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free morpheme


free morpheme

Examples of free morphemes in English


A morpheme (or word element) that can stand alone as a word. Contrast with bound morpheme.

There are two basic kinds of free morphemes: content words and function words. See Examples and Observations, below.

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Examples and Observations

  • "Morphemes can be divided into two general classes. Free morphemes are those which can stand alone as words of a language, whereas bound morphemes must be attached to other morphemes. Most roots in English are free morphemes (for example, dog, syntax, and to), although there are a few cases of roots (like -gruntle as in disgruntle) that must be combined with another bound morpheme in order to surface as an acceptable lexical item. . . .

    "Free morphemes can be further subdivided into content words and function words. Content words, as their name suggests, carry most of the content of a sentence. Function words generally perform some kind of grammatical role, carrying little meaning of their own. One circumstance in which the distinction between function words and content words is useful is when one is inclined to keep wordiness to a minimum; for example, when drafting a telegram, where every word costs money. In such a circumstance, one tends to leave out most of the function words (like to, that, and, there, some, and but), concentrating instead on content words to convey the gist of the message."
    (Steven Weisler and Slavoljub P. Milekic, Theory of Language. MIT Press, 1999)

  • "A word like 'house' or 'dog' is called a free morpheme because it can occur in isolation and cannot be divided into smaller meaning units. . . . The word 'quickest' . . . is composed of two morphemes, one bound and one free. The word 'quick' is the free morpheme and carries the basic meaning of the word. The 'est' makes the word a superlative and is a bound morpheme because it cannot stand alone and be meaningful."
    (Donald G. Ellis, From Language to Communication. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1999)
Also Known As: unbound morpheme, free-standing morpheme

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