How is Morphology studied?

To understand the ways in which linguistic morphology is studied we must first determine some basic definitions.


Complex Words


Using the definition provided on What is Morphology? section of the site, complex words are analysed in relation to the different positioning of their morphemes and their function.

The diagram below presents 3 examples of complex words, split into different morphemes:


The morphology tree below shows the breakdown of the complex word books:


Analysis of complex words

Complex words can be broken down into smaller units for analysis:

  1. Root
  2. Bases
  3. Free/bound morphemes
  4. Affixes

These are shown in the diagram below:


Stand is the free morpheme, whilst under- and -able are the bound morphemes.

Under- is also the prefix, attached to the front of the root stand,

-able is the suffix, a morpheme attached to the end of the base understand,

Each type of affix modifies the meaning of the word

Three approaches to studying morphology

3 app

1. Morpheme based (item and arrangement)

Words are analysed as arrangements of morphemes
Leonard Bloomfield (American Linguist): Morphemes are the smallest meaningful units which carry meaning. Read more about Leonard Bloomfield here Who does Morphology?

* -s (marks plurality) e.g., pigs
*-en (marks plurality) e.g., oxen

  1. These morphemes have meaning in their own right
  2. Transform the original word to be a plural of whatever the noun is

2. Lexeme Based (item and process)

  • More complicated than morpheme based
  • Words are not viewed as an arrangement of individual morphemes (morpheme based)
  • The word set or lexeme is the result that is left when a set of processes/rules are applied to the root of the word

3. Word Based (word and paradigm)

  • Reliant upon generalisations between the forms of inflectional patterns (the patterns they fit into)


Paradigm in the Spanish language


*Regular verbs which have an `ar` in their infinitive form will have `a` as their ending in the 3rd person, present tense.

EG: The Spanish infinitive `bailar`= to dance
In 3rd person it becomes `baila`= he/she dances

Two Further Distinctions


The following video has fun tips to help you tell Inflectional and Derivational morphemes apart: 

Representing Word Structure: Tree diagrams

  • Morphological trees represent the analysis of word structure
  • Useful tool to illustrate derivation and inflection

For more information about drawing morphology trees, refer back to What is morphology? where you are provided with:

  1. Examples of both complex and simple morphology trees
  2. An example of how to break down and identify the root, affixes and base
  3. A step-by-step approach to drawing a tree
  4. A video containing an example of a tree being drawn

More information about morphology trees can be found here: tree tutorial [3]


[2] Richard Nordquist (2003) Morphology [Website] [Accessed 13.5.2012].
[3] David Brett Drawing Tree Diagrams [Website] [Accessed 12.05.2012].

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