- is a variant of hemo-, which loses its -o– when combined with words or word elements beginning with vowels. The spelling haem- is chiefly used in British English.

Want to know more? Read our Words That Use hemo- article.

Other variants of hem- used like hem- are hema-, hemato-, and hemat-.

As with haem-, all of these combining forms are often spelled with an additional a in British English, as in haemo-, haema-, haemato-, and haemat-. Historically, these forms have been spelled with a ligature of the a and e, as in hæm-.

Closely related to hem- are -aemia, -emia, -haemia, and -hemia, which are combined to the ends of words to denote blood conditions.

You can learn all about the specific applications for each of these forms at our Words That Use articles for them.

Examples of hem-

One medical term that features the combining form hem- is hemagogue, “an agent that promotes the flow of blood.”

The first part of the word, hem-, means “blood.” The second part of the word, -agogue, is a combining form that means “leader, bringer.” It is used in medical terms to denote substances inducing expulsion or secretion. Hemagogue literally translates to “bringer of blood.”

What are some words that use the combining form hem-?

What are some other forms that hem- may be commonly confused with?

Hem- is not to be confused with hem, a bottom edge of a piece of clothing or sound of clearing the throat, among other senses. And outside medicine, most words that begin with the exact letters hem- are not using it as a combining form to refer to blood, e.g., hemp.

Break it down!

The suffix -oid means “resembling” or “like.” With this in mind, what does hemoid mean?

How to use hem in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for hem (1 of 3)

/ (hɛm) /

an edge to a piece of cloth, made by folding the raw edge under and stitching it down
short for hemline
verb hems, hemming or hemmed (tr)
to provide with a hem
(usually foll by in, around, or about) to enclose or confine

Word Origin for hem

Old English hemm; related to Old Frisian hemme enclosed land

British Dictionary definitions for hem (2 of 3)

/ (hɛm) /

noun, interjection
a representation of the sound of clearing the throat, used to gain attention, express hesitation, etc
verb hems, hemming or hemmed
(intr) to utter this sound
hem and haw or hum and haw to hesitate in speaking or in making a decision

British Dictionary definitions for hem (3 of 3)


combining form
a US variant of haemo-
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Medical definitions for hem


Variant ofhemo-
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.