Morphology - Unit One - Lesson No. 5

Generation and representation of morphemes

A single word may be composed of one or more morphemes:

one morpheme boy
two morphemes boy + ish  
desire + able
three morphemes boy + ish + ness
desire + able + ness
four morphemes gentle + man + li + ness
un + desire + able + ity
more than four morphemes un + gentle + man + li + ness
anti + dis + establish + ment + ari + an + ism

A morpheme may be represented by a single sound, such as the morpheme a meaning “without” as in amoral or asexual, or by a single syllable, such as child and –ish in child + ish. A morpheme may also consist of more than one syllable: by two syllables, as in camel, lady, and water; or by three syllables, as in Hackensack or crocodile; or by four syllables, as in hallucinate, apothecary, and onomatopoeia. A morpheme – the minimal linguistic unit – is thus an arbitrary union of a sound and a meaning that cannot be further analyzed (Fromkin, et al 2007: 77).


To go more technical, morphemes are created by the general mechanism of concatenation. Concatenation is the combination of elements into a linear sequence. For example, the morphological structure of eater can be represented as follows:

This word is well-formed because of the requirement that –er occurs after a verb is met. The fact that this combination of morphemes is a noun, not a verb, follows from the generalization that English suffixes determine that category of the complex words that they create: since –er is an affixal noun, the whole word is a noun, (Booij and Greet 2007: 9)

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