Bound Morpheme
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Bound Morpheme

In linguistics, a bound morpheme is a morpheme (the elementary unit of morphosyntax) that can appear only as part of a larger expression; a free morpheme (or unbound morpheme) is one that can stand alone.[1] A bound morpheme is a type of bound form, and a free morpheme is a type of free form.[2]

Roots and affixes

Many roots in English are free morphemes (e.g. ship- in "shipment"), but others are bound (e.g. socio- in "sociology"). Words like chairman that contain two free morphemes (chair and man) are referred to as compound words.[3]

Affixes are bound by definition. English language affixes are almost exclusively prefixes or suffixes: pre- in "precaution" and -ment in "shipment". Affixes may be inflectional, indicating how a certain word relates to other words in a larger phrase, or derivational, changing either the part of speech or the actual meaning of a word.[4]

Cranberry morphemes are a special form of bound morpheme whose independent meaning has been displaced and serves only to distinguish one word from another, like in cranberry, in which the free morpheme berry is preceded by the bound morpheme cran-, meaning "crane" from the earlier name for the berry, "crane berry".[5]

An Empty Morpheme is a special type of bound morpheme with no inherent meaning. Empty morphemes change the phonetics of a word but offer no semantic value to the word as a whole.[6]


Morpheme Morpheme Form Morpheme Meaning
fact- Free Morpheme An idea or concept, usually proven true with supporting evidence, that has been socially accepted.
-u- Bound Morpheme No meaning. (Empty Morpheme)
-al Bound Morpheme A type of, pertaining to, related to, etc. Creates an adjective form of the noun it supplements.
Morpheme Morpheme Form Morpheme Meaning
sens(e-ø)- Free Morpheme A body's perception of external stimulus.
-u- Bound Morpheme No meaning. (Empty Morpheme)
-al Bound Morpheme A kind of, pertaining to, related to, etc. Creates an adjective form of the noun it supplements.
Morpheme Morpheme Form Morpheme Meaning
speed- Free Morpheme The rate which an object covers distance.
-o- Bound Morpheme No meaning. (Empty Morpheme)
-meter Bound Morpheme A measurement device.

Word formation

Words can be formed purely from bound morphemes, as in English permit, ultimately from Latin per "through" + mitt? "I send", where per- and -mit are bound morphemes in English. However, they are often thought of as simply a single morpheme.

A similar example is given in Chinese; most of its morphemes are monosyllabic and identified with a Chinese character because of the largely morphosyllabic script, but disyllabic words exist that cannot be analyzed into independent morphemes, such as húdié 'butterfly'. Then, the individual syllables and corresponding characters are used only in that word, and while they can be interpreted as bound morphemes ? hú- and ? -dié, it is more commonly considered a single disyllabic morpheme. See polysyllabic Chinese morphemes for further discussion.

Linguists usually distinguish between productive and unproductive forms when speaking about morphemes. For example, the morpheme ten- in tenant was originally derived from the Latin word tenere, "to hold", and the same basic meaning is seen in such words as "tenable" and "intention." But as ten- is not used in English to form new words, most linguists would not consider it to be a morpheme at all.

Analytic and synthetic languages

A language with a very low ratio of morphemes to words is an isolating language. Because such a language uses few bound morphemes, it expresses most grammatical relationships by word order or helper words, so it is an analytic language.

In contrast, a language that uses a substantial number of bound morphemes to express grammatical relationships is a synthetic language.

See also


  1. ^ Kroeger, Paul (2005). Analyzing Grammar: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-521-01653-7.
  2. ^ Elson and Pickett, Beginning Morphology and Syntax, SIL, 1968, ISBN 0-88312-925-6, p6: "Morphemes which may occur alone are called free forms; morphemes which never occur alone are called bound forms."
  3. ^ "Word morphology". Retrieved .
  4. ^ "L503: Morphology". Retrieved .
  5. ^ Matthews, P.H. (2014). The Concise Oxford English Dictionary of Linguistics (3 ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780191753060.
  6. ^ Khullar, Payal (2014-06-19). "Empty Morphemes in Linguistics". LanguageLinguistics. Retrieved .

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