Morphemes are the smallest meaningful units in words

There are two main types of morphemes — Free morphemes & bound morphemes

Bound morphemes are of two types — Derivational morphemes & Inflectional morphemes

Derivational morphemes are morphemes that have the effect of changing the lexical category or the central meaning of the word to which they are attached to

Inflectional morphemes are morphemes that create variant forms of a word to conform to different roles in a sentence or in discourse, without changing its lexical category


When added to the noun doubt, the morpheme -FUL derives the adjective doubtful

The morpheme -MENT added to the verb establish derives the noun establishment:

In English such derivational morphemes tend to be added to the ends of words as suffixes

Some such derivations in English can thus be represented as:

Noun + -FUL = Adjective

Adjective + -LY = Adverb

Verb + -MENT = Noun

Verb + -ER = Noun

Adjective + -EN = Verb

Noun + -EN = Verb

English uses prefixes in a similar process

MIS- + Verb = Verb

UN- + Adjective = Adjective

UN- + Verb  = Verb

UNDER- + Verb  = Verb

RE- + Verb = Verb

EX- + Noun = Noun

In English prefixes typically change the meaning of a word but not its lexical category:


paint — repaint

appear — disappear

favourable — unfavourable

Thus it can be concluded that derivational morphemes produce new words from existing words in 2 ways:

– by changing the meaning of a word

e.g. true Vs untrue

– changing the lexical category of a word

e.g. true Vs truly

Inflectional morphemes change the forms of the words:

On nouns and pronouns inflectional morphemes mark (semantic) notions like number and (grammatical) categories like gender and case

On verbs they mark such things as tense or number

On adjectives they serve to indicate degree

Inflectional morphemes create the so-called ‘related forms’

Many languages have large inventories of inflectional morphemes

English, however, has shed most of its inflections and today has only 8 remaining ones

They are:
Inflections in English

Inflections in English

The 8 inflectional morphemes of English are fully productive

i.e. when new nouns, verbs and adjectives are added to the language (or when a child learns new words) they are extremely likely to be inflected like the examples shown

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