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Morphology (linguistics)

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Morphology is part of linguistics. It looks at the way words are put together using small pieces called morphemes. A morpheme is the smallest part of a word that has meaning. Different languages have different morphemes and have different rules for how morphemes are combined.

Free and bound morphemes

Words are the smallest pieces of a sentence. Some words only have one morpheme. For example the English words thank, dog, and slow are all words made up of only one morpheme. A morpheme that can stand alone as a word is called a free morpheme.[1]

Words can also be made up of more than one morpheme. English speakers know that one can add the plural(more than one) morpheme, -s, to the end of dog, and create the word dogs. The new word combines the meanings of the two morphemes, so the meaning of the new word, dogs is more than one dog. Dog is a free morpheme, but the plural morpheme -s is not. It must attach to a word (no native English speaker would use -s as a stand alone word). Morphemes which must be attached to a word are called bound morphemes.[2] Morphemes attached to the front of a word are called prefixes. Those attached to the end are called suffixes. Some morphemes can attach in the middle of a word and are called infixes. (example?)

Inflectional and derivational morphemes

There are two types of bound morphemes: derivational and inflectional. Inflectional morphemes give a listener or reader information about how the word is used in a sentence.[3] English does not have a lot of inflectional morphemes. An example of an inflectional morpheme in English is the -ed suffix for verbs. This morpheme at the end of a verb lets the speaker know that the action happened in the past. Another example is the -s suffix for nouns to show that there is more than one of the noun.

Derivational morphemes change the part of speech or somehow change the basic meaning of the word they attach to.[4] Most bound morphemes in English are derivational.


English Word: "unthankful"


"un-" "thank" "-ful"
derivational bound morpheme free morpheme derivational bound morpheme
makes the word it attaches to have the opposite meaning a verb that means: "to tell (someone) that you are grateful for something that he or she has done or given"[5] must attach to a noun, changes the word it attaches to into an adjective.

English Word: "songwriter"


"song" "write" "-er"
free morpheme free morpheme derivational bound morpheme
a noun that means: "a short piece of music with words that are sung"[6] a verb that means: "to form letters or numbers on a surface with a pen, pencil, etc."[7] must attach to a verb, changes the word it attaches to into a noun with the meaning "one who does (verb)"

English Word: "modernized"


"modern" "-ize" "-ed"
free morpheme derivational bound morpheme inflectional bound morpheme
adjective meaning "of or relating to the present time or the recent past" [8] must attach to an adjective, changes the word it attaches to into a verb with the meaning "to make something (adjective)" must attach to a verb, shows that the verb is in past tense