In linguistics, morphology is the study of words, how they are formed, and their relationship to other words in the same language. It analyzes the structure of words and parts of words such as stems, root words, prefixes, and suffixes.

The internal structure of words and the segmentation into different kinds of morphemes is essential to the two basic purposes or morphology: the creation of new words and the modification of existing words.

Morphological awareness is explicitly thinking about the smallest units of meaning in language, which we call morphemes. These units include root words that can stand alone as words, prefixes, suffixes, and bound roots. Bound root words are roots that must have a prefix or suffix added to become a word.

Root Word

A root word is a basic word with no prefix or suffix added to it. A prefix is a string of letters that go at the start of a word; a suffix is a string of letters that go at the end of a word. By adding prefixes and suffixes to a root word we can change its meaning.

Related: Syntax

An affix is a morpheme that is attached to a word stem to form a new word or word form. Affixes may be derivational, like English -ness and pre-, or inflectional, like English plural -s and past tense -ed. They are bound morphemes by definition; prefixes and suffixes may be separable affixes.

A prefix is a letter or group of letters, for example ‘un-‘ or ‘multi-‘, which we add to the beginning of a word in order to form a different word. For example, we add the prefix ‘un-‘ to ‘ happy’ to form ‘unhappy’.

What is the difference between base and stem of a word?

A stem is of concern only when dealing with inflectional morphology. In the form ‘untouchables’ the stem is ‘untouchable’, although in the form ‘touched’ the stem is ‘touch’. A base is any form to which affixes of any kind can be added. This means that any root or any stem can be termed a base.

Common Prefixes

dis-not; opposite ofdiscover
en-, em-cause toenact, empower
fore-before; front offoreshadow, forearm
in-, im-inincome, impulse
in-, im-, il-, ir-notindirect, immoral, illiterate, irreverent
inter-between; amonginterrupt
over-over; too muchovereat
semi-half; partly; not fullysemifinal
super-above; beyondsuperhuman
un-not; opposite ofunusual
under-under; too littleunderestimate

Suffixes are one or more letters added to the end of a base word to change its conjugation, word type, or other grammar properties like plurality. For example, you can add the suffix -s to the noun strength to make it plural (strengths) or add the suffix –en to turn it into a verb (strengthen).

Related: Semantics

Common Suffixes

-able, -ibleis; can beaffordable, sensible
-al, -ialhaving characteristics ofuniversal, facial
-edpast tense verbs; adjectivesthe dog walked,
the walked dog
-enmade ofgolden
-er, -orone who;
person connected with
teacher, professor
-estthe mosttallest
-fulfull ofhelpful
-ichaving characteristics ofpoetic
-ingverb forms;
present participles
-ion, -tion, -ation,
act; processsubmission, motion,
relation, edition
-ity, -tystate ofactivity, society
-ive, -ative,
adjective form of nounactive, comparative,
-lyhow something islovely
-mentstate of being; act ofcontentment
-nessstate of; condition ofopenness
-ous, -eous, -ioushaving qualities ofriotous, courageous,
-s, -esmore than onetrains, trenches
-ycharacterized bygloomy

Related: English Phonemes

What is the difference between base words and root words?

Base words are similar to root words, but they are not exactly the same. A base word is a standalone English word that can also form other words by using prefixes and suffixes (whereas, root words cannot always be used as an independent word).

Root words come from Latin or Greek. They aren’t usually words that can stand alone in English. For example,* aud **is a Latin word root that means to hear or to listen.
_Aud_ doesn’t mean anything on its own in English — that is, you can’t use it as a stand-alone word.
It is the root of common English words like auditorium, audio, audience, and audition, all of which have to do with hearing someone or something.

Base words, on the other hand, are always words that can stand alone in English. These words have meaning on their own. But they can also have prefixes and suffixes added to them to make new words. For example, cycle is a full word in English, but it can function as the base of other words when affixes are added. Modern linguists suggest that a base is any form you can add affixes to. Cycle is the base word, or the simplest form of the word without any prefixes or suffixes added.

Prefixes can be added to make words like bicycle, tricycle and motorcycle.
Suffixes can be added to make words like cyclist, cyclical or cyclers.

Common Latin Roots

Latin RootDefinitionExamples
ambibothambiguous, ambidextrous
aquawateraquarium, aquamarine
audto hearaudience, audition
benegoodbenefactor, benevolent
centone hundredcentury, percent
circumaroundcircumference, circumstance
contra/counteragainstcontradict, encounter
dictto saydictation, dictator
duc/ductto leadconduct, induce
facto do; to makefactory, manufacture
formshapeconform, reform
fortstrengthfortitude, fortress
fractto breakfracture, fraction
jectthrowprojection, rejection
judjudgejudicial, prejudice
malbadmalevolent, malefactor
matermothermaterial, maternity
mitto sendtransmit, admit
mortdeathmortal, mortician
multimanymultimedia, multiple
paterfatherpaternal, paternity
portto carryportable, transportation
ruptto breakbankrupt, disruption
scrib/scribeto writeinscription, prescribe
sect/secto cutbisect, section
sentto feel; to sendconsent, resent
spectto lookinspection, spectator
structto builddestruction, restructure
vid/visto seevideo, televise
vocvoice; to callvocalize, advocate

Common Greek Roots

Greek RootDefinitionExamples
anthropoman; human; humanityanthropologist, philanthropy
autoselfautobiography, automobile
biolifebiology, biography
chrontimechronological, chronic
dynapowerdynamic, dynamite
dysbad; hard; unluckydysfunctional, dyslexic
gramthing writtenepigram, telegram
graphwritinggraphic, phonograph
heterodifferentheteronym, heterogeneous
homosamehomonym, homogenous
hydrwaterhydration, dehydrate
hypobelow; beneathhypothermia, hypothetical
logystudy ofbiology, psychology
meter/metrmeasurethermometer, perimeter
microsmallmicrobe, microscope
mis/misohatemisanthrope, misogyny
monoonemonologue, monotonous
morphform; shapemorphology, morphing
nymnameantonym, synonym
phillovephilanthropist, philosophy
phobiafearclaustrophobia, phobic
phonsoundphone, symphony
photo/phoslightphotograph, phosphorous
pseudofalsepseudonym, pseudoscience
psychosoul; spiritpsychology, psychic
scopeviewing instrumentmicroscope, telescope
technoart; science; skilltechnique, technological
telefar offtelevision, telephone
thermheatthermal, thermometer

Related: Speech in the English Language


McEwan, E.K. (2008). The Reading Puzzle: Word Analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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