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English Vocabulary Elements, 2nd ed., by Keith Denning, Brett Kessler, and William R. Leben (Oxford University Press, 2007)


A word or word element (that is, a morpheme) from which other words grow, usually through the addition of prefixes and suffixes.

See also:


From the Old English, "root"

Examples and Observations:

  • "A lexical morph--the smallest, indivisible, simplex lexical component in a word--is called a root. Because a root tells us more about the meaning of a word than anything else, the first thing we ask about a complex word is often: What is its root? Often a complex word has more than one root, as in blackbird. . . .

    "In our native and nativized vocabulary, roots can usually appear as independent words, for which reason they are called free morphs. This makes it particularly easy to find the roots of words like black-bird, re-fresh, and book-ish-ness. In Latin and Greek, roots most often do not occur as separate words: they are bound morphs, meaning they can only appear when tied to other components. For example, the root of concurrent is curr 'run.' which is not an independent word in English or even in Latin."
    (Keith Denning, Brett Kessler, and William R. Leben. English Vocabulary Elements, 2nd ed. Oxford Univ. Press, 2007)

  • "Complex words typically consist of a root morpheme and one or more affixes. The root constitutes the core of the word and carries the major component of its meaning. Roots typically belong to a lexical category, such as noun, verb, adjective, or preposition. . . . Unlike roots, affixes do not belong to a lexical category and are always bound morphemes. For example, the affix -er is a bound morpheme that combines with a verb such as teach, giving a noun with the meaning 'one who teaches.'"
    (William O'Grady, et al., Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction, 4th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001)

  • "[M]orphologically simple words, which contain only a single root morpheme, may be compared to morphologically complex words which contain at least one free morpheme and any number of bound morphemes. Thus, a word like 'desire' may be defined as a root morpheme constituting a single word. 'Desirable,' by contrast, is complex, combining a root morpheme with the bound morpheme '-able.' More complex again is 'undesirability' which comprises one root and three bound morphemes: un+desire+able+ity. Notice also how, in complex words of this sort, the spelling of the root may be altered to conform to the bound morphemes around it. Thus, 'desire' becomes 'desir-' while 'beauty' will be transformed into 'beauti-' in the formation of 'beautiful' and of the increasingly complex 'beautician.'"
    (Paul Simpson, Language Through Literature: An Introduction. Routledge, 1997)
Pronunciation: ROOT
Also Known As: base, stem
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