Types of Morphemes | Free vs Bound Morphemes

Types of Morpheme
Free Morpheme vs Bound Morpheme

Types of morphemes

What is a Morpheme?

A morpheme is the minimal grammatical unit within a language. Every word comprises one or more morphemes. A standalone morpheme and a word are identical but when a root word becomes modify with addition of affixes, it becomes word only.

Look at the examples:

Listen, listener, listened, listening

The root is listen is stand alone morpheme and a word at a same time.  When root word was modifies with affixes like -s, -er, -ed and –ing it became a word consisting of two morpheme in each word.


Types of Morpheme

There are two main types of morphemes

1.    Free morpheme

2.    Bound morpheme


Free Morphemes

The morpheme that can stand alone as a single word (as a meaningful unit) is called free morpheme. The free morphemes are roots that are identical to words. Free morpheme are set of separate English word forms such as basic nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. When a free morpheme is used with bound morphemes, the basic word forms are technically known as stems or roots.

Examples of free morphemes:

Sun (noun), dog (noun), walk (verb), and happy (adjective)

Free morpheme can stand alone and cannot be subdivided further. ‘Sun’ or ‘dog’ are ‘free morphemes because they cannot be further split up, therefore the stems that cannot divide further are also called roots.

Free morphemes are divided into two categories: Lexical morphemes and functional morphemes.

Lexical morphemes are set of content words like nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. They can be understood fully e.g. run, blue, slow, paper, small, throw, and now. Lexical morphemes depict dictionary meaning of a word that is attributed to a specific referent.

Functional Morphemes are set of functional words like conjunctions, prepositions, articles, pronouns, auxiliary verbs, modals and quantifiers. Some examples of functional morphemes are and, near, when, on, because, but, it, in, that, the, and above.  Functional morphemes perform as a relationship between one lexical morpheme and another. A functional morpheme modifies the meaning, rather than supplying the root meaning of the word. It encodes grammatical meaning e.g., the players entered the ground. In this sentence, ‘the’ is functional morpheme, which is specifying players and ground.


Bound Morphemes

Segments that cannot stand alone and occurs with another root/stem are called Bound Morphemes. Bound morphemes are also called affixes (prefixes, suffixes and infixes) in English. Two bound morpheme cannot occur together but it is necessary for a bound morpheme to occur with a root/stem.

Examples of bound morphemes:

Opened: (Open + ed) = root + suffix

Reopen: (Re + open) = Prefix + root

Men: (Man + plural) = root + infix (infix makes a change inside a root word)

The set of affixes that make up the category of bound morphemes can also be divided into two types. Derivational morphemes and inflectional morphemes

Derivational Morphemes: Derivational morphemes change the grammatical categories of words. For example the word ‘bake’ (verb) is a root word (free morpheme) and when we add bound morpheme ‘er’(a suffix)  with stem:  it becomes baker (a noun), So the grammatical category was changed from verb to noun. 

Inflectional Morphemes: An inflectional morpheme is a suffix that is added to a word to assign a particular grammatical property to that word. For example, liste +ing = listening or boy+s = boys. They do not change the essential meaning or the grammatical category of a word. Inflectional morphemes serve as grammatical markers that indicate tense, number, possession, or comparison.

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