Morphology - Unit One - Lesson No. 6

Root, stem and base

A root is that part of the word which remains after all the affixes have been removed. A root in other words, cannot be analyzed further either in terms of inflectional or in terms of derivational morphology. Examples:

Words Roots Derivational affixes Inflectional affixes
cigarettes cigar -ette -s (plu.)
divorcees divorce -cee -s (plu.)
transformationalists’ transform -ation, -al, -ist -s (plu.) + -Possisive.
nationality nation -al, -ity
economically economy -ic, -al, -ly
ownership own -er, -ship

A root cannot be further analyzed without total loss of identity. As shown above, a root is that part of the word left when all the affixes are removed.


A stem is that part of a word which remains after all the inflexional affixes have been taken away. A stem cannot be analyzed in terms of inflexional affixes but it can in many cases be analyzed in terms of derivational affixes. Below are some examples of stems.

Words Stems Inflectional affixes
cigarettes cigarette -s (plu.)
divorcees divorcee -s (plu.)
transformationalists’ transformationalist -Possisive.
nationality nationality
economically economically
ownership ownership

A stem may consist of the following:

1. Solely of a single morpheme

In such a case, a stem happens to be a root and a stem in the same time. In john’s, for example, John is a root as well as a stem.

A root morpheme plus (more than) a derivational suffix {stem = root + Deriv. Affix} For example,

unscrew cigarette nationality
reunite divorcee economically
teaching translformationalist ownership
2. Two root morphemes
  • Blackbird
  • Blackhawk
  • Boyfriend
  • Housewife
  • Whitehouse
3. Three root morphemes
  • Son-in-law
  • sister-in-law
  • mother-in-law
  • brother-in-law
4. Four root morphemes

Example: dog-in-the-manger
To summarize, stem is the form of a word that is obtained by removing its inflexional endings and that functions as the base form for morphological processes.


Base word is the word to which a morphological operation applies. It is any form to which an affix of any kind has been added. Below are some examples:

  • Theory is the root and the base of theorize , theorize is the base of theorization
  • Cigar is root and base for cigarette and cigarette is the base for cigarettes
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