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Opinions of Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Columnist: Azindoo, Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq

Literary discourse: Morpheme and its relevance to sentence construction


It is a widely held perception that the basic element of sentence construction in English is WORD. This is a faulty perception. Contrarily, the basic element of communication – phrases, clauses, and sentences – is MORPHEME. Fellow learner, don’t be intimidated by this technical term. Hahahahaaa! You might not know its proper name in the lexicon of grammar, but you certainly use the MORPHEME perfectly. What is then a MORPHEME? What is its relevance to sentence construction? These two questions provoke a discourse aimed at enhancing our understanding of sentence structure and usage. The discourse is divided into three parts. Parts One and Two are emphatic on MORPHEME and WORD, and Part Three deals with PHRASES and CLAUSES later.


By the end of this discourse, fellow learners and readers are expected to improve their ability to:
• Understand morphemes
• Know types of morphemes
• Comprehend the relevance of morphemes to sentence construction.


A morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit in the grammar of a language. It can be uni-lettered, bi-lettered and multi-lettered. Examples are ‘S’, ‘LY’, ‘LADY.’


Morphemes are broadly divided into two: FREE MORPHEME and BOUND MORPHEME. Also called INDEPENDENT MORPHEME or ROOT, the FREE MORPHEME can stand alone and be meaningful. It therefore has both semantic properties and grammatical meaning. For instance, the morpheme ‘LADY’ semantically may mean a well-behaved, respected woman, and grammatically it is a noun. FREE MORPHEMES are, in some texts, referred to as LEXICAL MORPHEMES because they are both morphemes and ordinary words of dictionary meanings (Wiredu, 2009).

Conversely, the BOUND MORPHEME, which is also known as DEPENDENT MORPHEME, has only grammatical meaning when it stands alone. As an illustration, the morpheme ‘S’ has a grammatical meaning of plurality, but semantically it is meaningless. So, if we want to achieve the plural form of ‘BOY’, we can simply add ‘S’ to ‘BOY’, and the result is ‘BOYS.’ Here it is clear that ‘BOY’ is a free morpheme, while ‘S’ is a bound morpheme, as it depends on ‘BOY’ for meaning. Other forms of bound morphemes are un: UNhappy, ness: busiNESS, ion: educatION. ise/ize: liberalISE, tic: sympatheTIC, ism: capitalISM. Bound Morphemes are also known as GRAMMATICAL MORPHEMES, since their meanings are dictated by grammatical demands such as plurality, possession, adjectival and adverbial concerns.


This is a morphological process of joining BOUND MORPHEMES to FREE MORPHEMES to form other lexical items. An affix is, therefore, a BOUND MORPHEME that is joined before, after, or within a root. There are many affixes in English, among which are prefix, infix, suffix, suprafix, simulfix, and circumfix. In this discourse, we concentrate on PREFIX and SUFFIX only.


This is a BOUND MORPHEME which comes in front of a root. Examples are UNhappy, DISlike, PRO-democracy, DISorganise, MISinform, MISmanage, and IRrational.


This is a BOUND MORPHEME that comes at the end of a root. Examples are useLESS = use as the root + less as the suffix, happiNESS = happy as the root + ness as the suffix, economIC = economy as the root + ic as suffix. Morphemes can also be classified as INFLECTIONAL and DERIVATIONAL.

To be continued.

By Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq Azindoo, Coordinator of Students and University Relations, University of Applied Management (UAM), Germany – Ghana Campus, McCarthy Hill, Accra and Tamale
Email: Tell: 0244755402