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What is morphology? What are morphs, allomorphs and morphemes? What's the difference between them?

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Morphology is a study of words. It basically deals with word formation, examines the relationship between words, and analyzes their constituent elements.

Morpheme is the smallest unit of a word, which has a meaning, lexical or grammatical, and cannot be divided into smaller units. For instance, the word "unpresentable" consists of 3 morphemes -- un + present + able. Un is a prefix, which means "not" and is used in this example to negate the adjective "presentable." The suffix able is used to form adjectives and is usually placed at the end of a verb (useable, loveable, deniable, etc.).

Morphs form morphemes, and they are "an element of speech or writing that represents and expresses one or more morphemes" (Microsoft Encarta Dictionary). Morphs are the real forms utilized to form a morpheme (Yule 71 ). For instance, "students" consists of 2 morphemes, student + suffix s. Students is comprised of "one or more morphs" that constitute the "environment" (SIL) of the word students. Students has 2 morphemes, each with 1 or more morphs. The morpheme -s has 1 morph and can have 1 of 2 allomorphs of pronounceable realization: s or z, as in cats (s) and shoes (z).

Allomorphs are different realizations of one morpheme (Yule 72). For example, the words cats, dogs and buses all contain a plural morpheme, and we can deduce that the pluralizing morphemes (-s and -es) have 3 different potential pronunciations - /s/, /z/ and /iz/. We call these allomorphs because they represent different pronunciation potentials of the same morphemes, the plural morphemes (and one plural morpheme has one morph -s, while the other has two morphs -es).

Yule, George. The Study of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Web.


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Morphology is the study of the smallest units of meaning in a given language.  Thus it's the study of morphemes.  It will involve studying the root or stem words and affixes for content or function.  A morpheme is the smallest language unit of meaning in a language.  Each word can have one or more different morphemes.

The constituent parts of a morpheme are called morphs: any morpheme is composed of one or more morphs.  The way a particular morpheme can potentially sound when pronounced in a particular language is called an allomorph.  The actual sound realizations when pronounced are called allophones.

Further Reading:

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Morphology is the study of the words and their structure.  Morphology focuses on the various morphemes that make up a word.  A morpheme is the smallest unit of a word that has meaning.

A morph is the phonetic realization of that morpheme, or in plain English, the way it is formed.

An allomorph is the way or ways a morph can potentially sound.  Allophone describes the actual realization of a morph's sound.

For example:

  • [-s] as in [-s] 'hats'
  • [-z] as in [-z] 'dogs'
  • [-ez] as in [-ez] 'boxes'



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mrshartley | Student

Morphology is the study of a language's linguistic units, or morphemes. 

A morpheme is the smallest unit of a language that still has meaning. Morphemes are the parts of words, such as prefixes, suffixes, and roots. The word "unbendable" has three morphemes. These are the three smaller units that make up the word. The prefix "un" means "not". The root "bend" means to force an object into a curved shape. The suffix "-able" means "capable of". 

Each morpheme has a meaning on its own, and together they comprise a word. Notice that both the root, "bend", and the suffix, "able" could stand alone as words themselves. The prefix "un" is not a word on its own, yet it still has its own meaning. A word can always stand alone. A morpheme may or may not be able to stand alone depending on its meaning and function, but it does always have meaning. 

An allomorph is a morpheme that varies in sound while retaining the same spelling. An example would be the "-ed" suffix, which has three sounds in the English language: /ed/ as in played, /t/ as in tossed, and /d/ as in burned. The morpheme "ed" indicates past tense and is spelled the same in all three words, but has a different sound for each. 

A morph is how a morpheme is written. It is the string of phonological units that make up a morpheme. The morpheme "bleak" is comprised of three morphs: the consonant blend "bl", the vowel pair "ea", and the consonant "k". A morph then, is not a morpheme, since these smaller units do not have any meaning on their own.