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  • "Unbreakable" comprises three morphemes: un- (a bound morpheme signifying "not"), -break- (the root, a free morpheme), and -able (a morpheme signifying "can be done").
  • Allomorphs of the plural morpheme for regular nouns: /s/ (e.g. in cats /kæts/), /ɨz/ (e.g. in dishes /dɪʃɨz/), and /z/ (e.g. in dogs /dɒɡz/).

In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest semantic unit in a language. The field of study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. A morpheme is not identical to a word, and the principal difference between the two is that a morpheme may or may not stand alone, whereas a word, by definition, is a freestanding unit of meaning. Every word comprises one or more morphemes.


Classification of morphemes

Free vs. bound

Every morpheme can be classified as either free or bound. These categories are mutually exclusive, and as such, a given morpheme will belong to exactly one of them.

Derivational vs. inflectional

Bound morphemes can be further classified as derivational or inflectional.


Allomorphs are variants of a morpheme that differ in pronunciation but are semantically identical. For example, in English, the plural marker -(e)s of regular nouns can be pronounced /-z/, /-s/, or /-ɨz/, depending on the final sound of the noun's singular form.

Morphological analysis

In natural language processing for Japanese, Chinese and other languages, morphological analysis is the process of segmenting a sentence into a row of morphemes. Morphological analysis 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.[citation needed]

Changing definitions of morpheme

In generative grammar, the definition of a morpheme depends heavily on whether syntactic trees have morphemes as leafs or features as leafs.

Given the definition of morpheme as "the smallest meaningful unit" Nanosyntax aims to account for idioms where it is often an entire syntactic tree which contributes "the smallest meaningful unit." An example idiom is "Don't let the cat out of the bag" where the idiom is composed of "let the cat out of the bag" and that might be considered a semantic morpheme, which is composed of many syntactic morphemes. Other cases where the "smallest meaningful unit" is larger than a word include some collocations such as "in view of" and "business intelligence" where the words together have a specific meaning.

The definition of morphemes also play a significant role in the interfaces of generative grammar in the following theoretical constructs;

See also




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

External links