What Are the Different Types of Morphology?

Cynde Gregory

Morphology is the study of morphemes, the smallest meaningful unit in a language. Morphemes can transform a word from one grammatical category to another, such as dance — a verb to a noun. Free lexical morphemes exist as independent words, such as zebra, while the meaning of free grammatical morphemes isn’t in the word itself but in its function, such as the. Bound morphemes include affixes, verb tense endings, and plurals.

Morphemes can transform a word from one grammatical category to another.
Morphemes can transform a word from one grammatical category to another.

A prefix is a morphemic unit that is attached to the beginning of a base word to give it a different meaning, and there are dozens of prefixes in English. Re suggests repeated action, doing something again, thus revive means to bring something back to life. Recall is bringing an idea or thought back into the mind, and reverse means turning back. The prefix un changes a meaning to its opposite, such as unavoidable, unforgiving, and unfair.

Morphology calls morphemes that are fixed onto the ends of words suffixes. Like prefixes, they too alter the base word’s meaning. The suffix less means without, and it transforms words like thought, which is a noun, into thoughtless, which is an adjective. Ly is a morpheme that is used to change an adjective into an adverb. For example, in the statement “She is quick,” quick is an attribute of the subject. “She runs quickly” turns the adjective into an adverb that describes how she runs. The addition of a single letter or two to a verb changes it into a noun and means the person or thing that performs the act — a writer writes, a worker works, and a sweeper sweeps.

Verb tense is what tells a listener or reader when an event took place. Adding an /s/, /es/, /d/, /ed/, or /ing/ fine-tunes the meaning of the action the verb is describing and also reminds the reader or listener who was doing the action. In the present tense, a speaker or writer adds /s/ or /es/ to the third person to describe what that person is doing. Morphology organizes regular verbs in the past tense with the addition of /ed/, and irregular verbs change with the substitution of internal morphemes. Adding /ing/ means action is ongoing, and placing to, which is also a morpheme, in front of a verb means that action will occur in the future.

In morphology, plurals are most often formed with the addition of /s/ or /es/. Some exceptions change the word ending before adding the morpheme. For example, leaf becomes leaves, changing the /f/ to a /v/ before the /es/ is attached.

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