AskDefine | Define morpheme

Dictionary Definition

morpheme n : minimal meaningful language unit; it cannot be divided into smaller meaningful units

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /ˈmɔː(r)fiːm/
  • /'mO:(r)fi:m/


  1. : The smallest linguistic unit that can carry a meaning.
    The word pigs consists of two morphemes: pig (a particular animal) and s (indication of the plural).

Derived terms


smallest linguistic unit

Extensive Definition

In morpheme-based morphology, a morpheme is the smallest linguistic unit that has semantic meaning. In spoken language, morphemes are composed of phonemes (the smallest linguistically distinctive units of sound), and in written language morphemes are composed of graphemes (the smallest units of written language).
The concept morpheme differs from the concept word, as many morphemes cannot stand as words on their own. A morpheme is free if it can stand alone, or bound if it is used exclusively alongside a free morpheme. Its actual phonetic representation is the morph, with the morphs representing the same morpheme being grouped as its allomorphs. The word "unbreakable" has three morphemes: "un-" (meaning not x), a bound morpheme; "-break-", a free morpheme; and "-able", a bound morpheme. "un-" is also a prefix, "-able" is a suffix. Both are affixes.
The morpheme plural-s has the morph "-s", , in cats ([kæts]), but "-es", [ɪz], in dishes ([dɪʃɪz]), and even the voiced "-s", [z], in dogs ([dɒgz]). These are the allomorphs of "-s". It might even change entirely into -ren in children.

Types of morphemes

  • Free morphemes like town, and dog can appear with other lexemes (as in town hall or dog house) or they can stand alone, i.e. "free".
  • Bound morphemes (or affixes) like "un-" appear only together with other morphemes to form a lexeme. Bound morphemes in general tend to be prefixes and suffixes. Unproductive, non-affix morphemes that exist only in bound form are known as "cranberry" morphemes, from the "cran" in that very word.
  • Derivational morphemes can be added to a word to create (derive) another word: the addition of "-ness" to "happy," for example, to give "happiness." They carry semantic information.
  • Inflectional morphemes modify a word's tense, number, aspect, and so on (as in the "dog" morpheme if written with the plural marker morpheme "-s" becomes "dogs"). They carry grammatical information.
  • Allomorphs are variants of a morpheme, e.g. the plural marker in English is sometimes realized as [-z], [-s] or [-ɪz].

Morphological analysis

In natural language processing for Japanese, Chinese and other languages, morphological analysis is the process of segmenting a given sentence into a row of morphemes. It is closely related to Part-of-speech tagging, but word segmentation is required for these languages because word boundaries are not indicated by blank spaces. Famous Japanese morphological analysers include Juman, ChaSen and Mecab.


  • Morphological Theory

External links

morpheme in Breton: Morfem
morpheme in Bulgarian: Морфема
morpheme in Catalan: Morfema
morpheme in Czech: Morfém
morpheme in Welsh: Morffem
morpheme in Danish: Morfem
morpheme in German: Morphem
morpheme in Estonian: Morfeem
morpheme in Spanish: Morfema
morpheme in Esperanto: Morfemo
morpheme in Persian: تکواژ
morpheme in French: Morphème
morpheme in Irish: Moirféim
morpheme in Galician: Morfema
morpheme in Korean: 형태소
morpheme in Upper Sorbian: Morfem
morpheme in Croatian: Morfem
morpheme in Ido: Morfemo
morpheme in Icelandic: Myndan
morpheme in Italian: Morfema
morpheme in Hebrew: מורפמה
morpheme in Kurdish: Morfîm
morpheme in Hungarian: Morféma
morpheme in Dutch: Morfeem
morpheme in Japanese: 形態素
morpheme in Norwegian: Morfem
morpheme in Norwegian Nynorsk: Morfem
morpheme in Novial: Morfeme
morpheme in Low German: Morphem
morpheme in Polish: Morfem
morpheme in Portuguese: Morfema
morpheme in Romanian: Morfem
morpheme in Quechua: Rimana yapaq
morpheme in Russian: Морфема
morpheme in Slovak: Morféma
morpheme in Finnish: Morfeemi
morpheme in Swedish: Morfem
morpheme in Turkish: Biçimbirim
morpheme in Ukrainian: Морфема
morpheme in Venetian: Morfema
morpheme in Walloon: Morfinme
morpheme in Chinese: 語素

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

IC analysis, accidence, affix, affixation, allomorph, bound morpheme, conjugation, cutting, declension, derivation, difference of form, enclitic, form, formative, free form, glosseme, icon, immediate constituent analysis, infix, infixation, inflection, lexeme, lexical form, morph, morphemic analysis, morphemics, morphology, morphophonemics, paradigm, phrase, prefix, prefixation, proclitic, radical, root, semasiological unit, sememe, sign, signifiant, significant, stem, suffix, suffixation, symbol, term, theme, token, type, word, word-formation
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