WORD STRUCTURE IN ENGLISH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAHFOUZ A. ADEDIMEJI

DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH,

UNIVERSITY OF ILORIN,

PMB 1515, ILORIN, NIGERIA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JANUARY, 2005

 


WORD STRUCTURE IN ENGLISH

M. A. Adedimeji

1.0        INTRODUCTION

Of all the creatures in the entire creation, man is the most superior and unique. It could be said that the uniqueness of man is premised on his wisdom. But this is not so because some animals or insects have been found to be wiser – a case in point is the ant. Animals share different biological functions such as movement, respiration, nutrition, reproduction, growth, death, etc with man. And they even excel in these functions than man. What then makes man unique? What is the most significant part of your being with which you are different from animals? It is the faculty of language – chiefly used for communication.

Language is that complex human specific system of communication. Animals too can communicate with members of their species, but they do not have language. Their systems of communication are fixed and rigid. For instance, an ape gibbers, an ass brays, a bee hums, a bird chirps/sings, a cat purrs/meows, a dog barks, a donkey brays, an elephant trumpets, a frog croaks, a goat bleats, a horse neighs, a hyena screams, a lion roars, a mouse squeaks, an owl hoots and we can continue on and on. But a human being talks, and he can even imitate all other creatures by braying, humming, singing, croaking, barking, grunting, etc. A parrot or a mynah may ‘talk’ in a fashion, but it  is not  possible to discuss a subject with a talking bird. Man is thus the only creature that uses language intentionally and habitually. This is why it has been an object of fascination and object of serious enquiry for more than two hundred years (Crystal 1997:400).

Language has four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. The degree of one’s proficiency in these skills determines one’s achievement in education. Language is shared and structured,  it is meaningful and conventional, it is dynamic and systematic, it is complex and creative; and indeed languages are unique and similar. As a result of these characteristics, language is studied from various levels. Levels of language description are phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics (Tomori, 1977:21; Adedimeji and Alabi 2003:29). And as ‘the word’ is central to the study of language, at almost all levels, this chapter discusses word structure. It describes the paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships in language, explains morphemes and their types with appropriate examples of how they function in words and it highlights aspects of meanings in word structure.

2.0        PARADIGMATIC AND SYNTAGMATIC RELATIONS

As language is a patterned activity, there are two types of relations holding within it. These are paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships which hold on vertical and horizontal axes respectively.

A paradigm constitutes the choices available to fill a linguistic slot. Paradigmatic relations thus concern the available options or choices that might be changed without violating grammatical or lexical patterns. The paradigms of a word are thus choices that can be made in place of the word. Let us consider the following table:

S

V

O

Olu

bought

an orange

Abu

killed

a goat

That laboratory assistant

Diluted

the chemicals

The principal himself

performed

the osmosis experiment

Table 1: Paradigms of elements within a sentence structure

All choices made, ‘s’ (subject), ‘v’ (verb) and ‘o’ (object) are paradigms. Such items are said to be on the vertical axis or axis of choice. Paradigms could be phonemic, morphemic, lexical, phrasal, clausal or sentential as long as they share same linguistic or grammatical features.

Also, there is a horizontal relationship between words and expressions. This structural bond that links morphemes, words, etc. is referred to as syntagmatic relations, which hold on the horizontal axis or axis of chain. The rule of syntagm, in “disorderliness”, compels ‘dis’ to come before ‘order’, ‘order’ to come before ‘ly’ and ‘ly’ before ‘ness’ hence, dis + order + li + ness. This bond or arrangement cannot be altered without breaching the syntagmatic relations. The same chain makes “my favourite car” to exhibit syntagmatic relationship, which is lost when it is reversed as ‘car favourite my’ – an ungrammatical construction. So, the dimensional sequence that spoken and written bits of language follow is the syntagmatic relationship holding between/ among them. That is why syntax studies word combination processes or how linguistic units are arranged in a horizontal chain-like axis. The syntagmatic relationships holding between the following are marked thus:

Inter + continent + al                                                    (word syntagm)

The + handsome + Nigerian + footballer             (phrasal syntagm)

Must + have + been + immunized                                    (phrasal syntagm)

Some+ microbes+ attack + man’s + immune + status      (sentence syntagm)

Exercise 1

1.     In your own words, define language.

2.     The most important distinguishing factor between human beings and  

        animals is language. Why do you (dis)agree?

3.0        WORDS: THE BUILDING BLOCKS

If we compare language to a magnificent building, the blocks with which it is constructed are words. In other words, ‘words’ are the component parts of language (Pryse, 1984:1) The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (1976) defines word as a sound or a group of sounds that forms an independent unit of language. It goes further to define it as a representation of those sounds “as letters or symbols, usually with a space on either side”. Word is essentially a unit of meaning: every word must give a sense prompted by general/ conventional or specific/contextual determinism.

In the past, just as atom was considered the most minimal element of matter before the light of knowledge made it known that an atom consists of neutrons and electrons (which are still divisible), it was construed that word was the smallest unit of language. But this is not so as a word is made up of one or more morphemes. A morpheme is defined as the smallest unit of speech that has semantic or grammatical meaning. Put differently, it is the smallest meaningful unit of grammatical analysis.

       For example, ‘electromagnetic’ is a word. It is however made up of three parts: electro + magnet + ic. Each of these parts exhibits a particular meaning. These meaning-bearing parts are the component morphemes of ‘electromagnetic’. An English word is made up of one or more morphemes. The following words are made up of one, two, three, four and five morphemes respectively: ‘iron’, ‘gas+eous’, ‘uni+cell+ular’, ‘ab+norm+al+ity’, ‘dis+en+tangle+ment+s’. Other examples are ‘liquid’,  ‘carbon+monoxide’, ‘circu+lat+ion’, ‘electro+cut+ion+s’, ‘inter+nation+al+ iz+ation’.   

        Based on the preceding discussion, three types of words can be identified. These are different from word classes, which are eight in number. The typology is based on the morphemic composition of words and the types are simple, complex and compound words. It would be observed that some morphemes can stand on their own while others cannot in the given examples. Those that can stand on their own are called free morphemes while those that cannot are referred to as bound morphemes. A word that is made up of a single/free morpheme, like ‘gold’, ‘liquid,’ ‘tube’, is a simple word. Complex words are made up of a free morpheme and one or more bound morphemes (such as ‘nutrition+al’, ‘ecto+parasite+s’, ‘de+cod+ifi+cation’) while compound words are made up of two or more free morphemes, with or without bound morphemes. Compound words include ‘ring+worm’, ‘amino+ acid +lysine’, ‘leit +motif’, ‘coup+de+tat’, etc.

Exercise 2

1.     All morphemes are words but not all words are morphemes (True or

                             False. If false, re-cast the expression).

2.     Differentiate between word types and word classes

4.0        MORPHEMES: IN A WORLD OF THEIR OWN

In section 3.0 above, we briefly defined what the morpheme is. In this section, we shall shed more light on the issues concerning it as well as its various types.

4.1        The Morpheme

A morpheme is the smallest meaning-bearing element in language. It operates within a word. By saying it is the smallest meaningful linguistic unit, it is meant that it may be as small as a single letter; and a morpheme can also be made of eight or more letters. For instance, when you take a look at the English alphabet, you will observe that some of these letters are morphemes or ‘meaningful’ while others are just letters. This is the alphabet:

a

b

c

d

e

f

g

h

i

j

k

l

m

n

o

p

q

r

s

T

u

v

w

x

y

z

Table 2: Identifiable morphemes in the English alphabet

In the alphabet above, thirteen possible morphemes, underlined, have been identified. Some of these are familiar while others are not; some linguists may even consider three of them controversial. You can even extend the list of morphemes by thinking of how other letters can function as morphemes. We shall only give examples to illustrate how they function.

a boy, amoral, maniac, loved, men, I, radii, stolen, o Lord, driver, students, dreamt, u-turn, v-neck, x-ray, honesty.

 

4.2        Free and Bound Morphemes

As previously discussed, a free morpheme is that morpheme that can stand by itself. A free morpheme is a simple word that does not need any other morpheme to be on its own. Examples are: a, go, air, burn, power, engine and element. None of their component elements/letters can be removed without altering or even ‘destroying’ their meanings. Bound morphemes on the other hand, are morphemes that cannot stand alone. They are rather added or affixed to other morphemes to make words. A combination of one or more bound morphemes and a free morpheme gives us a complex word, as you know. Bound morphemes are also called affixes – and they are of three types: prefix, infix and suffix.

Morphemes can be broadly divided into free and bound morphemes. A free morpheme can serve as a root or a stem. Free morphemes are also either full or empty morphemes. Bound morphemes, on the other hand, are otherwise known as affixes (which are three: prefixes, infixes and suffixes). Bound morphemes/affixes can be divided into inflectional and derivational morphemes as well as genuine/true and pseudo morphemes. Inflectional morphemes can be replacive, additive or zero in usage while derivational morphemes are used additively and replacively. All these constitute the various types of morphemes in the structure of words.   

4.3        Roots and Stems 

The root of a word is said to be the very core of the word, without any addition whatsoever. It is the nucleus of the string of letters that forms the word. Without the root, other parts/morphemes in a word would just be ‘hanging’. In a word like ‘engineering’, ‘engine’ is the root, the nucleus, the heart or the core. Other morphemes are appendages. The root remains when all affixes are removed. It is also referred to as the base form or simply the base.

The stem of a word, on the other hand, is the part of a word to which the inflectional morpheme is structurally added. It is the part of the word that usually remains when all inflectional morphemes have been removed. In our example, engineering, engineer is the stem. Engine is the root but it is at the same time the stem of engineer, which serves as the stem for engineering. A root can thus be a stem and a stem can also be a root (Tomori, 1977:32). In the word, ‘hostesses’, host is the root as well as the stem because the affixes {ess} and {es} meaning femininity and plurality are inflectional morphemes. But in ‘solidification’, the stem is ‘solidify’ while the root is ‘solid’ (notice that ‘solid’ itself is the stem of ‘solidify’).

4.4        Affixes: Prefix, Infix and Suffix

Bound morphemes are called affixes because they are somehow ‘fixed’ to the roots or stems so as to form new words of higher complexity. Thus, affixes are morphemes that usually precede or follow a root/base form. There are three types of affixes. These are prefixes, infixes and suffixes (or postfixes). A prefix is the bound morpheme that comes before the base form or root. Examples are {de-} in ‘desalt’, {ante-} in ‘antenatal’ and {super-} in supercomputer. An infix is the bound morpheme that is inserted within the root or stem. Infixation, the process of using infixes in words, is not very common in English language. It is realized replacively as in words like ‘men’, ‘feet’, ‘geese’, etc. A suffix is the bound morpheme that comes after the root or stem, such as ‘electronic’, ‘physician’, ‘heating’.     

4.5        Inflectional and Derivational Morphemes/Affixes

The same way we talk of word types, word segments, we talk of word classes. There are eight classes of words in English and they are traditionally known as parts of speech. When a morpheme/affix does not change the class of a word (i.e. its part of speech) such is known as inflectional morpheme. Inflectional morphemes always come last in the structure of words. They are used to indicate gender (e.g. ‘waitress’, ‘mistress’), plurality (‘kilometers’, ‘capsules’) tense (‘walked’, ‘awoken’) possession (‘doctor’s’, ‘nurses’’), comparison (‘smaller’, ‘stronger’), etc.

4.5.1     Inflected word classes in English

Nouns are inflected in two ways: the possessive case and plurality as previously exemplified. Among pronouns, personal pronouns (I, we you, he, she, it, they) are also inflected, largely as objective case (me, us, you, him, her, it, them respectively), epithetic possessive (my, our, your, his her, its, their, respectively) and predicative possessive (mine, ours, yours, his, hers, its, theirs, respectively). The relative pronoun ‘who’ is also inflected ‘who(m)’ in the objective case as it becomes ‘whose’ in both of the possessive forms. The objective forms of the demonstrative pronouns, the third of the pronouns that take inflections, are indicated by zero morphemes. In other words, ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘these’, ‘those’ are only morphologically marked implicitly at their objective case. Inflectional morphemes, in essence, are morphemes that perform grammatical function in a word without altering the class that the word belongs to.

Verbs have five inflections: infinitive/present tense (‘apply’, ‘synchronize’), third person singular (‘applies’, ‘synchronizes’), present participial/progressive form (‘applying’, ‘synchronizing’), past tense (‘applied’, ‘synchronized’) and past participial/perfective form (applied, synchronized). Adjectives are inflected in the formation of comparative and superlative degrees. Examples are ‘stronger’, ‘strongest’, ‘taller’, ‘tallest’, etc. Where there are irregular forms, suppletion, the morphological process of replacing a word completely with another word, is adopted such as in (good) ‘better’, ‘best’, (bad) ‘worse’, worst’. Adverbs are also inflected in comparative and superlative degrees, like adjectives; for example ‘fast’, ‘faster’, ‘fastest’ (i.e. it cures fast, it cures faster) ‘far’, ‘farther/further’, ‘farthest/furthest’). In all, nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives are inflected in English.

4.5.2     Derived word classes in English

Derivational morphemes are those that change word classes. As the name suggests, a new word class is ‘derived’ from an old one when a derivational morpheme/affix (always a suffix) is ‘fixed’ to a word. Words like ‘gas’, ‘infect’ and ‘solid’, change their classes from being noun, verb and adjective respectively to adjective (gaseous), noun (infection) and verb (solidify) through the addition of derivational morphemes.

There are four word classes in which derivation is applicable. These are nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives, otherwise known as content words or full morphemes, rather than the grammatical words (pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and interjection) or empty morphemes. The following table summarizes them (also see Tomori, 1977:35).

 

 

 

 

Nouns

Verbs

Adjectives

Adverbs

Derived from verbs

–ate (used to derive verbs from some nouns,) salivate, liquidate

Derived from nouns

–ly (the most used, to derive adverbs from adjectives) slowly, quickly

–age, wreckage, stoppage

–ise/ize (used to derive verbs from some nouns and adjectives) mechanize, legalize

–y, thirsty, misty

a– (used to adverbs from certain nouns verbs and adjectives) ahead, astray, adrift

–ance, repentance, avoidance

–fy (used to derive verbs from some nouns and adjectives) intensify, electrify

–al, hormonal, medicinal

–wise(from certain nouns) clockwise, eastwards

–er/or/ar, healer, inhaler

–en (used to derive verbs from adjectives)

straighten, lengthen

–ful, harmful, lawful

–where (from certain determiners) somewhere, anywhere, etc.

–ment, judgment, experiment

en–, em– (used to derive verbs from certain nouns, verbs and adjectives) encourage, embitter, enforce

–less, saltless, heartless

 

–ster, trickster 

 

–ar, muscular, cellular

 

–tion, oxidation, application

 

–ary, legendary, medullary

 

–ing, mixing, reading

 

–ic, vitriolic, atomic

 

Derived from adjectives

–ce, significance, distance

 

–ish, boyish, selfish

 

–cy, sufficiency efficiency

 

–en, deepen, lengthen

 

–ity, solubility, technicality

 

–ed, tagged, bagged

 

–ness solidness, happiness

 

–ly, fatherly, orderly

 

 

 

 

Derived from verbs

–able, admirable, detachable

 

 

–hood, falsehood

 

–ous, desirous, infectious

 

–ry, respiratory, greenery

 

–ent, excellent, abhorrent

 

Derived from other nouns

–dom, chiefdom, kingdom

 

–ive, active, submissive

 

–er, farmer, mariner

 

–ed, wanted, roasted

 

–ess, mistress, poetess

 

–ing, modulating, surprising

 

–hood, brotherhood, neighbourhood

 

 

 

–ian, politician, physician

 

 

 

ism, cultism, terrorism

 

 

 

–ist, journalist, pharmacist

 

 

 

–ship, kingship, courtship

 

 

 

–ster, gangster, youngster

 

 

 

Dimunitives

–let, piglet, leaflet

 

 

 

–ock, hillock, bittock

 

 

 

–ling, duckling, gosling

 

 

 

–ette, sachet, locket

 

 

 

–ry, studentry, citizenry

 

 

 

Table 3: Derivations in Nouns, Verbs, Adverbs and Adjectives

 


4.6        Full and Empty, Additive, Replacive and Zero Morphemes

Full morphemes are (the roots of the) content words while empty morphemes are (the roots of the) grammatical words. In other words, any noun, verb, adverb or adjective is a full morpheme while every pronoun, preposition, conjunction and interjection is an empty morpheme. Additive morphemes are added to words either as prefixes or as suffixes (‘germinating’, ‘electrified’) while replacive morphemes are used to substitute sounds (i.e. ‘goose/geese’, ‘foot/feet’). In suppletion, rather than partial substitution in replacive morpheme, the whole word is changed (‘go, went, gone’, ‘good better best’). Zero morphemes on their own part, are morphemes that are not explicitly marked. For example, in ‘the sheep are grazing’, the plural morpheme in sheep is a zero morpheme while the past tense of ‘cast’, ‘hit’ are also morphologically marked by zero morphemes.

4.7        True and Pseudo Morphemes

It is also possible to differentiate true/genuine morphemes from pseudo morphemes. A true morpheme is that which is meaningful and constant in meaning. A pseudo morpheme, as the name suggests, is a false morpheme in the sense that it looks like a morpheme, when it is not. Free morphemes include ‘a’, ‘go’, ‘air’, ‘burn’, ‘power’, ‘engine’, ‘machine’, ‘emphasis’, ‘intellect’ and ‘anticipate’. This shows that a free morpheme can be a single letter or can even be made up of ten or more letters. Pseudo morphemes are the first syllables of the following words, which if considered at all as morphemes are pseudo morphemes:

receive concept

conceive            conduct

receipt  concern

repair                reward

They are pseudo morphemes because the remaining parts have no meanings when the first parts are removed. What, for example are the meanings of ‘ceive’, ‘cept’, ‘cern’, etc? The ones that are meaningful have their meanings within totally different semantic fields: e.g. ‘pair’, ‘duct’ and ‘ward’.


4.8        Morphemic Analysis

The foregoing discussion has shown that morphemes like bricks, are of various kinds and hues. They also perform various functions. What is essential to note is that they constitute the structure of words in English. The knowledge of roots, stems and affixes equips one with the required skills for morphemic analysis. The affixes must be related to the root meanings in order not to confuse words or analyse morphemes wrongly. Let us illustrate the likely confusion that a student may face in describing morphemes with the story of Professor Agboru and his classes.

Professor Agboru was a Professor of Linguistics at the University of Niagara. He put the following notice on the faculty notice board one day:

“Professor Agboru will not be able to meet his classes this evening. He has a chronic backache”.

 

A mischievous student of the Professor deleted the ‘c’ from the word ‘classes’ and it remained ‘lasses’. Since it was a co-educational context, the alteration generated appreciative laughs and pranks (like na wa for Prof o! No wonder!). But as Professors are unbeatable, Agboru made a wry smile when he saw the joke played on him and thus deleted the first letter of ‘lasses’. Who were the ‘asses’ (fools)? The Professor had the last laugh as the joke bounced back against the students who wanted to tarnish his good name.

Morphologically, we wont say ‘c’ is a morpheme because ‘lasses’ is meaningful, or ‘l’ is a morpheme in ‘lasses’. Rather, we observe that ‘lasses’ ‘asses’ have different meanings or roots other than the sense evoked by ‘classes’. Thus, the linguistic sequence ‘classes’ [which is ‘rich’ in the sense that all its parts are capable of generating meaning: (class, lass, ass, as , es, s)] contains two morphemes: {class} and {es}, or f + b. The root is ‘class’, the stem is also ‘class’ and the affix is ‘es’, an inflectional morpheme. Another word that exhibits a similar feature is ‘themes’, made up of two morphemes. All of ‘theme’, ‘them’, ‘the’, ‘th’, ‘t’ and ‘s’ are meaningful. Learning is fun!


Segmentability of morphemes involves the process of breaking words into their component morphemes in a systematic manner. It is a major aspect of morphemic analysis. The first thing to note is the root of a word after which the processes through which it becomes what it is, usually complex, becomes easily determinable. Consider the following examples in table 4.

 


Words                          Segmentation                          Description

(Basic)

 


(i)         insignificantly                             in + significant + ly                                 (b + f + b)

(ii)         significations                             sign + if(y) + (i) cation + s                       (f + b + b + b)       

(iii)        dislocation                                 dis + locat(e) + ion                                 (b + f + b)

(iv)        interconnectivity             inter + connect + iv(e) + ity                     (b + f + b + b)

(v)         osteopathy                                osteo + path + y                                    (b + f + b)

(vi)        technologically               techn(ic) + olog(y) + ical + ly      (f + b + b)

(vii)       aide de clamp                aide + de + camp                                   (f + f + f)

(viii)       commanders-in-chief      command + er + s + in + chief    (f + b + b)

(ix)        people                           person + s                                             (f + b)

(ix)        betters                          good + er + s                                         (f + b + b)

 

 

Table 4: Words and their morphemic analysis

Exercise 3

Identify all kinds of morphemes in the following words and segment them morphemically:

spherical                                   geothermal                                inflammatory

chromatic                                  inorganic                                   dystrophic

molecules                                 programmed                              powerfully

polymerization               computing                                 naturalists

gastrointestinal              cardiovascular                consciousness 

 

5.0        THE STRUCTURE OF THE ENGLISH WORD

Structurally, the English word is made up of an optional prefix, obligatory base form or root and one or more suffixes in that rigid syntagmatic order. The basic formula for this is (p) b (f ) where p is ‘prefix’, b is ‘base form’ and f is ‘postfix’. (Muir, 1972:17). But since we have not been adopting postfix in our discussion, we can as well say the structure is: (p) b (s) with ‘s’ meaning ‘suffix’. The brackets indicate that their contents are optional. The arrow indicates the rigid order or sequence of the elements when they occur together in a word. Therefore, an English word may be any of the following:


b          =          space, synopsis, harangue

pb         =          empower, de-salt, unearth

bs         =          criminal, echoed, vandalism

pbs       =          uncertainty, independent, unscientific

 

Moreover, in English, there is usually, not always, one ‘p’ element, usually one b elements or one or more ‘s’ elements. It is only in a compound structure that there are more than one ‘b’ elements. Thus, the formula above can be expanded or revised as thus to reflect the true structure of words:

(p2) (p1) b (s1) (s2) (s3)

This means that a word may have two prefixes (as in ‘pre + in+dependence’) and three suffixes. The numbering indicates the primacy of the affixes. The proximity of the affix to the base determines its numbering/ primacy. In the given ‘pre-independence’, since we have ‘in' prefix closer to the base ‘depend’ it is the p1 while ‘pre’ is the p2. We can thus analyse ‘pre-independence’ as thus:

pre + in + depend + ence = p2 p1 b s.

(Note that our morphemic segmentation of the example will be ‘b + b + f + b’ and the ‘b’ here means bound morpheme).

As earlier adumbrated, the base is usually one except in compound structures where the second base will be considered as additional root. As such, the various words in English can occur in any of the following seven forms:

 

Prefix

(p2)

Prefix

(p1)

Base

Infix

Suffix (s1)

Ending (s2)

Addition (s3)

i.

 

 

muscle

 

 

 

 

ii.

 

Dis

connect

 

 

 

 

iii.

 

 

parasit(e)

 

ic

 

 

iv.

 

 

goose

-ee-

 

 

 

v.

 

 

graph

 

ic

al

ly

vi.

 

 

structur(e)

 

al

ly

ness

vii.

dis

En

franchise

 

 

es

 

viii.

 

Mal

form

 

ation

s

 

ix.

 

 

edit/in/chief

 

or

s

 

x.

 

 

soft/ware

 

 

 

 

xi

dis

Em

bowel

 

 

 

 

xii

dis

Em

power

 

ment

 

 

Table 5: Elements within word structure

The examples above can still be analyzed as follows, where ‘w’ means word, ‘sm’, simple; ‘cx’, complex; ‘cd’, compound; ‘p’, prefix; ‘i', infix; and ‘s’, suffix.

w

sm

b

muscle

w

cx

b

i

goose

ee

w

cx

b

s

parasit(e)

 ic

w

cx

p

b

 dis

connect

(i)                                 (ii)                                 (iii)                                (iv)

 

 

 

w

cx

b

s

s

s

 graph

ic

al

ly

w

cp

b

s

s

b

structur

al

ly

ness

w

cx

p

p

b

   dis

en

franchise

w

cx

p

b

s

s

 mal

form

ation

s

 


(v)                             (vi)                                                (vii)                               (viii)

 

 

 

 

w

cx

p

p

b

s

    dis

 em

 power

ment

w

cx

p

p

dis

em

b

bowel

 


w

cp

b

b

soft

ware

w

cp

b

s

s

b

edit

or

s

in

b

chief

(ix)                                            (x)                                (xi)                      (xii)    

 

 

 

 

 

Fig. 1: Tree-diagram analyses of word structures

The preceding discussion has demonstrated that that word forms in English exhibit different structural patterns. The summary is that a word is a morpheme or combination of morphemes. It can be simple, complex or compound. The root always constitutes the base upon which affixes are added to form complex words or forms. Combining root morphemes gives us compound words.

6.0        MEANING IN THE STRUCTURE

As our previous discussion has shown, every word is made up of (a) base form(s) with or without affixes. This means that the meaning of a word can be determined by studying its structural components. Thus, the meaning of a word can generally be known from the root of the word. The fact that English is world’s most adventurous language has made it loaned words from many languages of the world, especially Latin, Greek, French and Arabic, posing difficulties for learners in determining meaning. Good effort should thus be made by you to improve your vocabulary or stock your word arsenal. To overcome part of the difficulties appertaining to knowing and predicting word meaning, it is essential to emphasize that many English words and morphemes are especially rooted in Latin and Greek. New words derived from them are known as derivatives. Let us consider and study the following tables that explicate the meanings of roots and affixes in English.

7.1        Latin Prefixes

Prefix

Meaning

Derivatives

Ad

towards, to

adjoining, adhere, admonish

Ante

before

antenatal, antechamber, antemeridian

Circum

around

circumference, circumnavigate, circumlocution

Dis

opposite of, away

disregard, disperse, disrepair

In

in, into, not

inject, ineligible, invade

Inter

between, among

intervene, interactive, international

Mis

wrong(ly), incorrect(ly)

miscarry, misunderstand, mistake

Non

not

nonpartisan, nonchalant, nonsense

Post

after

postindependence, postmortem, postgraduate

Pre

before

premature, preliminary, prehistory

Pro

in favour of, forward in place of

pro-democracy, pronoun, prologue

Re

again, back

repeat, renovate, remove

Sub

under

submarine, subordinate, subtitle

Trans

across

transmit, transport, transatlantic

a, ab

away, from, away from

amoral, absurd, abnegate

Bene

well, good

benediction, benevolence, benefactor

countra, counter

against, opposed to

contraband, counterpart, counterfeit

De

down from, away from, reverse the action

demean, deport, demobilize

Ex

out, out, of, away from, formerly

exhume, exhale, ex-editor

Intra

within

intravenous, intrapersonal, intra, departmental

Per

through

persecute, pervade, persevere

Uni

one

unicameral, unicellular, unilateral

Du(o)

two

duplicate, duel, dual

Tri

three

triangle, triumvirate, tripartite

quad(ri)

four

quadrangle, quadruplets, quadratic

quin(que)

five

quincentenary, quintuplets, quintet

Sex

six

sexagenarian, sextuple, sextuplets

Sept

seven

septenary, septennial, septet

Octo

eight

octagon, octavo, octave

non(a)

nine

nonagon, nonagonal

dec(im)

ten

decade, decahydrate, decalitre

cent(i)

one hundred

centimeter, century, centenary

mill(e), mill(i)

one thousand

millimeter, millennium, milligramme

Semi

half

semicircle, semi-colour, semifield

Table 6: Latin prefixes, meanings and examples

7.2        Greek Prefixes

Prefix

Meaning

Derivatives

Arch

chief

archbishop, archangel, archdiocese

Anti

against

antibacterial, antivirus, antiseptic

tele, gram

far

telegram, television, telecommunications

Micro

small

microscope, micro-society, microbiology

Amphi

both

amphibian, amphiarthrosis, amphibology

Dia

through

dialogue, diameter, diagonal

Dys

ill, bad

dysfunction, dysgenic, dyspepsy

Epi

upon, above

epiglottis, epilogue, epidermis

Eu

well, good

euphemism, eulogy, euphony

Hypo

under

hypoacidic, hypodermic, hypoblast

Retro

backward

retrospect, retrograde, retrogress

Se

away, apart

sever, segregate, separate

Mono

one

monologue, monocotyledon, monopoly

Bi

two

bilingual, bicep, bicycle

Tri

three

triplicate, triplets, triad

Tetra

four

tetragon, tetrahedron, tetrameter

Penta

five

pentagon, pentameter, pentadactyl

Hexa

six

hexagon, hexachord, hexameter

Hepta

seven

heptagon, heptahedron, heptamerous

Octa

eight

octagon, octameter, octapeptide

Nona

nine

nonagon, nonagonal

Deca

ten

decade, decahydrate, decalitre

Hecto

one hundred

hectograph, hectogramme, hectometer

Kilo

one hundred

kilometer, kilobyte, kilowatt

hemi/demi

half

hemisphere, demigod, hemicolectomy

Hydro

water

hydrophobia, hydrofoil, hydro-electric

Homo

same

homonyms, homogeneous, homogamous

Hetero

different

heterogeneity, heterosexual, hetorologous

Table 7: Greek prefixes, meanings and derivatives


7.3        Some other Prefixes

Prefix

Meaning

Derivatives

A

on, not, up

afloat, aloud, arise

A, ab, abs

away, from

aside, absolve, abscond

ac, ad, ar

to

accept, adjudge, arrange

Auto

self

automatic, automobile, autonomy

Circum

(a)round

circumference, circumstance, circumspect

com, con

together

compete, conjunction, converge

dif, dis

apart, not

difference, dispute, disadvantage

Fore

before

forecast, foresee, foreword

Il, im, in, ir

not, in, on, against

illegal, import, insult, irregular

Mal

ill, badly

maladjust, maltreat, maladministration

Ob

against

objection, obstruct, obscene

Pan

all

pan-African, pantomime, pandemic

Per

through, by means of

perceive, pervade, percolate

Poly

many

polygamy, polytechnic, polytheism

Pseudo

false

pseudonym, pseudoscience, pseudojustice

syn, sym

with

symphony, sympathy, synthesis

Super

above

superlative, supersonic, superhuman

Vice

in place of, instead

vice-chancellor, vicegerent, viceroy

Mega

very large or great

magnate, megabite, megaphone, megabucks

Multi

many

multilingualism, multifarious, multiply

Neo

new

neophyte, neo-colonialism, neoclassicism

Omni

all

omnipresent, omniscient, omnivore

Proto

first

prototype, protocol, protomorphic

ultra-hyper

beyond, excessive(ly)

ultraviolet, hyperbole, hypertension

Table 8: More prefixes and their meanings and derivatives

 

7.4        Latin Roots

Root

Meaning

Derivatives

Aqua

water

aquatic, aquaplane, aquarium

Port

carry

portfolio, portage, portable

scribo, script

write

scribble, inscribe, inscription

Specio

look

spectacle, inspector, specimen

vid(eo), vis

see

video, vision, vista

Voc

call

voice, vocation, revoke

aud, audio

hear, listen to

audible, auditorium, audition

Cap

take, hold

captain, captivate, caption

dico, dis(t)

tell, say, speak

verdict, dictate, edict

facio, fac

make, do

factory, manufacture, perfect

Fid

faith, trust

fidelity, infidel

Fract

break

fraction, fragment, fracture

mitto, miss

send

transmit, mission, missile

ped, pod, pes

foot

pedal, podium, pedestrian

ven(io) vent

come, coming

adventure, convention, intervention

acer, acr

sharp, bitter

acrimony, acrid, acrobat

Amor

love

amorous, amour, amoretto

Carn

flesh

carnal, reincarnation, carnivorous

Cogn

know

recognition, incognito, cognizance

Cred

believe

incredible, creed, credulous

crux, cruc

cross

crucifixion, cruciform, excruciating

duc, duct

lead

educate, conductor, produce

Fort

strong

fortify, fortitude, fortress

frater, fratri

brother

fraternity, fratricide, fratricidal

gen

race, birth, kind

gene, indigene, genocide

man, manu

hand

manuscript, manufacture, manual

mute

change

transmute, mutiny, immutable

nihil

nothing

annihilate, nihilism, nihility

pac

peace

pacific, peaceful, pact

sequ,secut

follow

sequence, consecutive, consequence

Sol

alone

solo, solitary, solitude

son

sound

resonant, sonorous, song

Viv

live

vivace, revive, vivacious

alter

other

alternative, alternate, alterego

ambul

walk

ambulance, ambulatory, somnambulist

annu, enni

year

annual, perennial, millennium

corp, corpor

body

corporal, corporate, corpulent

culpa

blame

culprit, culpable

deus

god

deity, deify

equ

equal

equilibrium, equidistant, equity

laud

praise

laud, laudable, laudatory

mean

great

magnitude, magnify, magnanimous

morte

death

mortality, mortuary, post-mortem

oner, onus

burden

onerous, onus

pater, part

father

patrimony, paternal, patricide

placa, plac

please, appease

placate, implacable

string, strict

tighten

stringent, strident, stricture

Ten

hold

tender, tenacity, tenet

Tort

twist

contortionist, torture, distort

tract

draw, knowledge

conscience, science, prescient

terra

earth

territory, terrestrial, terrain

vert, vers

turn

convert, reversion, vertigo

caput

head

capture, capital, decapitate

flag

flame, fire

flagellate, flagrant, conflagration

flu, flux

flowing

influence, confluence, influx

gress

go

retrogress, progress, regress

jar, ject

throw

projector, reject, objection

locu, loqu

speak

locution, soliloquy, loquacious

nasc, nat

birth

native, nascent, renascence

pecc

fault

impeccable, peccadillo, peccant

pend, pens

hang

depend, pendant, suspend

plen, plet

fill

plentiful, plenary, depletion

preci

price

appreciate, depreciate, deprecate

prim

first, early

primeval, primitive, primordial

pung, punct

point, prick

punctuation, puncture, punctilious

quasi

as, seemingly (not actually)

quasi-judicial, quasi-scientific, quasi-official

sanct

holy, sacred

sacrosant, sacrament, sanctity

sen

old

senile, senior, senescent

somn

sleep

somnambulist, somnolent, somniferous

tact, tang

touch

intact, tactile, entangle

Table 9: Latin Roots, meanings and derivatives

 

7.5        Greek Roots

Root

Meaning

Derivatives

graph, gram

writing, record

telegram, telegraph, photograph

Phone

sound

megaphone, ideophone, dictaphone

Scope

sight

horoscope, microscope, periscope

Bio

life

biology, biography, biochemist

Geo

earth

geography, geology, geopolitics

Meter

measure

thermometer, centimeter, kilometer

Cardi

heart

cardiac, cardiology, cardinal

Derm

skin

epidermis, dermatologist

Path

feeling, disease

sympathy, pathology, empathy

Phob

fear

claustrophobia, aquaphobia, aerophobic

Psych

mind

psychosis, psychology, psychiatry

Theo

god

theology, polytheism, atheist

Aster

star

astronaut, astrology, asterisk

Bibl

book

bibliography, bibliomania, bibliophile

caust, caut

burn

caustic, carburetor, cauterize

Chromy

colour

chromium, chromophotography, chromophore

Chron

time

mosocromatic, chronometer, synchrony, chronicle

Dem

people

demography, democracy, demagogue

Gam

marriage

monogamist, bigamy, polygamy

Nym

name

acronym, synonym, anonymous

Ortho

straight, right, correct

orthography, orthodoxy, orthodontist

Soph

wise

sophistry, sophisticated, sophia

Anthropo

man

anthropology, anthropoid, anthropomorphism

Crypt

secret, hidden

cryptic, cryptogram, cryptography

Gyn

woman

polygyny, gynaecology, gynarchy

Morph

form

morpheme, polymorphous, anthropomorphic

perter, petri

rock

petrology, petrify, petrography

Pyr

fire

pyre, pyromaniac, pyrotechnic

Than

death

thanatopsis, euthanasia, thanatologist

Table 10: Greek roots, meanings and derivatives

 


7.6        Some Suffixes

Suffix

Meaning

Examples

-able, -ible

capable of being

laudable, applicable, visible

-ain

one connected

chaplain, republican, chieftain

-ance, -ence

state of

acceptance, importance, innocence

-ant, ian

one who

assistant, musician, politician

Et, -ette

little

locket, kitchenette, cigarette

-er, -eer, -ier, r

one who

repeater, volunteer, carrier, lover

-ess

the female

goddess, mistress, poetess

-fy

to make

magnify, electrify, exemplify

-less

without

careless, goalless, godless

-crat, cracy

power, rule

democrat, autocracy, theocracy

-ly

like, time

womanly, annually, regularly

-ling

little

darling, worldling, seedling

-ment

state of being

enjoyment, entertainment, advancement

-ish

having the quality of

whitish, foolish, impish

-ory

a place for

observatory, laboratory, exploratory

-ous

full of

glorious, furious,  gaseous

-hood

to do with

brotherhood, neighourhood, likelihood

-ology

study of

morphology, embryology, phrenology

-phile

love

bibliophile, anglophine, paedophile

-ward

direction, way

forward, backward, westward

-c, ic

having

kleptomaniac, Islamic, Karmic

-ed,-d

in the past

jumped, performed, loved

-ee

of a person

employee, addressee, devotee

-er, or, r

agent/performer of

buyer, sailor, driver

-s,-es, ies

Plural

books, boxes, babies

-ist

who does

journalist, anarchist, activist

-ion

state of

correction, education, relocation

-wise

in the direction

anticlockwise, likewise, otherwise

-ness

having

goodness, happiness, consciousness

Table 11: Some suffixes and their examples

A very effective way of giving yourself sufficient word power is by disallowing every new word you come across to escape you. You endeavour to ‘trap’ it by checking how it is spelt, pronounced and used (to mean) in a good dictionary. It is recommended that you have your own hand-written ‘dictionary’ wherein you document new words (with their meanings and usage) you encounter. Your knowledge of word structure and morphology will also assist you to determine roots from which derivatives are made, making comprehension easy and fast for you. The assignment you have now is to check the meanings of all the unfamiliar words you have come across in this chapter in a standard dictionary.

.           How would you briefly discuss the nature of meaning?

2.         Use your dictionary to know the meanings of the words you don’t know from the tables (4 – 12) above

3.            

 


Exercise 4

1.         What are the meanings of the following affixes and roots:

            circum-          nym

            hecto-             caut

proto-                audio

-ling                  manu

-less                 hydro

-phile                theo

2.                   Analyze the following words and identify their roots and affixes:

anatomically                              blood-sucking                meaningful

worthlessness               masterpiece                              causative

evolutionary                               interdependently                        knowledgeable

longitudinal                                linguistic                                   innumerable

dinosaurs                                  intellectualism               variations 

 

 

10.0      CONCLUSION

Words heal, words save, words kill, words make, words mar. As Birk and Birk wrote in their Understanding and Using English many years ago, mere words can make and prevent wars, create understanding or inflame prejudice, form constitutions or destroy them, sell shoddy or superior product or ideas, justify man’s worst actions or express his highest ideals (p.3). An English adage says “words cut keener than knives” and to the Yoruba, “the word is an egg”. Our world of today solely depends on words to fashion out reality. And all these point to the fact that as stakeholders in, and future leaders of a changing world, we all have to be word-wise. Thus, knowing the structure and meaning of words is really worth the trouble so that we can know well how to do things with words.

This chapter has discussed language and analyzed word as its basic unit. It highlights the paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations that words exhibit and explicates on morphemes, the smallest linguistic unit, that operates within word. Various types of morphemes, free, bound, inflectional, derivational, full, empty, additive, replacive, zero, etc are identified and explained. The structure of the word, prefix, base form and suffix, is established with copious examples while the meanings of more than two hundred morphemic elements within words are traced (to the Latin and Greek origins). It is foregrounded that meaning is the ultimate goal of language and to decode it, one has to improve on one’s vocabulary and understand word structure, so that the superstructure of one’s education will be built on a firm foundation.     

      ANSWERS TO EXERCISES

Exercise 1

2.         I agree. Language is the most important distinguishing factor between human beings and animals because animals share most other qualities/attributes, except language, with human beings.

 

Exercise 2

1.         False. All words are morphemes but not all morphemes are words.

 

Exercise 3

1.         Identification and segmentation of morphemes in the given words are as follows:

spher(e) + ical               f + b (b = suffix, der.); sphere (root, stem)

chrom(e) + atic              f + b (b = suffix, der.); chrome (root, stem)

molecule + s                             f + b (b = suffix, inf.); molecule (root, stem)

polymer + iz(e) + ation               f + b1 + b2 (b1, b2  = suffix, der.); polymer (root)

polymerize (stem)

gastro + intestin(e) + al  b1+f + b2 (b2 =suffix, der.); intestine (root) intestinal (stem)

geo + thema(e) + l                     b1 + f  + b2 (b2 = suffix, der.); thamae (root), thamal (stem)

in + organ + ic               b1 + f + b2 (b2 = suffix, der.); organ (root) organic (stem)

programme + d              f + b (b = suffix, inf.); programme (root, stem)

comput (e) + ing                        f + b (b = suffix, inf/der.); compute (root, stem)

cardio+vasculum+s+ar   b + f + b2 + b3 (b2,b3 = suffixes, inf/der.) vasculum (root)

    vascular (stem)

in+flam(e)+matory                      b1+f+b2 (b2 = suffix, der.); flame (root), flammatory (stem)

dystroph(y)+ic               f + b (b = suffix, der.); dystrophy (root, stem)

natur(e)+al+ist+s                       f + b1+b2+b3 (b1,b2 = suffix, der; b3 = inf); nature (root)

natural (stem)

Exercise 4

1.         Morphemes and meanings

            circum  -           :           around                          nym                  :           name

            hecto-               :           one hundred                              caut                  :           burn

            proto-                :           first                                           manu                :           hand

            -ling                  :           little                                          hydro                :           water

            -less                 :           without                          theo                  :           god

            -phile                :           love

­­­­

2.         Analysis of words with the identification of their roots and affixes

anatom(y)+ic+al+ly                    b+s1+s2+s3                ;           anatomy(root), ic,al,ly (suffixes)  

worth+less+ness                       b+s1+s2  ;           worth(root); less, ness (suffixes)

evolve+tion                                b+s                   ;           evolve(root); tion (suffix)

longitud(e)+inal              b+s                   ;           longitude(root); nal (suffix)

blood+suck+ing             b1+b2+s ;           blood, suck (roots); ing (suffix)

inter+depend+ent+ly      p+b+s1+s2         ;           depend(root); inter (prefix) -ent, -ly

(suffixes)

linguist+ic                                 b+s                   ;           language (root) –ic (suffix)

intellect+ual+ism                       b+s1+s2 ;           intellect (root) nal, ism (suffixes)

know+ledge+able                       b+s1+s2 ;           know (root) ledge, able (suffixes)

in+numera(te)+ble                      p+b+s               ;           number (root) in (prefix) able (suffix)                    

REFERENCES

Adedimeji, M.A. and T.A. Alabi. 2003. “Basic Elements of English Grammar”. In Obafemi, O. and S.T. Babatunde (Eds.) Studies and Discourse in English Language. Ilorin: Haytee Press. pp.28 – 59.

Birk, G.B. and N.P. Birk. 1959. Understanding and Using English. 3rd ed. New York: The Odyssey Press.

Crystal, D. 1997. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Maciver, A. 1986. The New First Aid in English. Glasgow: Robert Gibson.

Muir, J. 1972. A Modern Approach to English Grammar: An Introduction to Systemic Grammar. London: B.T. Badsford.

Okilagwe, O.A. 1998. A New Approach to Reading Comprehension & Summary for Schools & Colleges. 2nd ed. Ibadan: Stirling Horden Publishers (Nig.) Ltd.

Pryse, B.E. 1984. English Without Tears. 2nd ed. Glasgow: William Colins Sons & Co.

Tomori, S.H.O. 1977. The Morphology and Syntax of Present-day English: An Introduction. London: Heinemann.