logo  ELT Concourse: a short language analysis course
Concourse 2

What is a morpheme?

meaning
building meaning

lego

The building blocks of meaning and grammar

A morpheme is usually defined as the smallest meaningful unit of language.  Morphemes are the building blocks from which we make words and some of the grammar.

Here are some examples of the first two main types.  Type 1 morphemes are underlined in red, Type 2 morphemes are in bold green.  Can you see the difference?
Click here when you have an answer.

boy houses smallish keeper window
cruiser computer glasses washing bombardment
unfortunate disappearing toasted villainous exceptional

Some morphemes can be both free and bound depending on their function.  For example, In the clause
    I was able to go
the morpheme able is functioning as a word in its own right but in
    believable
the morpheme able is bound and makes the word believe into an adjective.

In this course, we will be dealing with bound morphemes.  Free morphemes will be considered when we come to analysing words.


2

Two sorts of bound morphemes

Here are some examples of the two kinds of bound morphemes to consider.  Again, Type 1 bound morphemes are underlined in red, Type 2 bound morphemes are in bold green.  Can you see the difference?
Click here when you have an answer.

undo doable washing decided pleasure
requires buses opening unpleasant denationalisation

Notice here, too, that when we are talking about morphemes, spelling is not important.  Change happy to happiness and you have to make a small adjustment to the spelling by changing the y to an i but that makes no difference to the analysis.  We still have the base word, happy (a free morpheme), and the addition, ness (a bound morpheme).  It also doesn't matter that ness can be a free morpheme (i.e., a word) meaning a headland this is not what it means here.

Here's a graphical summary of all this:
summary


test

Take a test

To make sure you have understood so far, try a very short test of your knowledge of morphemes.
Use the 'Back' button to return when you have done that.

If you got that all right, it is safe to move on.

The next part of this section considers just how we use morphemes to build meaning.  Click here to go on.