Morphology: Morpheme, Free Morpheme, and Bound Morpheme


    Morphology is the study of morpheme obviously. The definition of morphemes is the smallest meaningful unit that has grammatical function. For instance, the word tourist contains three morphemes. Those are one minimal unit of meaning tour, another minimal unit of meaning -ist (person who does something) and one minimal unit of grammatical function –s (indicating plural).

Free and Bound Morphemes

There is a broad distinction between two types of morphemes, free and bound. Free morphemes are the set of separate English word forms such as basic nouns and verbs that can stand by themselves as a single word such as open and tour. Then bound morphemes are morphemes that typically need to be attached to another form, exemplified as re-, -ist. This last set is identified as affixes. When free morphemes used with bound morphemes attached are technically known as stems. For example:
care      -less        -ness
stem      suffix        suffix
free      bound    bound

However, there are a number of English words in which their stems are factually not free morphemes. In words such as receive, reduce, re- at the beginning of those words are identified as the bound morphemes but the elements –ceive, -duce are not separate words and free morphemes. So these types of form are described as ‘bound stems’ to distinguish them from ‘free stems’ such as dress and care.

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