From Glottopedia
Revision as of 16:42, 13 September 2018 by Hartmut Haberland (talk | contribs) (→‎Reference)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

A morpheme is the smallest meaning-bearing unit of language. The term thus refers to the smallest component of a word that (a) seems to contribute some sort of meaning, or a grammatical function to the word to which it belongs, and (b) cannot itself be decomposed into smaller morphemes.


Kangaroo is one morpheme. Kangaroos is two morphemes, kangaroo and plural -s. The -s expresses the meaning 'many' or 'more than one' in this example.


Morpheme may also be used for 'grammatical morpheme', see morpheme (i.e. grammatical morpheme).



The term morpheme was coined by Jan Baudouin de Courtenay in c. 1880. It is based on Greek morph- 'form' and the suffix -eme, on the analogy of the term phoneme. See Mugdan (1986) for detailed discussion.


The concept "morpheme" is not uncontroversial. A number of linguists dispute the explanatory power of the morpheme as a theoretical construct, and also dispute the notion that the morpheme has any psychological reality (cf. Bochner). Consider, for example, the following singular~plural pairs in English: "kangaroo"~"kangaroos"; "mouse"~"mice"; "child"~"children"; "sheep"~"sheep"; "person"~"people".

related terms


Mugdan, Joachim. 1986. Was ist eigentlich ein Morphem? In: Zeitschrift für Phonetik, Sprachwissenschaft und Kommunikationsforschung 39(1): 29–43.


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics

Other languages