Morphology is the study of how words are put together or “shaped” by using morphemes, which include prefixes, roots, and suffixes. Knowing the different morphemes in a word allows one to not only figure out its definition, but also determine whether it’s a noun, verb, or adjective. The words morphology and morpheme both come from the Greek root word morph meaning “shape;” morphology is therefore the study of the “shape” words take, whereas morphemes are those building blocks which “shape” the word.
Morphemes include affixes, which are primarily prefixes and suffixes. Prefixes are those affixes which begin a word, adding meaning to the root to which they are attached. The root is the primary part of a word; it conveys most of the meaning of a word. Suffixes are those affixes which end words; they can add meaning, and usually determine the part of speech of a word, that is, whether the word is a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the morphology of two words: “inventor” and “convention.” The morphemes of “inventor” include the prefix in-, the root vent-, and the suffix -or. By putting together in- + vent + -or, the word “inventor” is formed. Since the prefix in here means “on” or “upon,” the root vent means “come,” and the suffix -or means “one who,” the meaning of “inventor” becomes “one who comes upon” something, or “finds” something for the first time. The suffix -or also indicates that “inventor” must be a noun.
Let’s take a second look at morphology. What word is formed from the following three morphemes: the prefix con-, the root vent, and the suffix -ion? You got it, it’s “convention.” From the meanings of the three morphemes, we know that a “convention” is “the act of coming together;” we also know from the suffix that “convention” must be a noun.
One fun word with 9 morphemes includes 3 prefixes: anti-, dis-, and e-, 1 root stabl, and 5 suffixes: -ish, -ment, -ar, -ian, and -ism! Although “antidisestablishmentarianism” might seem like a difficult word, once you parse it by analyzing its different morphemes it’s cut right down to size, making it easier to swallow.
By figuring out the morphemes of words, they become transparent, their definitions easily remembered, and their parts of speech demystified.
- morphology: the study of how words are shaped, or put together
- morpheme: a piece of a word: prefix, root (stem), suffix
- affix: prefix or suffix
- prefix: a morpheme added in before the root of a word that adds meaning or emphasis
- suffix: a morpheme added after or “under” the root of a word that adds meaning to and/or indicates the part of speech of a word
- root: the primary part of a word which conveys most of a word’s meaning onto which affixes attach
- stem: another word for a “root”
- antidisestablishmentarianism: opposition to the withdrawal of support from a religious institution