What does "morphology" mean?

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The word "morphology" comes from two Greek words meaning "form" and "word" or "study." As biology is the study of life and psychology is the study of the mind, so morphology is the study of form. This means different things in different disciplines. Within biology, "morphology" refers to the structure...

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The word "morphology" comes from two Greek words meaning "form" and "word" or "study." As biology is the study of life and psychology is the study of the mind, so morphology is the study of form. This means different things in different disciplines. Within biology, "morphology" refers to the structure of life forms. Within geology, it covers the configuration of rocks and landscapes. In linguistics, it refers to the study of word formation.

Linguistic morphology is the examination of rules that modify words and relate them to other words, governing the form of linguistic expression. It is based on the concept of the morpheme as the smallest possible indivisible unit of syntax. A morpheme may be a word, or it may be a letter or letters added to a word, modifying the meaning. Perhaps the commonest example in English is the letter "s," which is added to the end of many words to make them plural. The word "book" is, therefore, both a word and a morpheme, but the word "books" is two morphemes. The final "s" has an effect on the word but is not a word itself, since it cannot be used independently. This may seem an unnecessarily elaborate explanation of something every native English speaker knows, without necessarily having thought about the matter. However, it is precisely such technical examinations of the details of word formation within and across languages that constitute the discipline of morphology.

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