Morpheme: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In morpheme-based morphology, a morpheme is the smallest linguistic unit that has semantic meaning. In spoken language, morphemes are composed of phonemes (the smallest linguistically distinctive units of sound), and in written language morphemes are composed of graphemes (the smallest units of written language).

The concept morpheme differs from the concept word, as many morphemes cannot stand as words on their own. A morpheme is free if it can stand alone, or bound if it is used exclusively alongside a free morpheme. Its actual phonetic representation is the morph, with the different morphs representing the same morpheme being grouped as its allomorphs.

English example:

The word "unbreakable" has three morphemes: "un-", a bound morpheme; "break", a free morpheme; and "-able", a bound morpheme. "un-" is also a prefix, "-able" is a suffix. Both "un-" and "-able" are affixes.

The morpheme plural-s has the morph "-s", /s/, in cats (/kæts/), but "-es", /ɨz/, in dishes (/dɪʃɨz/), and even the voiced "-s", /z/, in dogs (/dɒgz/). "-s". These are allomorphs.


Types of morphemes

  • Free morphemes like town, and dog can appear with other lexemes (as in town hall or dog house) or they can stand alone, i.e. "free".
  • Bound morphemes like "un-" appear only together with other morphemes to form a lexeme. Bound morphemes in general tend to be prefixes and suffixes. Unproductive, non-affix morphemes that exist only in bound form are known as "cranberry" morphemes, from the "cran" in that very word.
  • Derivational morphemes can be added to a word to create (derive) another word: the addition of "-ness" to "happy," for example, to give "happiness." They carry semantic information.
  • Inflectional morphemes modify a word's tense, number, aspect, and so on, without deriving a new word or a word in a new grammatical category (as in the "dog" morpheme if written with the plural marker morpheme "-s" becomes "dogs"). They carry grammatical information.
  • Allomorphs are variants of a morpheme, e.g. the plural marker in English is sometimes realized as /-z/, /-s/ or /-ɨz/.

Other variants

Morphological analysis

In natural language processing for Japanese, Chinese and other languages, morphological analysis is a process of segmenting given sentence into a row of morphemes. It is closely related to Part-of-speech tagging, but word segmentation is required for these languages because word boundaries are not indicated by blank spaces. Famous Japanese morphological analysers include Juman, ChaSen and Mecab.

See also


  • Spencer, Andrew (1992). Morphological Theory. Oxford: Blackwell.  

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also morpheme




  1. Plural form of Morphem.

Simple English

A morpheme is the smallest linguistic part of a word that can have a meaning, such as "un-", "break", and "-able" in the word "unbreakable".

There are 5 types of morpheme:

  1. Free morpheme: a morpheme which can be joined with other morphemes (such as unbreakable) or on its own (such as break)
  2. Bound morpheme: a morpheme which can only be used when joined to other morphemes (such as unbreakable)
  3. Derivational morpheme: a morpheme which can be derived (added) to another morpheme to create a new word (such as adding -ness to happy to form the new word happiness)
  4. Inflectional morpheme: a morpheme which can change a word's tense, number, etc (such as adding -s to dog to form the plural dogs)
  5. Allomorphs: different types of the same morpheme (for example, the morpheme ed can have the sound 'id' in the word hunted, the sound 't' in the word fished or the sound 'd' in the word buzzed)

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