What is Morpheme?
A morpheme is the smallest meaningful and syntactical or grammatical unit of a language that cannot be divided without changing its actual meaning. For instance, the word ‘love’ is a morpheme; but if you eliminate any character such as ‘e’ then it will be meaningless or lose the actual meaning of love.
Now we can say a morpheme is the smallest grammatical unit of a language by which meaningful words are formed. However, this is how we may define ‘what a morpheme’ in linguistics.
Types of Morphemes
The morphemes are of two types. They are:
- Free Morphemes
- Bound Morphemes
1. Free Morphemes
A morpheme that has a particular meaning and can be formed independently is called a free morpheme. For example, free, get, human, song, love, happy, sad, may, much, but, or, some, above, when, etc.
All of the words have individual meanings and are free morphemes. Free morphemes can be categorized into two sub-types. They are:
- Lexical morphemes
- Grammatical and functional morphemes
These free morphemes are called lexical morphemes—for example, dog, good, honest, boy, girl, woman, excellent, etc.
Grammatical or Functional Morphemes
The grammatical or functional morphemes are those morphemes that consist of functional words in a language, such as prepositions, conjunctions determiners, and pronouns. For example, and, but, or, above, on, into, after, that, the, etc.
2. Bound Morphemes
A morpheme that doesn’t have any independent meaning and can be formed with the help of free morphemes is called a bound morpheme.
For example; less, ness, pre, un, en, ceive, ment. Bound morphemes can be categorized into two sub-classes. They are:
- Bound roots
Bound roots are those Bound morphemes that have lexical meaning when they are included in other bound morphemes to form the content words. For example, -ceive, -tain, perceive, deceive, retain, contain, etc.
Affixes are those bound morphemes that naturally attach different types of words and are used to change the meaning or function of those words.
For example, -ment in payment, enjoyment, entertainment en- in enlighten, enhance, enlarge, ‘s in Joseph’s, Lora’s -ing reading, sleeping, singing, etc.
Affixes can be categorized into five sub-classes according to their position in the word and function in a phrase or sentence. They are:
Prefixes are bound morphemes included at the beginning of different types of words—for example in-, un-, sub- incomplete, injustice, unable, uneducated, subway, etc.
Infixes are those bound morphemes included within the words. There are no infixes that exist in the English language.
Suffixes are those bound morphemes included at the end of different types of words. For example; -able, -less, -ness, -en, available, careless, happiness, shortening, etc.
Derivational morphemes make new words by changing their meaning or different grammatical categories. In other words, derivational morphemes form new words with a meaning and category distinct through the addition of affixes.
Thus, the derivational morphemes ‘-ness’ changes the adjective of ‘kindness’, the noun ‘care’ becomes the adjective careless.
This is how derivational morphemes make new words by changing their meaning or grammatical category. Derivational morphemes can be categorized into two sub-classes. They are:
- Class-maintaining derivational morphemes
- Class-changing derivational morphemes
1. Class-Maintaining Derivational Morphemes
Class-maintaining derivational morphemes are usually produced in a derived form of the same class as the root, and they don’t change the course of the parts of speech. For example; -ship -hood, relationship, leadership, livelihood, manhood, etc.
2. Class-Changing Derivational Morphemes
In contrast to Class-maintaining derivational morphemes, Class-changing derivational morphemes usually produce a derived form of the other class from the root—for example, -er, -ish, -al, teacher, boyish, national, etc.
Inflectional morphemes are not used to produce new words; instead indicate the aspects of the grammar function of the word.
For instance, inflectional morphemes indicate whether a word is singular or plural, past tense or not, and comparative or possessive forms. English has eight Inflectional morphemes, all of which are suffixes.
English Inflectional morphemes affix:
- Plural (-s): The courses.
- Possessive: Jack‘s courses.
3rd person singular number non-past (-s):
- Jack teaches English well.
- He reaches the place on time.
- He is writing.
- She is singing.
Past participle (-en/ed):
- He has written the book.
- He worked
- Comparative: (-er): John is happier than before.
- Superlative: (-est): He is the tallest person in the class.
After learning all the definitions, types, and examples, you have clearly seen morphemes and, more specifically, a morpheme in linguistics. After all, this is how we can define morphemes.
Have a look at these useful links:
- What is Psycholinguistics?
- Difference between Phonetics and Phonology
- Characteristics of language
- Definition of language by scholars
- Definition of Syntax in linguistics
Azizul Hakim is the founder & CEO of englishfinders.com. He is a passionate writer, English instructor, and content creator. He has completed his graduation and post-graduation in English language and literature.