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GlossaryAppendix AFurther readingBibliographyLicense
00. Introduction01. Phonetics02. Phonology03. Morphology04. Syntax
05. Semantics06. Pragmatics07. Typology08. Historical Linguistics09. Orthography
10. Sociolinguistics11. Psycholinguistics12. Evolutionary Linguistics13. Language Acquisition
14. Creole Languages15. Signed Languages16. Computational Linguistics


Morphology is the identification, analysis and description of the structure of words, practiced by morphologists.

This chapter will largely follow the morpheme-based theory of morphology, but a description of other views of morphology will be presented at the end.


A morpheme is roughly defined as the smallest linguistic unit that has semantic meaning. For example, the word boy cannot be broken down into any further unit of meaning. We can have:

  • b;
  • o;
  • y;
  • bo;
  • by and
  • oy – none of which mean anything. We say that boy is made of only one morpheme.

But the word antigovernment can be broken down into:

  • anti- = against
  • govern = to rule/administrate
  • -ment = noun suffix

Therefore, we say that antigovernment is made of three morphemes.


Affixes are our "workhorse" morphemes--the tools we use again and again to assemble new words. There are several kinds of affixes:

1. Suffixes. Suffixes are morphemes that attach to the end of a word. Examples are:

  -ion in motion
  -ate in investigate

Suffixes are written with an initial hyphen, as above.

2. Prefixes. Prefixes attach to the beginning of a word. Examples are:

  re- in redo
  un- in unthinkable

Prefixes are written with a terminal hyphen, as above.

3. Infixes. Although English generally does not have infixes, or morphemes that go "in the middle" of a word, other languages do. An exception in English might be -frickin- in

      Q: Are you going to the concert tonight?
      A: Absofrickinlutely.

Infixes are written with initial and terminal hyphens, as above.

3. Circumfixes. Circumfixes are affixes that "surround" the word, attaching to the beginning and end of the word. Although English has few examples of this type of affix, other languages use it. The circumfix is probably most widely known from the German past participle (ge- -t for regular verbs). Probably the only circumfixes in English are:

  en- -en in enlighten
  em- -en in embolden

In older usage, however, the present participle could be formed using the circumfix a- -ing:

  a- -ing in a-flying
  a- -ing in a-caroling

Circumfixes are written with initial and terminal hyphens, as above.

Other Morphemes[edit]

Certain processes which apply to words are often considered to be "morphemes", despite having no single surface realization.

Reduplication is a process found in many languages whereby an element of a word is repeated.

Truncation is the process whereby part of a word is cut off.

Inflectional Morphology[edit]

Illustration of the possible inflections of the Spanish word "gato", meaning "cat", for gender and number.

Derivational Morphology[edit]

While English is poor in inflectional morphology, it has a complicated system of deriving new words from old.


Other Theories of Morphology[edit]

Lexeme-based morphology views words as being the result of the application of rules to lexemes, rather than the concatenation of morphemes.

Word-based morphology or Realizational morphology views what would traditionally be considered derived or inflected words to be paradigms which bear internal similarity and often systematic relationships to other paradigms due to analogy.

Current Issues in Morphology[edit]