What Is a Morpheme?

Most Word People love morphemes, but they may not even know it.

A “morpheme” is a word or a part of a word that has a meaning and that contains no smaller part that has a meaning.

An example is probably the best way to explain this concept. Let’s begin with the lexical item nation and roll out the morphemes from there.

  • nation
  • nation-al
  • inter-nation-al
  • inter-nation-al-ize
  • inter-nation-al-iz-ation

So, in the above example, nation, -al, inter-, -ize, and -ation are all morphemes.

By adding small units of meaning to the base form, nation, we have created four new, but closely related, lexical items. Note that these units of meaning are totally dependent on the base form and, therefore, cannot exist on their own. These fundamental units of meaning are morphemes.

The examples above are called bound morphemes since they need to be added to an existing base; there are, however, many words which cannot be divided into smaller elements and these are known as free morphemes. Instances of free morphemes are: table, lion, platform, some, horror, label.

Sources: Merriam-Webster and Tesol-Direct.com

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