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Structure of English Words

1. The morpheme as the important component of word structure.

2. Types of morphemes. Allomorphs.

3. Types of affixes.

4. Immediate Constituents Analysis.


The word is the fundamental unit of language having a form and content. Words have an internal structure consisting of smaller units organized with respect to each other in a particular way. The most important component of word structure is the morpheme – the smallest unit of language that carries information about meaning or function. The word builder, for example, consists of 2 morphemes: build (with the meaning of “construct”) and -er (which indicates that the entire word functions as a noun with the meaning “one who builds”). Similarly, the word houses is made up of the morphemes house (with the meaning of “dwelling”) and -s (with the meaning of “more than one”).

A word may consist of one, two or more morphemes:

if, and, live;

driv-er, history-ic, ethnic-al-ly;

act, act-ive, act-iv-ate, re-act-iv-ate.

A morpheme is neither a meaning nor a stretch of sound, but a meaning and a stretch of sound joined together. Morphemes are the smallest indivisible two-facet language units. They are always used as parts of words.

A morpheme that can be a word by itself is called a free morpheme whereas a morpheme that must be attached to another element is said to be a bound morpheme. The morpheme boy, for example, is free, since it can be used as a word on its own; plural -s, on the other hand, is bound. Thus, structurally morphemes fall into free morphemes and bound morphemes. A free morpheme coincides with the stem or a word-form. A bound morpheme occurs only as a constituent part of a word (bound morphemes often signify borrowings). Affixes are bound morphemes, for they always make part of a word.

Morphemes do not always have an invariant form. Morphemes in various texts can have different phonemic shapes. All the representatives of the given morpheme are called allomorphs (from Greek allos "other") of that morpheme. The morpheme used to express indefiniteness in English, for instance, has two forms —a before a word that begins with a consonant and an before a word that begins with a vowel (an orange, an accent, a car). The variant forms of a morpheme are its allomorphs.

Another example of allomorphic variation is found in the pronunciation of the plural morpheme -s in the following words: cats, dogs, judges. Whereas the plural is /s/ in the first case, it is /z/ in the second, and /iz/ in the third. Selection of the proper allomorph is dependent on phonological facts.

Other examples of patterns in which a morpheme's form changes when it combines with another element are easy to find in English. The final segment in assert, for instance, is [t] when this morpheme stands alone as a separate word but [ ] when it combines with the morpheme -ion in the word assertion. Similar alternations are found in words such as permit /permiss-ive, include /inclus-ive, electric /electricity, impress/impress-ion.

Thus, an allomorph is a positional variant of that or this morpheme occurring in a specific environment


In order to represent the morphological structure of words, it is necessary to identify each of the component morphemes. Words that can have two or more parts: a core called a root and one or more parts added to it. The parts are called affixes — "something fixed or attached to something else." The root is the morpheme that expresses the lexical meaning of the word, for example: teach — teacher teaching. Affixes are morphemes that modify the meaning of the root. An affix added before the root is called a prefix; an affix added after the root is called a suffix. A word may have one or more affixes of either kind, or several of both kinds:


Prefix Root Suffix (es) Example
un- Work -able unworkable
  govern -ment government
  Fright -en; -ing frightening
re- Play   replay
  Kind -ness kindness

Complex words typically consist of a root morpheme and one or more affixes. A root constitutes the core of the word and carries the major component of its meaning. To find the root, you have to remove any affix there may be, for example, the root -morph-, meaning "form", remains after we remove the affixes a- and -ous from amorphous. Roots have more specific and definite meaning than prefixes or suffixes, for example Latin root -aqua- means "water" (aquarium), -cent- means "hundred" (centennial), Greek -neo- means "new" (neologism), etc.


Roots belong to a lexical category, such as noun (N), verb (V), adjective (A), or preposition (P). Nouns typically refer to concrete and abstract things (door, intelligence); verbs tend to denote actions (stop, read); adjectives usually name properties (kind, blue); and prepositions encode spatial relations (in, near). Unlike roots, affixes do not belong to a lexical category and are always bound morphemes. For example, the affix -er is a bound morpheme that combines with a verb such as teach, giving a noun with the meaning "one who teaches".

A base is the form to which an affix is added. In many cases, the base is also the root. In books, for example, the element to which the affix -s is added corresponds to the word's root. In other cases, however, the base can be larger than a root. This happens in words such as blackened, in which the past tense affix -ed is added to the verbal base blacken — a unit consisting of the root morpheme black and the suffix -en. Black is not only the root for the entire word but also the base for -en. The unit blacken, on the other hand, is simply the base for -ed.

One should distinguish between suffixes and inflections in English. Suffixes can form a new part of speech, e.g.: beauty — beauti/ful/. They can also change the meaning of the root, e.g.: black — blackish. Inflections are morphemes used to change grammar forms of the word, e.g.: work — works' — worked—working. English is not a highly inflected language (other point of view).

Depending on the morphemes used in the word there are four structural types of words in English:

1) simple (root) words consist of one root morpheme and an inflexion (boy, warm, law, tables, tenth);

2) derived words consist of one root morpheme, one or several affixes and an inflexion (unmanageable, lawful);

3) compound words consist of two or more root morphemes and an inflexion (boyfriend, outlaw);

4) compound-derived words consist of two or more root morphemes, one or more affixes and an inflexion (left-handed, warm-hearted, blue-eyed).


In conformity with structural types of words we distinguish two main types of word-formation: word-derivation (encouragement, irresistible, worker) and word-composition (blackboard, daydream, weekend).

Within these types further distinction may be made between the ways of forming words:


The basic ways of forming words in word-derivation are affixation (feminist, pseudonym) and conversion (water — to water, to run a run, slim — to slim).

Immediate Constituents Analysis

The theory of Immediate Constituents (I.C.) was originally set forth by L. Bloomfield as an attempt to determine the ways in which lexical units are related to one another. This kind of analysis is used in lexicology mainly to discover the derivational structure of lexical units.

Immediate constituents are any of the two meaningful parts of a word. The main constituents are an affix and a stem. For example, L. Bloomfield analyzed the word ungentlemanly. It consists of a negative prefix un— + an adjective stem. First we separate a free and a bound forms: un— + gentlemanly and gentleman + -ly. Then we break the word gentleman: gentle + man. At any level we obtain only two ICs, one of which is a stem, and, as a result, we get the formula: un + (gentle + man) + ly.

The adjective eatable consists of two ICs eat + able and may be described as a suffixal derivative, the adjective uneatable however possesses a different structure: the two ICs are un + eatable which shows that this adjective is a prefixal derivative though the unit has both a prefix and a suffix.

S. S. Khidekel describes numerous cases when identical morphemic structure of different words may be insufficient proof of their identical pattern of word formation structure, which can be revealed only by I.C. analysis. Thus, comparing snow-covered and blue-eyed we observe that both words contain two root morphemes and one derivational morpheme. I.C. analysis shows that whereas snow-covered may be considered a compound consisting of two stems snow + covered, blue-eyed is a suffixal derivative as the underlying structure is different: (blue + eye) + ed.

Thus I.C. analysis is used in lexicological investigations to discover the word-formation structure.



Morpheme – the smallest bit of language that has its own meaning, either a word or a part of a word,

free – not in a fixed position or not joined to anything vs bound tied with,

allomorph ,

root (of a word) – is its most basic form, to which other parts, such as affixes, can be added,

affix – a letter or group of letters which are added to the beginning or end of a word to make a new word.



Date: 2015-02-03; view: 8892

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