Free Morphemes in English Definition and Examples

Free Morphemes in English Definition and Examples


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English Linguistics

Vocabulary of the English Language

Word Definitions, Terminology, and Jargon

Linguistics

English (language)

What is the free morpheme in the word "consumption"?

4 Answers

Bill Welden

Bill Welden , been speaking English for sixty-two years

The notion of "free morpheme" is a tricky one. Its really a function of (personal, internal) grammar — and because it seldom plays into the production or interpretation of (external) language, each of us can come to a different conclusion.

One of my graduate linguistics professors at UCLA used the example of "opacity", which he (who grew up with a language other than English) thought of as a completely different word than "opaque".

Its easy enough to dismiss this as simply wrong ("opaque" is the free morpheme, and in "opacity" its slightly modified, with addition of "-ity").

However, my guess is you hold "secret" and "secretary" to be completely different words (as well as "treasure" and "treasurer", "concentric" and "concentrate", and I could go on and on).

Yet some people (including me, since I have turned these examples over and over again in my mind for many years) think of them as derived forms made up, in part, of bound morphemes.

Jonathan Avidan

Jonathan Avidan , M.A. Linguistics & Opera, Tel Aviv University (2017)

The word "consumption" is a problematic example. It entered into English in the meaning of the "wasting disease" from Old French consumpcion which descends from the Latin accusative form consumptionem (nominative consumptio), which is the past participle form of consumere. In this sense, it is synchronically, in my opinion, a completely free morpheme, even though we can superficially detect something that looks like an affix, i.e. -tion, but the morpheme is simply "consumption".

A bit later in English it was again borrowed as the noun form of the verb consume from Latin consumere. In this sense, it is comprised of three bound morphemes: con-, sum- and -tion (with a historical intrusive phoneme, /p/).

John Peyton

John Peyton , native English speaker, B.A. in linguistics, studied traditional grammar

You might consider that as an English word, its monorphemic: consump is not a word, and tion is not a free morpheme.

However, at least historically, it comes from three roots: con, sum, and tion. The root consume became a lexical item and remains so in English, and then that gets turned into a noun with tion. Thus you could say that consume, in a way, is the free morpheme.

In the original Latin, sum- would be the free morpheme.

J Audrey Thatcher Hammer

J Audrey Thatcher Hammer , college minor in linguistics

Its a mix of "consume" and the bound morpheme "tion. So you could say "consum(e)" is the free morpheme here even though its been tweaked a bit with the added p.

Rules on morphemes are not always rigid — like is the "straw" in "strawberry" a free morpheme even though it has nothing to do with the words meaning? (Most say no.)
























































































































































Free Morphemes in English Definition and Examples

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Free Morphemes in English Definition and Examples

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A free morpheme is a word element that can stand alone.
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by
Richard Nordquist



Richard Nordquist has a Ph.D. in English and rhetoric and is professor emeritus at Armstrong State University. He is the author of two college grammar and composition textbooks.

Updated February 03, 2018

A free morpheme is a  morpheme (or word element) that can stand alone as a word . Also called an unbound morpheme or a free-standing morpheme. Contrast with bound morpheme .

Many words in English consist of a single free morpheme. For example, each word in the following sentence is a distinct morpheme: “I need to go now, but you can stay.” Put another way, none of the nine words in that sentence can be divided into smaller parts that are also meaningful.

There are two basic kinds of free morphemes: content words and function words .

Examples and Observations

“A simple word consists of a single morpheme, and so is a free morpheme, a morpheme with the potential for independent occurrence. In The farmer kills the duckling the free morphemes are the, farm, kill and duck. It is important to notice here that (in this sentence) not all of these free morphemes are words in the sense of minimal free forms–farm and duck are cases in point.” (William McGregor, Linguistics: An Introduction. Continuum, 2009)

Free Morphemes and Bound Morphemes

“A word like ‘house’ or ‘dog’ is called a free morpheme because it can occur in isolation and cannot be divided into smaller meaning units. . . . The word ‘quickest’ . . . is composed of two morphemes, one bound and one free. The word ‘quick’ is the free morpheme and carries the basic meaning of the word. The ‘est’ makes the word a superlative and is a bound morpheme because it cannot stand alone and be meaningful.” (Donald G. Ellis, From Language to Communication. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1999)

Two Basic Types of Free Morphemes

“Morphemes can be divided into two general classes. Free morphemes are those which can stand alone as words of a language, whereas bound morphemes must be attached to other morphemes. Most roots in English are free morphemes (for example, dog, syntax, and to), although there are a few cases of roots (like -gruntle as in disgruntle) that must be combined with another bound morpheme in order to surface as an acceptable lexical item. . . .

“Free morphemes can be further subdivided into content words and function words. Content words, as their name suggests, carry most of the content of a sentence. Function words generally perform some kind of grammatical role, carrying little meaning of their own. One circumstance in which the distinction between function words and content words is useful is when one is inclined to keep wordiness to a minimum; for example, when drafting a telegram, where every word costs money. In such a circumstance, one tends to leave out most of the function words (like to, that, and, there, some, and but), concentrating instead on content words to convey the gist of the message.” (Steven Weisler and Slavoljub P. Milekic, Theory of Language. MIT Press, 1999)



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Free Morphemes in English Definition and Examples

Humanities
&#155
Languages

Free Morphemes in English Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms




  • Share




  • Flipboard




  • Email

Duck standing alone




A free morpheme is a word element that can stand alone.
Christopher Wesser – www.sandbox-photos.com/Getty Images 
Language Learning Resources

Languages

  • English Grammar





    • Glossary of Key Terms


    • Using Words Correctly


    • Writing Tips & Advice


    • Sentence Structures


    • Rhetoric & Style


    • Punctuation & Mechanics


    • Developing Effective Paragraphs


    • Developing Effective Essays


    • Commonly Confused Words


    • Questions & Answers


    • Exercises & Quizzes


    • Topic Suggestions


    • Readings & Resources


  • English as a Second Language


  • Spanish


  • French


  • German


  • Italian


  • Japanese


  • Mandarin


  • Russian


View More


by
Richard Nordquist



Richard Nordquist has a Ph.D. in English and rhetoric and is professor emeritus at Armstrong State University. He is the author of two college grammar and composition textbooks.

Updated February 03, 2018

A free morpheme is a  morpheme (or word element) that can stand alone as a word . Also called an unbound morpheme or a free-standing morpheme. Contrast with bound morpheme .

Many words in English consist of a single free morpheme. For example, each word in the following sentence is a distinct morpheme: “I need to go now, but you can stay.” Put another way, none of the nine words in that sentence can be divided into smaller parts that are also meaningful.

There are two basic kinds of free morphemes: content words and function words .

Examples and Observations

“A simple word consists of a single morpheme, and so is a free morpheme, a morpheme with the potential for independent occurrence. In The farmer kills the duckling the free morphemes are the, farm, kill and duck. It is important to notice here that (in this sentence) not all of these free morphemes are words in the sense of minimal free forms–farm and duck are cases in point.” (William McGregor, Linguistics: An Introduction. Continuum, 2009)

Free Morphemes and Bound Morphemes

“A word like ‘house’ or ‘dog’ is called a free morpheme because it can occur in isolation and cannot be divided into smaller meaning units. . . . The word ‘quickest’ . . . is composed of two morphemes, one bound and one free. The word ‘quick’ is the free morpheme and carries the basic meaning of the word. The ‘est’ makes the word a superlative and is a bound morpheme because it cannot stand alone and be meaningful.” (Donald G. Ellis, From Language to Communication. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1999)

Two Basic Types of Free Morphemes

“Morphemes can be divided into two general classes. Free morphemes are those which can stand alone as words of a language, whereas bound morphemes must be attached to other morphemes. Most roots in English are free morphemes (for example, dog, syntax, and to), although there are a few cases of roots (like -gruntle as in disgruntle) that must be combined with another bound morpheme in order to surface as an acceptable lexical item. . . .

“Free morphemes can be further subdivided into content words and function words. Content words, as their name suggests, carry most of the content of a sentence. Function words generally perform some kind of grammatical role, carrying little meaning of their own. One circumstance in which the distinction between function words and content words is useful is when one is inclined to keep wordiness to a minimum; for example, when drafting a telegram, where every word costs money. In such a circumstance, one tends to leave out most of the function words (like to, that, and, there, some, and but), concentrating instead on content words to convey the gist of the message.” (Steven Weisler and Slavoljub P. Milekic, Theory of Language. MIT Press, 1999)



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  • bound morphemes

    What Are Bound Morphemes in English?

  • word

    All About Words in English

  • How is a Cranberry Morpheme Used in English Grammar?

  • Rehabbing old furniture

    The Derivations of Words Used in English

  • A tin can with the word

    What are Root Words in English?

  • content (lexical) words

    What Are Content Words in English?

  • A person morphed with a cat head on a human body

    What Are Morphs in Language?

  • sememe

    The Meanings of Sememes

  • Stacking dolls

    What Are Inflectional Morphemes?

  • A barking dog

    What Are the Rules of the English Language?

  • What Are Word Stems in English?

  • replacive

    From Tooth to Teeth: Replacives in English

  • good_and_plenty-lg.jpg

    The Definition and Examples of Binomial Pairs in English

  • Reporter asking Wh questions

    What Are the ‘Wh-‘ Words in English Grammar?

ThoughtCo uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By using ThoughtCo, you accept our


use of cookies.