Here, in part one of a three-part series, we offer some basic distinctions between content words and function words, count nouns and mass nouns, and several other pairs of contrasting grammatical concepts.
In some cases, we may have sacrificed clarity for brevity. If so, click on the links for additional examples and more detailed discussions of these key grammatical terms.
- What's the difference between a morpheme and a phoneme?
A morpheme is a minimal unit of word structure. It consists of a word (such as tip) or a word element (such as the -s at the end of tips) that can't be divided into smaller meaningful parts. A phoneme is the smallest sound unit in a language that's capable of conveying a distinct meaning. The three letters in the morpheme tip represent three separate phonemes.
- What's the difference between a bound morpheme and a free morpheme
A free morpheme can stand alone as a word. A bound morpheme (such as a prefix or suffix) can't stand alone; it has to be combined with at least one other morpheme within a word.
- What's the difference between a closed word class and an open word class?
A word class (similar to a part of speech) is a set of words displaying the same formal properties. The closed classes (determiners, conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns) rarely accept new members. The open classes (nouns, lexical verbs, adjectives, adverbs) are content words that readily welcome new members.
- What's the difference between a content word and a function word?
Content words (also called lexical words) are open-class words that convey the meaning of a sentence. Function words (also called grammatical words) are closed-class words that have a grammatical function but little or no meaningful content.
- What's the difference between an abstract noun and a concrete noun?
An abstract noun (such as truth or beauty) names an idea, quality, or concept--something we can't see or touch. A concrete noun (such as chicken or egg) names a material object or phenomenon--something recognizable through the senses.
What's the difference between a common noun and a proper noun?
A common noun (such as dog or town) names one or all of the members of a class and can be preceded by the definite article (the). A proper noun (such as Fido or Mayberry) names a unique individual, place, or event. In most cases, a proper noun begins with a capital letter and is not preceded by the definite article.
- What's the difference between a count noun and a mass noun?
A count noun (such as apple or book) names an object or idea that can form a plural or that can occur in a noun phrase with a number or an indefinite article. A mass noun (such as milk or fun) is used only in the singular and names things that can't be counted.
- What's the difference between a definite article and an indefinite article?
The definite article the is a determiner that refers to a particular noun. The indefinite article a or an is a determiner that marks an unspecified count noun.
If you'd like some help distinguishing transitive and intransitive verbs, comparative and superlative modifiers, and compound and complex sentences, stop back next Monday (September 5) for part two of Grammar Q & A: What's the Difference?