Root allomorphy (suppletion)


1. Words and morphemes

Words can be simple (work, book, relation) or complex (books, worked, relationships)

Complex words can be divided into smaller meaningful units

work+ed, book+s

work+er+s , relation+ship+s



The smallest , further indivisible, meaningful units which combine with each other to form words are called morphemes

ment – govern+ _ , establish+ _, appease+ _, contain+ _, settle+ _

un - _ +happy, _ + fortunate, _ +likely, _ +tidy

Simple words consist each of a single morpheme.

Classification of morphemes

a) free morphemes - can stand alone as simple words

work, book, establish


- can combine with other morphemes as roots of

complex words

work+ed, book+s

work+er+s , un+friend+ly


root - a free morpheme within a complex word

friend+li+ness, boy+hood


- a combination of free morphemes (in compounds)

girl+friend+s , play+boy+s

b) bound morpheme –cannot stand alonebutalways attaches to other elements as an affix

Each complex word consists of one root and one or more affixes.

one affix - book+s

many affixes - dis+establish+ment+arian+ism+s

Affixes divide into prefixes(precede roots)and suffixes (follow roots)

Affixes could be inflectional or derivational:

  1. Inflectional – express a restricted set of meanings (e.g. number with nouns, tense with verbs, degree with adjectives and adverbs) or have purely grammatical functions – (e.g. case ending with nouns, number ending with adjectives in Polish)

Inflectional affixes mark variants of the same word e.g.

boy , boy+s,

work , work+ed, work+s,(is) work+ing

  1. Derivational + change one word to another one e.g.

work - work+er,

govern - govern+ment,

capital - capital+ist, capital+ism

hard - hard+ly,

suppose - pre+suppose,

sex - sex+ists ,sex+ism

Four rules of affixation:

  1. Prefixes are always derivational
  2. Suffixes may be derivational or inflectional
  3. Derivational suffixes always precede inflectional
  4. The rightmost derivational suffix determines the word class of the word

e.g. establish ( V)

[establish + ment] (N)

[ establish + ment + al] (Adj)

[ establish + ment + al + ism](N)


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prefixes suffixes

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derivational derivational inflectional

Bound roots

re+ ceive, con+ ceive, per + ceive, de+ ceive

re+ vert,con+ vert, per+ vert, di+ vert(vertere (latin)+turn)

Morphemes and morphs

Morphemes are abstract elements like phonemes.

In phonology - phoneme (a set of distinctive features) – phone (speech sound, a physical realization of a phoneme) – allophones ( a set of phones which are variants (free or positional) of the same phoneme)

Phoneme allophones

[T ] + voiceless alveolar stop try - retroflex

tip - aspirated

button - glottalized

water – tapped

In morphology – morpheme (the smallest meaningful unit) – morph (specific phonemic realization of a morpheme) – allomorphs (a set of morphs that are variants of the same morpheme)

Morpheme allomorphs

{Plural) dog + / z/

book + / s/

bus + / iz /

ox + / en /

{Negative} /un/ + happy,

/il/ + logical,

/ir/ + responsible

/im/ + possible

/in/ + decent,

Sometimes a morpheme has no phonemic realization. In such cases we speak of zero morphs.

a) Zero morphs may be positional allomorphs (appering with some roots only) as in

morphemes: {SHEEP} + {Plural} {PUT} + {Past}
morphs: / sheep/ + Ø /put/ + Ø

b) It may also be that a morpheme has only a zero morph realization, e.g. {Singular} with nouns , boy + Ø

Allomorphy is not restricted to affixes. Some root morphemes may have more than one allomorph realization, e.g.

root allomorphy (suppletion)

morphemes: {MOUSE} + {Plural} {MOUSE}+ {Singular}
morphs: /mice/ + Ø /mouse/ + Ø
morphemes: {GIVE} + {Past} {GIVE}+ {Singular}
morphs: /gave/ + Ø /give/ + Ø

zero roots - indefinite article with plurals

morphemes: {INDEFINITE} {NOUN} +{Plural) {DEFINITE} {NOUN} +{Singular)
morphs: Ø /the/

In some circumstances a free morpheme may have a bound allomorph (an affix)

Such allomorphs are called clitics

Suffix clitics are called enclitics

In English clitics are formed by: modals, auxiliary forms of have, all forms of be, the negative morpheme not

I’+m(I am), shoot’+em (shoot them) (copula)

I’+ll (I will), I’+ d (I would) (modal)

I’+ve(I have), (Perfect auxiliary)

isn’+t (is not) (negation)

Prefix clitics are called proclitics

‘t+was ( it was)

‘t+is ( it is)

3. Morphological structure of complex words

If two or more morphemes combine to form a word, a morphological structure is created.

The structure reflects the way morphemes are related to each other (the order in which they have been combined) . It can be represented by bracketing or by tree diagrams.


untouchable destabilize

[ un [ [ touch ] able ] ] [ de [ [ stabil ] ize ] ] d ]

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touch – root,base (V) stabil - root,base (Adj)

[touch + able] - base (Adj) stabil+ize - base (V)

[ de [stabil + ize]] - base,stem (V)

root – a free morpheme (or free morpheme combination in compounds), the “core” of the word

base – that part of a word to which an affix is added ( derivational or inflectional)

stem - that part of a word to which inflectional affix is added


[ [ [ inter + [ nation + al ] ] + ism ] + s ]

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1. nation – root, base (N)

2. [nation+al.] - base (Adj)

3. [inter+ [nation+al]] - base (Adj)

4. [[inter+ [nation+al]] + ism] - stem, base

The structure given above is the correct structure. The structure is correct only if

each internal structure contained within a pair of brackets is a word in English.

Consider the alternative, incorrect analyses:

[[[[inter+nation]+al]+ism]+s] -- * internation is not an English word

[ [de+stabil]+ize] -- *destabil is not an English word

[[un + touch ] able] -- *untouch is not an English word

The way complex words are analyzed may change in time. The word hamburger when it was introduced into English was understood as :

hamburg (root) + er (derivational affix) ( from the German city of Hamburg)

It was later reanalyzed as:

ham + burger (compound root)

This gave rise to new wordssuch as cheese+burger, fish+burger etc

4. Inflection in English

English is an analytical language (signals grammatical meanings primarily by function words or word order) and has only few inflectional endings (non zero morphs of inflectional morphemes):

nouns Plural books
nouns Possessive John’s
nouns (personal , interrogative and relative pronouns) Accusative Case him, her, them whom
verbs Agreement John sleeps
verbs Past worked
verbs Progressive is working
verbs Perfect has given/ worked
verbs Passive was beaten/killed
adjectives and adverbs Comparative taller, faster
adjectives and adverbs Superlative tallest, fastest

Inflection with zero morphs of inflectional morphemes and root alternation (suppletion)







5. Word formation in English

New words created – new meaning and/or class membership

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