Introduction to Linguistics
  16.11.06 Morphology (1)

16. 11. 2006 Morphology (1) – Words and their parts held by Dr. Thorsten Trippel

Components of Words

Word formation

  • simplex words

  • derived words

  • compound words

Definition of the word „word“

Collection of proposals in the lecture

  • combination of letters that make sense or have a special meaning

  • consists of letters

  • carries meaning

  • can be spoken

  • simple unit of language

  • written sound

  • used to form sentences

  • ...


  • We know what a word is (!)

  • words make up sentences ( sentences: syntax)

  • pronunciation with speech sound

  • speech sounds= phonemes= phonology

  • meaningful (sub)structure of words

  • structure of words= morphology


  • The study of the formation of words

  • MORPHEMES: The smallest unit of a unit that carries meaning. A word can be comprised of one or more morphemes

  • try: attempt to do something

  • try + „in the past“ : tried

  • try + „at the moment“ : trying

Identify the meaningful units of the following words:

Identify -> ident – ify

the -> the

meaningful -> mean- ing – ful

units -> unit-s

of -> of

the -> the

following -> follow- ing

words -> word-s

maybe -> may-be

some -> some

more -> more

complicated -> complicat- ed

example -> example

using -> use- ing

witchcraft -> witch- craft

to -> to

find -> find

terms -> term-s

Basic concepts in morphology

Simple word

  • consists of only one morpheme.

  • Example: boy, man, radio, book, paper, magnet, house, compute

Complex word

  • contains more than one morpheme (i.e. ≥2 morphemes).

  • Example: computer, boys, radio-recorder, bookshelf, magnetize, acidfree

Task: Find words

Find at least 20 simple words

  • boy

  • mother

  • table

  • father

  • desk

  • lamp

  • pupil

  • shoe

  • house

  • mouse

  • cat

  • dog

  • tiger

  • water

  • food

  • book

  • play

  • paper

  • shoe

  • pen

Find at least 20 complex words

  • rainbow

  • boys

  • shoes

  • teddy bear

  • pencil- case

  • bookshelves

  • ice cream

  • sunshine

  • raindrop

  • orange juice

  • birthday

  • table cloth

  • necklace

  • computer

  • wallpaper

  • cups

  • pre- prepared

  • teacher

  • description

  • establishment

  • similarities

Which of them are similar?

  • Sunshine – raindrop ( 2 nouns/ simplex words each)

  • boys – shoes ( simplex word + plural „s“ )

  • description – similarities ( simplex word + affix)


  • Can you describe the similarity?

  • Many complex words are built in the same way


Can you find a relation between some of

your simple words and complex words?

  • Boy – boys ( simple word – simple word plus plural s)



Free morpheme

  • can occur as a simple word.

  • Example: boy, man, radio,...

Bound morpheme

  • can only occur in connection with other morphemes. Example: -s, -ion, un-, -ize, ...


  • Variant forms of a morpheme

  • Example: a -- an, plural -s /s/ -- /Iz/ -- /z/

Task: free and bound morphemes

Make a list of 20 free morphemes

  • -> see list of simple words


Find bound morphemes

  • -s, -ion, -ize, -ment, -ism, -al, ...

Structure of words

several parts

root: carries the meaning

  • unbelievable: believe

affixes: other parts [bound morphemes]

prefix: affixes that attach before the root

suffix: affixes that attach after the root

  • example: In unbelievable “un” is a prefix and “able” a suffix.

base: form to which an affix is attached

Hierachy of concept


/ \

root affix

/ / \ \

prefix circumfix infix suffix

Task: complete the sentences!

Every word contains a ___base_______

A morpheme that is also a word is called a

____free morpheme_______________

A morpheme that needs a root to make up a word

is called a __bound morpheme______________

An affix in front of a base is called a _prefix_____,

behind a base it is called a _suffix_____

Both, simple words and complex words can be

the _base______ for a more complex word.

Every _root___ is a _base____, but not every _base___ is a


Processes of forming words



Other processes involved

  • inflection

Compounds – at least two roots

nouns combine with

  • nouns (fire engine),

  • adjectives (greenhouse),

  • verbs (swimming suit) and

  • prepositions (afterthought)

verbs combine with

  • adjectives (dry clean),

  • verbs (breakdance)

  • prepositions (underestimate)

adjectives combine with

  • prepositions (ingrown)

  • adjectives ( red hot)

Constituents of compounds


  • second part of compound

  • word class

modifier: specifies the compound


Find other compounds in English with a head that is a

  • noun ( rain drop)

  • verb (role – playing)

  • adjectives (cherry- red)

Find other compounds in English with a modifier that is a

  • noun (sunshine)

  • verb ( playground)

  • adjectives ( red skin)

  • prepositions ( over joy)

Learner's diary

Today we were introduced to the main aspects of morphology by Mr Trippel. Our First task was to define the word "word", which was not as easy as it seemes because first of all you never really think of a definition of a word and secondly, Dr. Trippel provided an example which would not fit into our definition for every definition we gave. We basically found out that we all know what a word is but that there is no explicit definition for it. You can form sentences with words, pronounce words with speech sounds or define a structure of word, which is called morphology. And morphology is what we are actually going to talk about in detail. 

First of all we were said what morphology actually is and then we got to know the definition for the word morpheme, which is the smallest word distinguishing unit. To practise what we've just learned we had to divide several words into morphemes. We found out that same words consist only of morpheme, simple word, but there are also some words containing two or more morphemes (complex word). You can divide morphemes into free morphemes, which can stand on their own, and bound morphemes, which can only occur in connection with other morpehemes. Sometimes morphemes can occur in different forms, for example a- an, then they are called allomorphs.

You can divide words into roots, which carry the meaning of a word, and affixes, which can be a prefix or a suffix ( in English). If you add an affix to a word, then the word which you add the affix to is a base.

Another topic of today's lecture is word formation. You can form words either by compounding, derivation or inflection.

Compounds consist of at least two roots, the head which is normally the second part of a compound and defines the word class, and the modifier.

I think today's lecture was very informative, I learned a lot of new things I never heard before and even never really thought of. The topic was completely different to last week's so at first it was a bit confusing because I somehow tried to connect them, which was hardly possible of course. I also liked the various tasked we were asked to do, although you could ask whether it is really necessary to find 20 words or whether it would be enough to find 5.  All in all I think today's lecture was quite interesting.


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