A morpheme is the smallest grammatical unit in a language. A morpheme is not identical to a word, and the principal difference between the two is that a morpheme may or may not stand alone, whereas a word, by definition, is freestanding. The linguistics field of study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. When a morpheme stands by itself, it is considered as a root because it has a meaning of its own (e.g. the morpheme cat) and when it depends on another morpheme to express an idea, it is an affix because it has a grammatical function (e.g. the –s in cats to indicate that it is plural).[1] Every word comprises one or more morphemes.

  • "Unbreakable" comprises three morphemes: un- (a bound morpheme signifying "not"), -break- (the root, a free morpheme), and -able (a free morpheme signifying "can be done").
  • Allomorphs of the plural morpheme for regular nouns: /s/ (e.g. in cats /kæts/), /ɪz, əz/ (e.g. in dishes /dɪʃɪz/), and /z/ (e.g. in dogs /dɒɡz/).

Classification of morphemes

Free and bound morphemes

Every morpheme can be classified as either free or bound.[2] These categories are mutually exclusive, and as such, a given morpheme will belong to exactly one of them.

  • Free morphemes can function independently as words (e.g. town, dog) and can appear within lexemes (e.g. town hall, doghouse).
  • Bound morphemes appear only as parts of words, always in conjunction with a root and sometimes with other bound morphemes. For example, un- appears only accompanied by other morphemes to form a word. Most bound morphemes in English are affixes, particularly prefixes and suffixes. Examples of suffixes are -tion, -ation, -ible, -ing, etc. Bound morphemes that are not affixed are called cranberry morphemes.

Classification of bound morphemes

Bound morphemes can be further classified as derivational or inflectional.

Derivational morphemes

  • Derivational morphemes, when combined with a root, change either the semantic meaning or part of speech of the affected word. For example, in the word happiness, the addition of the bound morpheme -ness to the root happy changes the word from an adjective (happy) to a noun (happiness). In the word unkind, un- functions as a derivational morpheme, for it inverts the meaning of the word formed by the root kind. Generally, the affixes used with a root word are bound morphemes.

Inflectional morphemes

  • Inflectional morphemes modify a verb's tense, aspect, mood, person, or number, or a noun's, pronoun's or adjective's number, gender or case, without affecting the word's meaning or class (part of speech). Examples of applying inflectional morphemes to words are adding -s to the root dog to form dogs and adding -ed to wait to form waited. An inflectional morpheme changes the form of a word. In English, there are eight inflections.[3]


Allomorphs are variants of a morpheme that differ in pronunciation but are semantically identical. For example, in English, the plural marker -(e)s of regular nouns can be pronounced /-s/ (bats), /-z/, (bugs), or /-ɪz, -əz/, (buses), depending on the final sound of the noun's plural form.

Zero morphemes/null morphemes

Generally, these types of morphemes have no visible changes. For instance, the singular form of sheep is "sheep" and its plural is also "sheep". The intended meaning is thus derived from the co-occurring determiner (e.g. in this case "some-" or "a-").

Content vs. function

Content morphemes express a concrete meaning or content, while function morphemes have more of a grammatical role. For example, the morphemes fast and sad can be considered content morphemes. On the other hand, the suffix –ed belongs to the function morphemes given that it has the grammatical function of indicating past tense. Although these categories seem very clear and intuitive, the idea behind it can be harder to grasp given that they overlap with each other.[4] Examples of an ambiguous situation are the preposition over and the determiner your, which seem to have a concrete meaning, but are considered function morphemes because their role is to connect ideas grammatically.[5] A general rule to follow to determine the category of a morpheme is:

  • Content morphemes include free morphemes that are nouns, adverbs, adjectives, and verbs. It also includes bound morphemes that are bound roots and derivational affixes.[5]
  • Function morphemes can be free morphemes that are prepositions, pronouns, determiners, and conjunctions. Additionally, they can be bound morphemes that are inflectional affixes.[5]

Other features of morphemes

Roots are composed of only one morpheme, while stems can be composed of more than one morpheme. Any additional affixes are considered morphemes. An example of this is the word quirkiness. The root is quirk, but the stem is quirky which has two morphemes. Moreover, there exist pairs of affixes that have the same phonological form but have a different meaning. For example, the suffix –er can be derivative (e.g. sellseller) or inflectional (e.g. smallsmaller). These types of morphemes are called homophonous.[5]

Some words might seem to be composed of multiple morphemes, but in fact, they are not. This is why one has to consider form and meaning when identifying morphemes. For example, the word relate might seem to be composed of two morphemes, re- (prefix) and the word late, but this is not correct. These morphemes have no relationship with the definitions relevant to the word like “feel sympathy”, “narrate”, or “being connected by blood or marriage”. Furthermore, the length of the words does not determine if it has multiple morphemes or not. To demonstrate, the word Madagascar is long and it might seem to have morphemes like mad, gas, and car, but it does not. Conversely, small words can have multiple morphemes (e.g. dogs).[5]

Morphological analysis

In natural language processing for Korean, Japanese, Chinese and other languages, morphological analysis is the process of segmenting a sentence into a row of morphemes. Morphological analysis is closely related to part-of-speech tagging, but word segmentation is required for these languages because word boundaries are not indicated by blank spaces.

The purpose of the morphological analysis is to determine the minimal units of meaning in a language or morphemes by using comparisons of similar forms—for example, comparing forms such as “She is walking” and “They are walking” rather than comparing either of these with something completely different like "You are reading". Thus, we can effectively break down the forms in parts and distinguish the different morphemes. Similarly, the meaning and the form are equally important for the identification of morphemes. For instance, agent and comparative morphemes illustrate this point. An agent morpheme is an affix like -er that transforms a verb into a noun (e.g. teachteacher). On the other hand, –er can also be a comparative morpheme that changes an adjective into another degree of the same adjective (e.g. smallsmaller). In this case, the form is the same, but the meaning of both morphemes is different. Also, the opposite can occur in which the meaning is the same but the form is different.[5]

Changing definitions of morpheme

In generative grammar, the definition of a morpheme depends heavily on whether syntactic trees have morphemes as leaves or features as leaves.

  • Direct surface-to-syntax mapping in lexical functional grammar (LFG) – leaves are words
  • Direct syntax-to-semantics mapping
    • Leaves in syntactic trees spell out morphemes: distributed morphology – leaves are morphemes
    • Branches in syntactic trees spell out morphemes: radical minimalism and nanosyntax – leaves are "nano-" (small) morpho-syntactic features

Given the definition of a morpheme as "the smallest meaningful unit", nanosyntax aims to account for idioms where it is often an entire syntactic tree which contributes "the smallest meaningful unit." An example idiom is "Don't let the cat out of the bag" where the idiom is composed of "let the cat out of the bag" and that might be considered a semantic morpheme, which is composed of many syntactic morphemes. Other cases where the "smallest meaningful unit" is larger than a word include some collocations such as "in view of" and "business intelligence" where the words together have a specific meaning.

The definition of morphemes also plays a significant role in the interfaces of generative grammar in the following theoretical constructs;

  • Event semantics: the idea that each productive morpheme must have a compositional semantic meaning (a denotation), and if the meaning is there, there must be a morpheme (null or overt).
  • Spell-out: the interface where syntactic/semantic structures are "spelled-out" using words or morphemes with phonological content. This can also be thought of as lexical insertion into the syntactic.

See also




  1. ^ Kemmer, Suzanne. "Words in English: Structure". Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  2. ^ Morphology Classification Of Morphemes Referenced 19 March 2014
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Morphology II". Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Department of Linguistics (2011). Language files: Materials for an introduction to language and linguistics (11th ed.). Ohio State University Press.
  • Spencer, Andrew (1992). Morphological Theory. Oxford: Blackwell.

External links

A-Hmao language

The A-Hmao language, also known as Large Flowery Miao (Chinese: 大花苗) or Northeast Yunnan Miao (Diandongbei, Chinese: 苗语滇东北方言), is a Hmongic language spoken in China. It is the language the Pollard script was designed for, and displays extensive tone sandhi. There is a high degree of literacy in Pollard among the older generation.

The standard written language, both in Pollard and in Latin script, is that of Shíménkǎn (石门坎) village in Weining County.


In linguistics, an affix is a morpheme that is attached to a word stem to form a new word or word form. Affixes may be derivational, like English -ness and pre-, or inflectional, like English plural -s and past tense -ed. They are bound morphemes by definition; prefixes and suffixes may be separable affixes. Affixation is the linguistic process that speakers use to form different words by adding morphemes at the beginning (prefixation), the middle (infixation) or the end (suffixation) of words.

Alternation (linguistics)

In linguistics, an alternation is the phenomenon of a morpheme exhibiting variation in its phonological realization. Each of the various realizations is called an alternant. The variation may be conditioned by the phonological, morphological, and/or syntactic environment in which the morpheme finds itself.

Alternations provide linguists with data that allow them to determine the allophones and allomorphs of a language's phonemes and morphemes and to develop analyses determining the distribution of those allophones and allomorphs.

Bound and unbound morphemes

In morphology, a bound morpheme is a morpheme (the most basic unit of meaning) that can appear only as part of a larger word; a free morpheme or unbound morpheme is one that can stand alone or can appear with other morphemes in a lexeme. A bound morpheme is also known as a bound form, and similarly a free morpheme is a free form.


A clitic (, backformed from Greek ἐγκλιτικός enklitikós "leaning" or "enclitic") is a morpheme in morphology and syntax that has syntactic characteristics of a word, but depends phonologically on another word or phrase. In this sense, it is syntactically independent but phonologically dependent—always attached to a host. The term derives from the Greek for leaning. A clitic is pronounced like an affix, but plays a syntactic role at the phrase level. In other words, clitics have the form of affixes, but the distribution of function words. For example, the contracted forms of the auxiliary verbs in I'm and we've are clitics.

Clitics can belong to any grammatical category, although they are commonly pronouns, determiners, or adpositions. Note that orthography is not always a good guide for distinguishing clitics from affixes: clitics may be written as separate words, but sometimes they are joined to the word they depend on (like the Latin clitic -que, meaning "and"), or separated by special characters such as hyphens or apostrophes (like the English clitic ’s in "it's" for "it has" or "it is").


In linguistics, code-switching or language alternation occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages, or language varieties, in the context of a single conversation. Multilinguals, speakers of more than one language, sometimes use elements of multiple languages when conversing with each other. Thus, code-switching is the use of more than one linguistic variety in a manner consistent with the syntax and phonology of each variety.

Code-switching is distinct from other language contact phenomena, such as borrowing, pidgins and creoles, loan translation (calques), and language transfer (language interference). Borrowing affects the lexicon, the words that make up a language, while code-switching takes place in individual utterances. Speakers form and establish a pidgin language when two or more speakers who do not speak a common language form an intermediate, third language. On the other hand, speakers practice code-switching when they are each fluent in both languages. Code mixing is a thematically related term, but the usage of the terms code-switching and code-mixing varies. Some scholars use either term to denote the same practice, while others apply code-mixing to denote the formal linguistic properties of language-contact phenomena and code-switching to denote the actual, spoken usages by multilingual persons.In the 1940s and the 1950s, many scholars considered code-switching to be a substandard use of language. Since the 1980s, however, most scholars have come to regard it as a normal, natural product of bilingual and multilingual language use.The term "code-switching" is also used outside the field of linguistics. Some scholars of literature use the term to describe literary styles that include elements from more than one language, as in novels by Chinese-American, Anglo-Indian, or Latino writers. In popular usage, code-switching is sometimes used to refer to relatively stable informal mixtures of two languages, such as Spanglish, Taglish, or Hinglish. Both in popular usage and in sociolinguistic study, the name code-switching is sometimes used to refer to switching among dialects, styles or registers. This form of switching is practiced, for example, by speakers of African American Vernacular English as they move from less formal to more formal settings. Such shifts, when performed by public figures such as politicians, are sometimes criticized as signalling inauthenticity or insincerity.

Floating tone

A floating tone is a morpheme or element of a morpheme that contains no consonants, no vowels, but only tone. It cannot be pronounced by itself, but affects the tones of neighboring morphemes.An example occurs in Bambara. Bambara has two phonemic tones, high and low. In this language, the definite article is a floating low tone. With a noun in isolation, it is associated with the preceding vowel, turning a high tone into a falling tone: [bá] river; [bâ] the river. When it occurs between two high tones, it downsteps the following tone:

[bá tɛ́] it's not a river

[bá tɛ̄] (or [bá ꜜ tɛ́]) it's not the riverAlso common are floating tones associated with a segmental morpheme such as an affix. For example, in Okphela, an Edoid language of Nigeria, the main negative morpheme is distinguished from the present tense morpheme by tone; the present tense morpheme (á-) carries high tone, whereas the negative past morpheme (´a-) imposes a high tone on the syllable which precedes it:

oh á-nga he is climbing

óh a-nga he didn't climbFloating tones derive historically from morphemes which assimilate or lenite to the point where only their tone remains.


In grammar, inflection is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, case, voice, aspect, person, number, gender, and mood. It is found in many but not all languages. The inflection of verbs is also called conjugation, and one can refer to the inflection of nouns, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, determiners, participles, prepositions, postpositions, numerals, articles etc., as declension.

An inflection expresses one or more grammatical categories with a prefix, suffix or infix, or another internal modification such as a vowel change. For example, the Latin verb ducam, meaning "I will lead", includes the suffix -am, expressing person (first), number (singular), and tense-mood (future indicative or present subjunctive). The use of this suffix is an inflection. In contrast, in the English clause "I will lead", the word lead is not inflected for any of person, number, or tense; it is simply the bare form of a verb.

The inflected form of a word often contains both one or more free morphemes (a unit of meaning which can stand by itself as a word), and one or more bound morphemes (a unit of meaning which cannot stand alone as a word). For example, the English word cars is a noun that is inflected for number, specifically to express the plural; the content morpheme car is unbound because it could stand alone as a word, while the suffix -s is bound because it cannot stand alone as a word. These two morphemes together form the inflected word cars.

Words that are never subject to inflection are said to be invariant; for example, the English verb must is an invariant item: it never takes a suffix or changes form to signify a different grammatical category. Its categories can be determined only from its context. Languages that never use inflection, such as Mandarin Chinese, are called analytic or isolating.

Requiring the forms or inflections of more than one word in a sentence to be compatible with each other according to the rules of the language is known as concord or agreement. For example, in "the choir sings", "choir" is a singular noun, so "sing" is constrained in the present tense to use the third person singular suffix "s". The sentence *"the choir sing" is not grammatically correct in English.Languages that have some degree of inflection are synthetic languages. These can be highly inflected (such as Latin, Greek, Spanish, Biblical Hebrew, and Sanskrit), or weakly inflected (such as English). Languages that are so inflected that a sentence can consist of a single highly inflected word (such as many American Indian languages) are called polysynthetic languages. Languages in which each inflection conveys only a single grammatical category, such as Finnish, are known as agglutinative languages, while languages in which a single inflection can convey multiple grammatical roles (such as both nominative case and plural, as in Latin and German) are called fusional.

Isolating language

An isolating language is a type of language with a very low morpheme per word ratio and no inflectional morphology whatsoever. In the extreme case, each word contains a single morpheme. Currently the most spoken purely isolating language is Yoruba.

A closely related concept is that of an analytic language, which uses little or no inflection to indicate grammatical relationships. Isolating and analytic languages tend to coincide and are often identified. However, analytic languages such as English and Mandarin Chinese may still contain polymorphemic words due to the presence of derivational morphemes.

Isolating languages contrast with synthetic languages, where words often consist of multiple morphemes. That linguistic classification is subdivided into the classifications fusional, agglutinative, and polysynthetic, which are based on how the morphemes are combined.

Morphology (linguistics)

In linguistics, morphology () is the study of words, how they are formed, and their relationship to other words in the same language. It analyzes the structure of words and parts of words, such as stems, root words, prefixes, and suffixes. Morphology also looks at parts of speech, intonation and stress, and the ways context can change a word's pronunciation and meaning. Morphology differs from morphological typology, which is the classification of languages based on their use of words, and lexicology, which is the study of words and how they make up a language's vocabulary.While words, along with clitics, are generally accepted as being the smallest units of syntax, in most languages, if not all, many words can be related to other words by rules that collectively describe the grammar for that language. For example, English speakers recognize that the words dog and dogs are closely related, differentiated only by the plurality morpheme "-s", only found bound to noun phrases. Speakers of English, a fusional language, recognize these relations from their innate knowledge of English's rules of word formation. They infer intuitively that dog is to dogs as cat is to cats; and, in similar fashion, dog is to dog catcher as dish is to dishwasher. By contrast, Classical Chinese has very little morphology, using almost exclusively unbound morphemes ("free" morphemes) and depending on word order to convey meaning. (Most words in modern Standard Chinese ["Mandarin"], however, are compounds and most roots are bound.) These are understood as grammars that represent the morphology of the language. The rules understood by a speaker reflect specific patterns or regularities in the way words are formed from smaller units in the language they are using, and how those smaller units interact in speech. In this way, morphology is the branch of linguistics that studies patterns of word formation within and across languages and attempts to formulate rules that model the knowledge of the speakers of those languages.

Phonological and orthographic modifications between a base word and its origin may be partial to literacy skills. Studies have indicated that the presence of modification in phonology and orthography makes morphologically complex words harder to understand and that the absence of modification between a base word and its origin makes morphologically complex words easier to understand. Morphologically complex words are easier to comprehend when they include a base word.Polysynthetic languages, such as Chukchi, have words composed of many morphemes. The Chukchi word "təmeyŋəlevtpəγtərkən", for example, meaning "I have a fierce headache", is composed of eight morphemes t-ə-meyŋ-ə-levt-pəγt-ə-rkən that may be glossed. The morphology of such languages allows for each consonant and vowel to be understood as morphemes, while the grammar of the language indicates the usage and understanding of each morpheme.

The discipline that deals specifically with the sound changes occurring within morphemes is morphophonology.

Null morpheme

In morphology, a null morpheme or zero morpheme is a morpheme that has no phonetic form. In simpler terms, a null morpheme is an "invisible" affix. It is a concept useful for analysis, by contrasting null morphemes with alternatives that do have some phonetic realization. The null morpheme is represented as either the figure zero (0) or the empty set symbol ∅.

In most languages, it is the affixes that are realized as null morphemes, indicating that the derived form does not differ from the stem. For example, plural form sheep can be analyzed as combination of sheep with added null affix for the plural. The process of adding a null affix is called null affixation, null derivation or zero derivation. The concept was first used over two thousand years ago by 4th century BCE Sanskrit grammarian from ancient India, Pāṇini, in his Sanskrit grammar.

Odia morphology

Odia morphology is the identification, analysis and description of the structure of morphemes and other units of meaning in the Odia language. Morphemes (called ରୁପିମ in Odia and pronounced Rüpémë) are the smallest units of the Odia language that carry and convey a unique meaning and is grammatically appropriate. A morpheme in Odia (Termed as: ରୁପିମ) is the most minuscule meaningful constituent which combines and synthesizes the phonemes into a meaningful expression through its (morpheme's) form & structure. Thus, in essence, the morpheme is a structural combination of phonemes in Odia. In other words, in Odia language, the morpheme is a combination of sounds that possess and convey a meaning. A morpheme is not necessarily a meaningful word in Odia. In Odia, every morpheme is either a base or an affix (prefix or a suffix).

The combination of one or multiple morphemes lead to construction of a word. Morphemes are the smallest units of sentence analysis (Syntax) and include root words, prefixes, suffixes, and verb endings.

The current approach to Odia morphology treat morphology and morphemes as the basic rules involving the linguistic context, rather than as isolated pieces of linguistic matter. In context of semantics (Analysis of Meaning), the approach is that:

1. Meaning is linked to segmented phonological units, with influences of tone and/or stress;

2. Meaning of a morpheme with a given form varies on account of its immediate usage environment.

Order of acquisition

The order of acquisition is a concept in language acquisition describing the specific order in which all language learners acquire the grammatical features of their first language. This concept is based on the observation that all children acquire their first language in a fixed, universal order, regardless of the specific grammatical structure of the language they learn. Linguistic research has largely confirmed that this phenomenon is true for first-language learners; order of acquisition for second-language learners is much less consistent. It is not clear why the order differs for second-language learners, though current research suggests this variability may stem from first-language interference or general cognitive interference from nonlinguistic mental faculties.

Root (linguistics)

A root (or root word) is a word that does not have a prefix in front of the word or a suffix at the end of the word. The root word is the primary lexical unit of a word, and of a word family (this root is then called the base word), which carries the most significant aspects of semantic content and cannot be reduced into smaller constituents.

Content words in nearly all languages contain, and may consist only of root morphemes. However, sometimes the term "root" is also used to describe the word minus its inflectional endings, but with its lexical endings in place. For example, chatters has the inflectional root or lemma chatter, but the lexical root chat. Inflectional roots are often called stems, and a root in the stricter sense may be thought of as a monomorphemic stem.

The traditional definition allows roots to be either free morphemes or bound morphemes. Root morphemes are essential for affixation and compounds. However, in polysynthetic languages with very high levels of inflectional morphology, the term "root" is generally synonymous with "free morpheme". Many such languages have a very restricted number of morphemes that can stand alone as a word: Yup'ik, for instance, has no more than two thousand.

The root of a word is a unit of meaning (morpheme) and, as such, it is an abstraction, though it can usually be represented alphabetically as a word might be. For example, it can be said that the root of the English verb form running is run, or the root of the Spanish superlative adjective amplísimo is ampli-, since those words are clearly derived from the root forms by simple suffixes that do not alter the roots in any way. In particular, English has very little inflection and a tendency to have words that are identical to their roots. But more complicated inflection, as well as other processes, can obscure the root; for example, the root of mice is mouse (still a valid word), and the root of interrupt is, arguably, rupt, which is not a word in English and only appears in derivational forms (such as disrupt, corrupt, rupture, etc.). The root rupt is written as if it were a word, but it is not.

This distinction between the word as a unit of speech and the root as a unit of meaning is even more important in the case of languages where roots have many different forms when used in actual words, as is the case in Semitic languages. In these, roots are formed by consonants alone, and speakers elaborate different words (belonging potentially to different parts of speech) from the root by inserting different vowels. For example, in Hebrew, the root gdl represents the idea of largeness, and from it we have gadol and gdola (masculine and feminine forms of the adjective "big"), gadal "he grew", higdil "he magnified" and magdelet "magnifier", along with many other words such as godel "size" and migdal "tower".

Roots and reconstructed roots can become the stock-in-trade of etymology.


Sandhi (; Sanskrit: संधि saṃdhí [səndʱi], "joining") is a cover term for a wide variety of sound changes that occur at morpheme or word boundaries. Examples include fusion of sounds across word boundaries and the alteration of one sound depending on nearby sounds or the grammatical function of the adjacent words. Sandhi belongs to morphophonology.

Sandhi occurs in many languages, including particularly prominently in the phonology of Indian languages (especially Tamil, Sanskrit, Telugu, Marathi, Hindi, Pali, Kannada, Bengali, Assamese, Malayalam), as well as in some North Germanic languages.


In linguistics, a suffix (sometimes termed postfix) is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns or adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs.

Particularly in the study of Semitic languages, suffixes are called afformatives, as they can alter the form of the words.

In Indo-European studies, a distinction is made between suffixes and endings (see Proto-Indo-European root). Suffixes can carry grammatical information or lexical information.

An inflectional suffix is sometimes called a desinence or a grammatical suffix or ending. Inflection changes the grammatical properties of a word within its syntactic category

Derivational suffixes can be divided into two categories: class-changing derivation and class-maintaining derivation.

Synthetic language

A synthetic language uses inflection or agglutination to express syntactic relationships within a sentence. Inflection is the addition of morphemes to a root word that assigns grammatical property to that word, while agglutination is the combination of two or more morphemes into one word. The information added by morphemes can include indications of a word's grammatical category, such as whether a word is the subject or object in the sentence. Morphology can be either relational or derivational.While derivational morpheme changes the lexical categories of words, inflectional morpheme does not. In the first example below, faster remained an adjective when followed by the suffix; however, teacher becomes a noun after the suffix is added. Therefore, the first case is an example of inflection and the latter derivation.

fast (adjective, positive) vs. faster (adjective, comparative)

teach (verb) vs. teacher (noun)In synthetic languages, there is a higher morpheme-to-word ratio than in analytic languages. Analytic languages have a lower morpheme-to-word ratio and higher use of helping verbs and word order. The four subtypes of synthetic languages are agglutinating languages, fusional, polysynthetic languages, and Oligosynthetic languages.

Underlying representation

In some models of phonology as well as morphophonology in the field of linguistics, the underlying representation (UR) or underlying form (UF) of a word or morpheme is the abstract form that a word or morpheme is postulated to have before any phonological rules have applied to it. By contrast, a surface representation is the phonetic representation of the word or sound. The concept of an underlying representation is central to generative grammar.If more phonological rules apply to the same underlying form, they can apply wholly independently of each other or in a feeding or counterbleeding order. The underlying representation of a morpheme is considered to be invariable across related forms (except in cases of suppletion), despite alternations among various allophones on the surface.


In linguistics, a word is the smallest element that can be uttered in isolation with objective or practical meaning.

This contrasts deeply with a morpheme, which is the smallest unit of meaning but will not necessarily stand on its own. A word may consist of a single morpheme (for example: oh!, rock, red, quick, run, expect), or several (rocks, redness, quickly, running, unexpected), whereas a morpheme may not be able to stand on its own as a word (in the words just mentioned, these are -s, -ness, -ly, -ing, un-, -ed).

A complex word will typically include a root and one or more affixes (rock-s, red-ness, quick-ly, run-ning, un-expect-ed), or more than one root in a compound (black-board, sand-box). Words can be put together to build larger elements of language, such as phrases (a red rock, put up with), clauses (I threw a rock), and sentences (He threw a rock too, but he missed).

The term word may refer to a spoken word or to a written word, or sometimes to the abstract concept behind either. Spoken words are made up of units of sound called phonemes, and written words of symbols called graphemes, such as the letters of the English alphabet.

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