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a combining form meaning “death,” used in the formation of compound words: thanatophobia.
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Origin of thanato-

Combining form representing Greek thánatos
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does thanato- mean?

Thanato- is a combining form used like a prefix meaning “death.” It is used in some technical terms, including in psychiatry.

Thanato- comes from the Greek thánatos, meaning “death.” In Greek mythology, Thanatos was the personification of death. Similar in meaning and use to thanato- is the more common combining form necro-, from the Greek nekrós, “dead person, corpse.”

The name Thanos, as notably borne by the powerful Marvel Comics supervillain, is from the Greek Athanasios, which is closely related to thánatos and meaning “without death” (see a-, “not, without”). The supervillain Thanos has, effectively, powers of immortality.

Examples of thanato-

One example of a term from psychology that features the combining form thanato- is thanatophobia, “an irrational or disproportionate fear of death, especially one’s own.”

The first part of the word, thanato-, means “death.” The second part of the word may also look familiar. The form -phobia means “fear,” from the Greek phóbos. Thanatophobia literally translates to “fear of death”—a rare word for a common condition!

What are some words that use or are related to the combining form thanato- or thanat-?

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

Thanato- is a relatively obscure combining form, and it might surprise you that English even has a “death prefix” like thanato- in the first place. While you may not have much occasion to use it, thanato- provides a good opportunity to practice decoding words by putting your knowledge of Greek roots to work.

So, here’s another example:

The combining form -cracy means “rule, government,” as in democracy or plutocracy. It ultimately comes from the Greek krátos, “rule, strength.” What, then, does thanatocracy literally mean?

That’s right, “government by death.” The term is occasionally used to refer to a government nominally headed by a deceased person, and has all been applied to government policies thought to promote the death of its own subjects. Thanatocracy is also sometimes used to refer to cultures in which rituals surrounding death and dead people are prominent.

Break it down!

The combining form -logy is used to name sciences, areas of study, and bodies of knowledge. With this in mind, what is thanatology?