Categories: Linguistics

What is a Morpheme? | Definition, Types and Examples

What is a Morpheme?

A morpheme is the smallest meaningful and syntactical or grammatical unit of a language which cannot be divided without changing its actual meaning. For instance, the word ‘love’ is a morpheme; but if you dispel any character such as ‘e’ then it will be meaningless or losses 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 is a morpheme in linguistics’?

Types of Morphemes


The morpheme is of two types. They are:

  1. Free Morphemes
  2. Bound Morphemes

1. Free Morphemes

A morpheme that has individual meaning and can be formed independently is called a free morpheme. For example;  free, get, human, song, love, happy, sad, may, much, but, and, or, some, above, when etc. All of the words have individual meaning and all of them are free morphemes. Free morphemes can be categorized into two sub-types. They are:

  • Lexical morphemes
  • Grammatical and functional morphemes

Lexical Morphemes

The lexical morphemes are those morphemes that are large in number and independently meaningful. The lexical morphemes include nouns, adjectives and verbs. These types of 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
  • Affixes

Bound Roots

Bound roots are those Bound morphemes which lexical meaning when they are included to other bound morphemes to form the content words. For example, -ceive, -tain, perceive, deceive, retain, contain etc.

Affixes

Affixes are those bound morphemes which naturally attached different types of words and 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
  • Infixes
  • Suffixes
  • Derivational
  • Inflectional

Prefixes

Prefixes are kind of bound morphemes included at the beginning of different types of words. For example in-, un-, sub- incomplete, injustice, unable, uneducated, subway etc.

Infixes

Infixes are those bound morphemes included within the words. There are no infixes that exist in the English language.

Suffixes

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 Affixes

Derivational morphemes are used to make new words by changing their meaning or different grammatical category. 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:

  1. Class-maintaining derivational morphemes
  2. Class-changing derivational morphemes

1. Class-Maintaining Derivational Morphemes

Class-maintaining derivational morphemes are usually produced a derived form of the same class as the root. They don’t change the class 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 are usually produced a derived form of the other class from the root. For example; -er, -ish, -al, teacher, boyish, national etc.

Inflectional Affixes

Inflectional morphemes are not used to produce new words rather indicate the aspects of the grammar function of the word. For instance, inflectional morphemes are indicated whether a word is singular or plural if it is past tense or not and if it is comparative or possessive forms. English has eight Inflectional morphemes all of which are suffixes.

English Inflectional morphemes affixes:

Nouns:

  • Plural (-s): The courses.
  • Possessive: Jack‘s courses.

Verbs:

3rd person singular number non-past (-s):

  • Jack teaches English well.
  • He reaches the place on time.

Possessive (-ing):

  • He is writing.
  • She is singing.

Past participle (-en/ed):

  • He has written the book.
  • He worked

Adjectives:

  • Comparative: (-er): John is happier than before.
  • Superlative: (-est): He is the tallest person in the class.

After getting all the definitions, types and examples you have gotten the clear conception about morphemes and more specifically what is a morpheme in linguistics? After all, this is how we can define morphemes.

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