The Uses of Grammar

By Judith Rodby; W. Ross Winterowd | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Forms of Words: Morphology

CHAPTER PREVIEW
Words in the English language come from a variety of sources. For instance, English borrows words from other languages (e.g., rodeo from Spanish) and forms new words (1) by combining two or more words (gaslight from gas + light); (2) by using the first letters of phrases to form acronyms (laser from light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation); (3) by blending parts of two or more words to form a new word (smog from smoke +fog); (4) by using abbreviations as words (Gen., Lt., Prof.); (5) by removing a part of one word to create another word, a process known as back-formation (burgle from burglar).
Morphemes are parts of words that change meanings, make one part of speech into another, and show such grammatical functions as tense and plurality. For example, the morpheme un makes a positive into a negative (happy, unhappy), the morpheme -ful changes a noun into an adjective (beauty, beautiful), and the morpheme -s makes a singular into a plural (dollar, dollars).
Some morphemes are free and can be used as words or as parts of words: My love is like a red red rose/My love is roselike. Morphemes at the beginnings of words are called prefixes: dishonor, inhuman. Morphemes at the ends of words are suffixes: typed, reliability.
Derivational morphemes change the part of speech category to which words belong. For example, the suffix -ly often changes adjectives into adverbs: quick action, quickly acting.
Inflectional morphemes indicate such grammatical functions as tense and agreement. The suffix -ed changes present tense work into past tense worked. The suffix -s shows that in the following sentence the verb work agrees with its subject: Herbert works.

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