Core morphemes and affixes


When we are dealing with complex words (words composed of more than one morpheme) we can usually identify one morpheme that contributes to the meaning of the word more than the others. This is called the core morpheme, or stem.

The underlined morphemes in the following list are core morphemes.






The other morphemes are affixes, a category divided into prefixes (dis-, over-, un-, co-), which come before the core morpheme, and suffixes (-ful, -ish, -ness, -ed, -hood, -ive, -ly) which follow the core morpheme. Prefixes and suffixes are, by definition, bound morphemes i.e. they cannot be found on their own, they must accompany a core morpheme.

Morphemes that can occur alone are called free morphemes. In English there are two categories of free morpheme:

  1. functional morphemes, that have a strictly grammatical function (e.g. the, this, which, and, he etc.). This is a category with a limited number of members.

  2. lexical morphemes, composed of words that carry the 'content' of our message (e.g. cat, dog, clever, radio, stand etc.)

In the study of morphology a great deal more attention is paid to lexical, rather than functional, morphemes.

However, lexical or core morphemes are not always free. A substantial proportion of the vocabulary of English is of Latin origin, core morphemes in such words can rarely be isolated as cleanly as those of Anglo-Saxon origin.

Consider the following list:











In the next exercises you will be asked to identify the core morphemes of a series of words and to divide words into morphemes.