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Decoding Morphemes: The Key to Fluent English

Comprehensive Definition, Description, Examples & Rules 

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Introduction to Morphemes

So what is a morpheme? Morphemes, being a fundamental component of the linguistic examination, embody the essence of meaning in language, encapsulating semantic significance at its core. They are elemental building blocks that amalgamate to construct words, each bearing its unique connotation or grammatical role. Understanding morphemes is an essential requirement for apprehending the intricate framework and operational mechanisms ingrained within languages.

Within the realm of linguistics, morphemes manifest in two different types of morphemes: free morphemes and bound morphemes. The former, such as “dog” or “book,” possess the autonomy to exist as independent entities, encapsulating meaning within themselves. In stark contrast, bound morphemes embody affixes that secure themselves to free morphemes, catalyzing transformative metamorphoses in meaning or altering grammatical functionality. A quintessential illustration of this phenomenon lies in the suffix “-ed” adjoined to “walked,” effectively signaling the manifestation of the past tense. Proficiency in deciphering the intricate nature of morphemes assumes paramount significance as it facilitates the incisive comprehension of lexical evolution, driven by derivation or inflection. Consequently, it allows us to deconstruct the dynamics of lexical adaptation within varying contextual milieus, thus unraveling the multifarious intricacies enshrined within the tapestry of linguistic structures.

Types of Morphemes

Free Morphemes

Free morphemes are stand-alone, unaffected by the need for conveying their intended significance. These morphemes, when used in isolation or combined with other morphemes, contribute to the formation of words. Free morpheme examples possess distinct attributes that manifest in semantic autonomy, where they carry discrete meanings and can be used in various contexts.

Common free morpheme examples include words such as “cat,” “run,” “book,” “happy,” and “jump.” These morphemes are self-sufficiency, thus effectively conveying autonomous semantics. For instance, “cat” refers to a small domesticated carnivorous mammal, “run” denotes the act of moving swiftly on foot, “book” represents a written or printed work of literature, “happy” describes a feeling of joy or contentment, and “jump” signifies the action of propelling oneself off the ground. 

Bound Morphemes

Bound morphemes are special units of meaning that can’t exist on their own. They need to be attached to a base or root word to make sense. Unlike free morphemes, which can stand alone as separate words, bound morphemes depend on other morphemes to have meaning. They often change how words are pronounced when combined with other morphemes.

Types of Bound Morphemes

Prefixes: Bound morphemes are affixed to the beginning of a word to modify its meaning or create new words.

Suffixes: Bound morphemes attached to the end of a word to modify its meaning or change its grammatical function.

Infixes: Bound morphemes inserted within a word to alter its meaning or create new words.

Circumfixes: Bound morphemes that enclose a word, adding meaning or modifying it by attaching both at the beginning and end. Here is a bound morphemes list in different contexts:

  • Prefixes:
  • Un-: unhappy, untied
  • Re-: redo, revisit
  • Dis-: disagree, dislike
  • Suffixes:
  • -er: teacher, singer
  • -ly: quickly, happily
  • -tion: education, promotion
  • Infixes:
  • -bloomin’-: abso-bloomin’-lutely
  • -darn-: fan-darn-tastic
  • Circumfixes:
  • En- -en: enlighten, embolden
  • Un- -able: unbelievable, unstoppable
  • Pre- -ed: prearranged, preselected

Derivational and Inflectional Morphemes

Derivational Morphemes

Derivational morphemes are linguistic units that intricately modify the semantic content and grammatical category of a given base word for the meticulous analysis of word structure. These morphemes serve several key functions in language. Firstly, they can alter the lexical category of a base word, allowing for the conversion of nouns into verbs or adjectives, and vice versa. Additionally, they actively contribute to the dynamic creation of new words, enabling the expansion and enrichment of a language’s vocabulary. Here are some examples of Derivational Morphemes in Word Formation:


  • -er: teacher, dancer, baker 
  • -ize: organize, prioritize, modernize 
  • -able: enjoyable, lovable, understandable 
  • -ment: development, improvement, achievement

Inflectional Morphemes

These morphemes are predominantly in the form of suffixes, which affix themselves to the end of a base word. Their principal purpose is to indicate various grammatical attributes encompassing tense, quantity, case, gender, and comparative or superlative degrees. Additionally, inflectional morphemes signify the presence of plurality and possessiveness by the incorporation of “-s” to connote plurality, and the addition of “‘s” to indicate possession.


Here are some inflection morpheme examples in grammatical marking:

  • -s: cats, dogs
  • -s: walks, talks
  • -ed: played, walked
  • -er: taller, faster

Morphological Analysis

Strategies for Analyzing Morphemes

The strategies employed for analyzing morphemes necessitate a systematic and meticulous approach. Initially, one may resort to morphological awareness, a metalinguistic skill enabling the recognition of morphemic boundaries within words. Another strategy is the employment of morphological decomposition, which involves breaking down complex words into their constituent morphemes to unveil their individual meanings. Additionally, individuals can employ morphemic analysis, wherein they closely examine the morphological forms of words to identify recurring patterns and establish morphemic categories.


Bound morphemes are those that cannot stand alone as separate words and must be attached to other morphemes to convey meaning. They typically function as prefixes or suffixes. They possess the remarkable ability to modify the very essence and grammatical characteristics of a word. In contrast, free morphemes autonomously convey meaning  and bound morphemes demand do not. To identify bound morphemes, one can employ various strategies. Firstly, dissecting the structural composition of a word and observing if a morpheme can exist independently or if it must be combined with other morphemes is a helpful approach. Secondly, analyzing the position of the morpheme within a word can provide insights. Bound morphemes tend to occur either at the beginning (prefixes) or end (suffixes) of a word, whereas free morphemes are found in isolation or within compound words.


Practice Exercises for Morphological Analysis

Understanding how analyzing words in different parts of speech contributes to morphological analysis is crucial for comprehensive linguistic examination. This analytical approach facilitates the identification of affixes, roots, and stems, which are the building blocks of words. Analyzing words in various parts of speech aids in the recognition of morphological patterns, such as suffixation, prefixation, and infixation, shedding light on how words undergo structural changes to convey different meanings. 


By identifying these morphemes, linguists and language scholars are able to dissect words into their constituent parts, thereby unraveling the underlying patterns and rules governing word formation and meaning. This analysis facilitates a deeper understanding of the morphological properties of a language, including affixation (the attachment of prefixes, suffixes, and infixes), compounding (the combination of multiple words), and derivation (the creation of new words from existing ones).

Common Morphemes and Usage

Here’s a list of commonly used morphemes:

  • Prefixes:
    • Un-: unhappy, undo
    • Re-: revisit, rewrite
    • Pre-: prehistoric, prepay
    • Dis-: disappear, dislike
  • Suffixes:
    • -er: teacher, writer
    • -ing: running, swimming
    • -ed: played, jumped
    • -s: cats, dogs
  • Roots:
    • Bio-: biology, biodegradable
    • Tele-: television, telecommunication
    • Phon-: telephone, phonetics
    • Graph-: autograph, graphics

Examples of Morpheme Combinations

Below are some noun morpheme example:

  • -er/-or: teacher, actor, doctor, baker
  • -ist: artist, scientist, pianist, linguist
  • -ness: happiness, darkness, kindness, weakness
  • -tion/-sion: information, discussion, conversion, comprehension

Here are a few examples of verb morphemes

  • -s: he runs, she sings
  • -ed: walked, talked
  • -ing: e.g., running, swimming
  • -en: broken, taken

Have a look at the following adjective morphemes.

  • -ous: dangerous, curious, fabulous
  • -ish: childish, reddish, smallish
  • -y: happy, sunny, windy
  • -less: fearless, hopeless, homeless

Following are a few examples of adverb morphemes:

  • -wise: clockwise, otherwise, lengthwise
  • -where: somewhere, elsewhere, nowhere
  • -when: sometimes, whenever, then
  • -how: somehow, anyhow, however

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Key Takeaways

  1. Morphemes are the smallest units of meaning in a language.
  2. They can be either free morphemes, which can stand alone as words, or bound morphemes, which must be attached to other morphemes.
  3. Free morphemes carry meaning independently, such as “book” or “run.”
  4. Bound morphemes include prefixes, suffixes, and infixes, which modify the meaning or function of a word.
  5. Morphemes can indicate grammatical features like tense, number, or possession.
  6. Combining morphemes allows for the creation of new words through processes like compounding, derivation, or inflection.
  7. The morphological analysis involves breaking down words into their constituent morphemes to study their meaning and structure.


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Frequently Asked Questions

Can a word have multiple morphemes?

Indeed, it is plausible for a single word to encompass multiple morphemes, as they intricately interweave to create a cohesive linguistic unit.

How do you identify morphemes in a word?

The identification of morphemes entails a methodical exploration into the intricate framework of a word to discern its constituent and semantically significant units. These components can be categorized into distinct categories, including prefixes, suffixes, roots, and independent words.

What are some examples of free morphemes?

Examples of free morphemes include words capable of existing independently and conveying meaning by themselves, such as “dog,” “run,” and “happy.”

What are some examples of bound morphemes?

Bound morphemes are linguistic units that lack the ability to function independently and routinely adhere to other morphemes. Notable instances of bound morphemes include  prefixes like “un-” within terms such as “unhappy” and suffixes like “-s” within the framework of “dogs.”

What is the role of derivational morphemes?

Derivational morphemes encompass affixes that exert influence over the semantic essence or grammatical function of a word. Their primary function involves the generation of fresh lexemes or the alteration of existing word forms. An example can be observed in the transformation of the verb “sing” into the noun “singer” through the application of the derivational suffix “-er”.

How do inflectional morphemes affect word forms?

Inflectional morphemes bring about alterations in the grammatical properties of a term while upholding its underlying connotation and syntactic function. These morphemes furnish valuable indications regarding aspects such as tense, number, and possession. For instance, in the word “dogs,” the inflectional morpheme “-s” signifies the plural form, while in “played,” the morpheme “-ed” duly denotes the marker for the past tense.

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