Words, morphemes, and allomorphs
Words can be decomposed into smaller meaningful elements that linguists call morphemes.
A morpheme is the smallest linguistic unit that has meaning or a grammatical
Some morphemes can be realized in more than one way, i.e. a morpheme canhave
different forms in different environments. The variants of a morpheme are called
The form of a morpheme is based on its pronunciation, i.e. the spelling is irrelevant.
Homophones are different morphemes that have the same morphological form.
Content morpheme vs. function morpheme
content: N, V, ADJ, ADV (open class)
function: P, COMP, DET, PRO, bound morpheme (closed class)
Free morphemes vs. bound morphemes
The expression to which a bound morpheme is attached is called the stem, e.g. in
believable ‘believe’ is the stem, and in unbelievable ‘believable’ is the stem (cf.
root and base).
Affixes: prefixes, suffixes, infixes, circumfixes
Borrowing and historical change can make morphology ‘messy’.
1. ‘Cranberry’ morphemes
2. Latinate words
Derivation vs. inflection
1. Derivational morphemes can change the category of aword.
category (N) >
2. Derivational morphemes are less productive than inflectional morphemes (e.g. –hood
occurs with half a dozen words in English while –ed is attached to almost every noun).
3. Derivational morphemes tend to have more concrete meaningsthan inflectional
4. Derivational morphemes occur closer to the stem than inflectional morphemes.
English has 8 inflectional suffixes:
3 person singular
Suppletion, Umlaut, Ablaut
go wellgood us
Endocentric compounds include an element that designates the ‘type’ of the
compound; this element is commonly called the ‘head’ of the compound. The other
element functions like a modifier of the head.
Exocentric compounds do not have a designated head.Endocentric compounds (dvandva)
Exocentric compounds (bahuvrihi)
Blending > smoke
Smoke + fog > motel
Motor+ hotel > brunch
Breakfast + lunch > chunnel
Channel + tunnel
Clipping > bike
Bicycle > gas
Gasoline > phone
Telephone > ad
to exhibit – exhibit-or
printer – to print
book – book-s
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Daio detectingand ranging
> to edit
> to lase
to bridge (cf. to mail, to mushroom, to data-bank)
a command (cf. a dump, a guess, a kiss)
to open (cf. to better, to dirty, to empty)
II. Overview of grammatical categories
Parts-of-speech (lexical categories)