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Morphology: Structured Meaning in Words1

What It Means to Know a Word


To know a word, we need at least four kinds of information:
1. Phonological information the sounds of a word and their sequencing
2. Semantic information the meanings of the word
3. Morphological information the formations of words
4. Syntactic information .- what category the word belongs to and how to use it in a
sentence.
Word-Class categories (Parts of Speech)
Verbs
Verbs can have the following forms, for example:
look
sing

looks
sings

looking
singing

looked
sang

sung

Verbs are found in the verb slot in a sentence (usually after a subject or object noun).
Nouns
Nouns can have the following forms, for example:
school
girl

schools
girls

schools
girls

schools
girls

Nouns are found in the noun slot, in the subject position, at the beginning of a sentence,
or in the object position.
Only nouns can take determiners like a/an/the/this/that/some .
Adjectives
Adjectives can have the following forms, for example:
clear
expensive
good

clearer
more expensive
better

clearest
most expensive
best

Adectives are usually found in the adjective slot, that is, before nouns.
Morphemes
Some nouns have two meaningful elements:
beautiful
churches
supermarkets

bookshelves

television

A set of words can be built up by adding certain meaningful elements to a core element:
truer
untrue
truthfully
truest
truth
untruthfully
1

Finegan, Edgard, and Nik Besnier, Language, its Structure and Use, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1989

truly

truthful

ness/untruthfulness

The meaningful elements of a word are called morphemes. So, true is a single
morpheme; untrue and truly have 2 morphemes each; and untruthfulness contains 5
(UN + TRUE +TH + FUL + NESS).
Free Morphemes - Some morphemes can stand alone (TRUE, MOTHER, ORANGE).
They are called free morphemes.
Bound Morpehemes - Some morphemes cannot stand alone (UN-, TELE-, -NESS,
-ER). They are called bound morphemes.
Derivational Morphemes - Certain bound morphemes change the part of speech of the
word to which they are affixed: truthful; establishment; darken; frighten; teacher.
They are usually added to end of words, as in the following rules:
Noun
Adjective
Verb
Verb
Adjective
Noun

+
+
+
+
+
+

-ful
-ly
-ment
-er
-en
-en

Adjective (doubtful, beautiful)


Adverb (beautifully, truly)
Noun (establishment, amazement)
Noun (teacher, rider, thriller)
Verb (sweeten, brighten, harden)
Verb (frighten, darken)

Those are called derivational morphemes. Derivational morphemes can produce new
words from existing words by 1, changing the meaning of a word: true, untrue; paint,
repaint; or by changing the part of speech: true; truly; truth.
Inflectional Morphemes Some morphemes alter the form of a word without
changing, generally speaking, either its part of speech or its meaning (cats, collected,
sleeps, louder). These inflectional morphemes create variant forms of the word to
function differently in a sentence or discourse:
Word Class

Category

Noun

Plural
Possessive

Examples
cars, churches
cars childrens

Verb

Third Person
Past Tense
Past Participle
Present Participle

(she) swims, (it) seems


wanted, showed
wanted, shown
wanting, showing

Adjective

Comparative
Superlative

taller, sweeter
tallest, sweetest

Linear Ordering of Morphemes


Affixes Morphemes which are attached to the beginning of a word are called prefixes.
(untrue, distrust, cooperate). Those attached to the end are called suffixes
(Disappointment, greenish, truly):

Prefixes2
A prefix is placed at the beginning of a word to modify or change its meaning. This is a
list of the most common prefixes in English, together with their basic meaning and
some examples. You can find more detail or precision for each prefix in any good
dictionary. The origins of words are extremely complicated. You should use this list as a
guide only, to help you understand possible meanings. But be very careful, because
often what appears to be a prefix is not a prefix at all. Note also that this list does not
include elements like "auto-" or " bio-", because these are "combining forms", not
prefixes.
Prefix
a-

also an-

a-

a-

Meaning

Examples

not, without

atheist, anaemic

to, towards

aside, aback

in the process of, in a


particular state

a-hunting, aglow

of

anew

completely

abashed

ab-

also abs-

away, from

abdicate, abstract

ad-

also a-, ac-,


af-, ag- al-,
an-, ap-, atas-, at-

movement to, change


into, addition or
increase

advance, adulterate, adjunct, ascend,


affiliate, affirm, aggravate, alleviate,
annotate, apprehend, arrive, assemble,
attend

before, preceding

antecedent, ante-room

opposing, against, the


opposite

anti-aircraft, antibiotic, anticlimax,


Antarctic

all over, all around

bespatter, beset

completely

bewitch, bemuse

having, covered with

bejewelled

affect with (added to

befog

anteantibe-

also ant-

http://www.englishclub.com/vocabulary/prefixes.htm

nouns)
cause to be (added to
adjectives)
com-

also co-, col-, with, jointly,


con-, corcompletely

becalm
combat, codriver, collude, confide,
corrode

contra-

against, opposite

contraceptive

counter-

opposition, opposite
direction

counter-attack, counteract

de-

down, away

descend, despair, depend, deduct

completely

denude, denigrate

removal, reversal

de-ice, decamp

dia-

also di-

through, across

diagonal

dis-

also di-

negation, removal,
expulsion

disadvantage, dismount, disbud, disbar

en-

also em-

put into or on

engulf, enmesh

bring into the


condition of

enlighten, embitter

intensification

entangle, enrage

out

exit, exclude, expand

upward

exalt, extol

completely

excruciate, exasperate

previous

ex-wife

extra-

outside, beyond

extracurricular

hemi-

half

hemisphere

hyper-

beyond, more than,


more than normal

hypersonic, hyperactive

hypo-

under

hypodermic, hypothermia

not, without

infertile, inappropriate, impossible

ex-

in-

also e-, ef-

also il-, im-

also il-, im-,


ir-

in, into, towards,


inside

influence, influx, imbibe

infra-

below

infrared, infrastructure

inter-

between, among

interact, interchange

intra-

inside, within

intramural, intravenous

non-

absence, negation

non-smoker, non-alcoholic

blocking, against,
concealing

obstruct, occult, offend, oppose

surpassing, exceeding

outperform

external, away from

outbuilding, outboard

excessively,
completely

overconfident, overburdened, overjoyed

upper, outer, over,


above

overcoat, overcast

peri-

round, about

perimeter

post-

after in time or order

postpone

pre-

before in time, place,


order or importance

pre-adolescent, prelude, precondition

pro-

favouring, in support
of

pro-African

acting for

proconsul

motion forwards or
away

propulsion

before in time, place


or order

prologue

re-

again

repaint, reappraise, reawake

semi-

half, partly

semicircle, semi-conscious

at a lower position

submarine, subsoil

lower in rank

sub-lieutenant

ob-

also oc-, of-,


op-

out-

over-

sub-

also suc-,
suf-, sug-,

nearly, approximately

sub-tropical

in union, acting
together

synchronize, symmetry

across, beyond

transnational, transatlantic

into a different state

translate

beyond

ultraviolet, ultrasonic

extreme

ultramicroscopic

not

unacceptable, unreal, unhappy,


unmanned

reversal or
cancellation of action
or state

unplug, unmask

beneath, below

underarm, undercarriage

lower in rank

undersecretary

not enough

underdeveloped

sup-, sur-,
syn-

also sym-

trans-

ultra-

un-

under-

List of English Suffixes3


A suffix is an affix that is added to the end of a word that conditions its usage or meaning.
The opposite of suffix is prefix.
suffix
Meaning
Samples

Suffix

General Meaning

Example

-agogy

leading

pedagogy , demagogy

-archy

rule, leadership

gynarchy , anarchy

-cide

murder, killing agent

suicide , vespacide, regicide

-cracy

rule, government

http://www.learnenglish.de/grammar/suffixtext.htm

kakistocracy , democracy ,
androcracy

-cycle

circle, cycle, unit of radio frequency

epicycle , hydrocycle

-ectomy

surgical removal

laryngectomy , vasectomy

-ess

female

-esthesis,

actress , waitress ,
stewardess

sensation, feeling

synesthesia, kinesthesis

-ful

full of, having some or much

hopeful , useful

-holic

love , addiction

alcoholic

-ism

doctrine, act, practice, condition

-ist

person

dentist

-itis

disease, inflammation

hepatitis , gingivitis

-esthesia

-itude
-less

lack of
primarily changes adjectives to adverbs; also
changes some nouns to adjectives and some
(past-tense) verbs to adverbs

-mania
-ography or
-ogram

Buddhism , southernism

attitude , certitude

-like, having the attributes of; In modern English,


-ly

Protestantism , alcoholism ,

homeless , useless
quick(adj) > quickly(adv),
state(n) > stately(adj),
abashed(v) > abashedly(adv)

an irrational but irresistible motive for a belief or kleptomania , megalomania ,


action
writing, description

mythomania
stenography , geography ,
ideogram

-oid

resembling

-ology

study, science

-onomy

knowledge of

astronomy

-osis

process, action

mitosis , osmosis

-osis

formation

ostosis

-osis

diseased condition

psychosis

-phobia

fear

acrophobia , mysophobia

-phone

sound, audio

telephone , homophone

-science

knowing

omniscience

-scope

from Greek skopos , view; instrument for viewing


and observing spaces

solenoid , hominoid
planetology , thyroidology ,
phthisiology

microscope , telescope

-ship

circle, state of being

friendship , relationship

-ward

direction

southward

-wise

direction