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Types and Meaning of Morphemes

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Read on to learn all about morphemes. You'll also find a plethora of helpful examples!

Read on to learn all about morphemes. You'll also find a plethora of helpful examples!

What Are Morphemes?

Morphemes are the smallest units of grammar that have grammatical functions. They are meaningful and indivisible.

Morphemes are indivisible in such a way that they cannot be broken into parts. For example, "ed" cannot be broken into parts or divided.

Types of Morphemes

There are different types of morphemes. They are free morphemes and bound morphemes.

What Are Free Morphemes?

Free morphemes are units that can stand on their own (examples: cook, bake, slap, frame, beauty, love, etc.).

What Are Bound Morphemes?

Bound morphemes are units that cannot stand on their own. They must be added to a root (free morphemes) in order to make sense.

What Are Affixes?

Affixes are types of bound morphemes, which are units or bound morphemes added to a root word to alter its meaning.

Types of Affixes

1. Prefix: a prefix is a unit or group of letters added before a base/root word.

Examples:

  • Ante- (in words like antedate, antecedent, etc.)
  • Pre- (in words like prehistoric, precaution, prenatal, etc.)
  • Un- (in words like unhealthy, unconscious, etc.)
  • Dis- (in words like disregard, dislike, etc.)
  • Anti- (in words like antibiotics, antibacterial, etc.)

2. Suffix: a suffix is a unit or group of letters added after a base/root word.

Examples:

  • -ly (in words like happily, sadly, lovely, etc.)
  • -er (in words like gardener, flier, prayer, taller, etc.)
  • -ism (in words like realism, capitalism, etc.)
  • -ness (in words like kindness, flatness, sadness, etc.)
  • -able (in words like loveable, doable, thinkable, etc.)

3. Infix: an infix is a unit added or inserted in between a base/root word.

Examples:

  • passersby
  • mothers-in-law
  • cupsful

4. Circumfix: a circumfix is a unit or group of letters added before and after a base/root word. It is comprised of a prefix and a suffix.

Examples:

  • unimaginable
  • improbable
  • disillusionment

Grammatical Functions of Morphemes

Morphemes have functions they perform in grammar. Morphemes, when added to a word, can serve as the plural form, possessive form, adjectival form, adverbial form, noun form and verb form.

Morphemes as Plural Form

One of the grammatical functions of morphemes is to symbolize that a particular word is in its plural form.

Examples:

  • "Boy" + the suffix "s"= Boys
  • "Champion" + the suffix "s"= Champions
  • "Box" +the suffix "es"= Boxes

Morphemes as Possessive Form

They show someone or something is in possession or ownership of someone/something. The letter "s" with different apostrophe arrangements ('s and s') are the suffixes used in this form.

Examples:

  • The man's car.
  • The key's design.
  • The ladies' cars.

Morphemes as Adjectival Form

They change a root word (noun) to an adjective.

Example: the suffix "less" in heartless, mindless, childless, etc.

They can be in comparative or superlative form.

Examples: the suffix "er" in taller, fatter, thicker and "est" in smallest, simplest, etc.

Morphemes as Adverbial Form

They change a root word (adjective) to an adverb.

Examples: the suffix "ly" in slowly, proudly, sharply, quickly, etc.

Morphemes as Noun Forms

They change the root word (adjective) into a noun.

Examples: the suffix "ness" in sadness, kindness, softness, etc.

Morphemes as Verb Forms

They show that a root word or base (verb) is in the form of a present tense (third-person present singular), present continuous tense, past tense or past participle.

Examples:

  • The kid plays a lot.
  • She is singing downstairs.
  • That man joked about it.
  • We have taken the food already.

Meaning of Some Example Morphemes

  • "pre-" means before.
  • "anti-" means opposed to or against.
  • "post-" means after or behind.
  • "dis-" means not or none.
  • "geo-" means earth.
  • "ante-" means before.
  • "auto-" means self.
  • "circum-" and "cir-" mean around.
  • "dif-" and "di-" mean apart.
  • "col-," "com-," "con-," and "co-" mean together or with.
  • "de-" means away from, down, the opposite of, undo or off.
  • "e-," "ef-," and "ex-" mean out of, from or former.
  • "epi-" means on top of or upon.
  • "extra-" means beyond, more than or outside.
  • "ig-," "il-," "im-," "in-," and "ir-" mean not.
  • "im-," "il-," "in-," "ir-" also mean into or in.
  • "macro-" and "mega-" mean large or great.
  • "infra-" means below.
  • "inter-" means along or between.
  • "micro-" means very small.
  • "mal-" and "male-" mean bad, ill or wrong.
  • "com-" and "con-" mean together or with.
  • "contra-" and "contro-" mean against or opposite.
  • "homo-" and "homeo-" mean alike or same.
  • "hyper-" means beyond, more or over.
  • "intra-" and "intro-" mean within or inside.
  • "inter-" means between or among.
  • "non-" means not or without.
  • "omni-" means all or every.
  • "pro-" means forward.
  • "sub-" means under or lower.
  • "sym-" and "syn-" mean same time or together.
  • "tele-" means from or over a distance.
  • "trans-" means across, beyond or through.
  • "un-" means not, lacking or opposite of.
  • "up-" means better, higher, north or to the top.
  • "semi-" and "hemi-" mean half.
  • "re-" means again.
  • "mid-" means middle.
  • "mis-" means wrongly.
  • "super-" means above.
  • "poly-" and "multi-" mean many.
  • "mono-" and "uni-" mean one or single.
  • "bi-," "di-," and "du-" mean two.
  • "tri-" means three or every third.
  • "tetra-," "quadri-," and "quart-" mean four.
  • "penta-" and "quin-" mean five.
  • "hexa-" and "sext-" mean six.
  • "hepta-," "septem-," and "septi-" mean seven.
  • "oct-," "octa-," and "octo-" mean eight.
  • "ennea-" and "novem-" mean nine.
  • "deca-," "deci-," and "decem-" mean ten.
  • "cent-," "cente-," and "hecto-" mean one hundred.
  • "kilo-," "mille-," and "milli-" mean one thousand.
  • "ism-" means taking a side with or imitation of.
  • "-ness" means state, quality, or condition.
  • "-ity" means degree, quality, or state.
  • "-able" means capable of, fit for, or worthy of.
  • "-less" means without.
  • "-en" means made of.
  • "-ful" means full of.
  • "-ible" means ability.
  • "-ish" means the sense of belonging to.
  • "-like" means similar to.
  • "-ous" means full of.
  • "-some" means a tendency to or a group of (that number).
  • "-age" means result.
  • "-ance," "-ence," and "-ment" mean an action or state.
  • "-ant," "-ee," "-er," "-or," and "-ist" mean a person.
  • "-ery" means character or place of doing.
  • "-ess" means female.
  • "-ful" means as much as will fill, characterized by, tending to, or able to.
  • "-ing" means an action or result.
  • "-ion" means process, state, or result.
  • "-ism" means belief or condition.

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Jessica