by Kirsten Mills
Student, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, 1998
Morphemes are what make up words. Often, morphemes are thought of
as words but that is not always true. Some single morphemes are words
while other words have two or more morphemes within them. Morphemes
are also thought of as syllables but this is incorrect. Many words have
two or more syllables but only one morpheme. Banana, apple,
papaya, and nanny are just a few examples. On the other
hand, many words have two morphemes and only one syllable; examples include
cats, runs, and barked.
morpheme: a combination of sounds that have a meaning. A morpheme
does not necessarily have to be a word. Example: the
word cats has two morphemes. Cat is a morpheme, and s
is a morpheme. Every morpheme is either a base or an affix.
An affix can be either a prefix or a suffix. Cat is the base
morpheme, and s is a suffix.
affix: a morpheme that comes at the beginning (prefix) or the ending
(suffix) of a base morpheme. Note:
An affix usually is a morpheme that cannot stand alone. Examples:
-ful, -ly, -ity, -ness. A few exceptions are
able, like, and less.
base: a morpheme that gives a word its meaning. The base morpheme
cat gives the word cats its meaning: a particular type of
prefix: an affix that comes before a base morpheme. The in
in the word inspect is a prefix.
suffix: an affix that comes after a base morpheme. The s
in cats is a suffix.
free morpheme: a morpheme that can stand alone as a word without
another morpheme. It does not need anything attached to it to make
a word. Cat is a free morpheme.
bound morpheme: a sound or a combination of sounds that cannot stand
alone as a word. The s in cats is a bound morpheme,
and it does not have any meaning without the free morpheme cat.
inflectional morpheme: this morpheme can only be a suffix.
The s in cats is an inflectional morpheme. An
inflectional morpheme creates a change in the function of the word. Example:
the d in invited indicates past tense. English has only seven
inflectional morphemes: -s (plural) and -s (possessive)
are noun inflections; -s ( 3rd-person singular), -ed ( past
tense), -en (past participle), and -ing ( present participle)
are verb inflections; -er (comparative) and -est (superlative)
are adjective and adverb inflections.
derivational morpheme: this type of morpheme changes the meaning
of the word or the part of speech or both. Derivational morphemes
often create new words. Example: the prefix and derivational
morpheme un added to invited changes the meaning of the word.
allomorphs: different phonetic forms or variations of a morpheme.
Example: The final morphemes in the following words are pronounced
differently, but they all indicate plurality: dogs, cats, and horses.
homonyms: morphemes that are spelled the same but have different
meanings. Examples: bear (an animal) and bear
(to carry), plain (simple) and plain ( a level area
homophones: morphemes that sound alike but have different meanings
and spellings. Examples: bear, bare; plain,
plane; cite, sight, site.
Fifteen Common Prefixes
The following tables and tip are adopted from Grammar and Composition
by Mary Beth Bauer, et al.
||away from, off
Ten Common Suffixes
||capable of being
||the act of
||making or applying
||the state of being
||in a certain way
||the result of being
||the state of being
|-tion (-ion, -sion)
||the act of or the state of being
Suffixes can also be used to tell the part of speech of a word. The
following examples show the parts of speech indicated by the suffixes in
Nouns: -ance, -ful, -ity, -ment, -ness, -tion
Adjectives: -able, -ful, -less, -ly
Identify and label the parts of the following words as: bound or free,
derivational or inflectional, and base or affix. Indicate the number
of morphemes in each word.
Identify at least 10 sets of homophones and give the different
Example: board (a flat piece of wood) and bored (uninterested,
here for answers.
Fromkin, Victoria, and Robert Rodman. An Introduction to Language.
Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Joanovich College Publishers,
Kolln, Martha, and Robert Funk. Understanding English Grammar.
Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1998.
Hacker, Diana. The Bedford Handbook for Writers.
3rd ed. Boston: Bedford
Books of St. Martin's Press, 1991.
Bauer, Mary Beth, et al., Grammar and Composition. New
Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.,
Written by Kirsten Mills
Edited by Mark