mor·​pheme ˈmȯr-ˌfēm How to pronounce morpheme (audio)
: a distinctive collocation of phonemes (such as the free form pin or the bound form -s of pins) having no smaller meaningful parts
morphemic adjective
morphemically adverb

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Morphemes are the indivisible basic units of language, much like the atoms which physicists once assumed were the indivisible units of matter. English speakers borrowed morpheme from French morphème, which was itself created from the Greek root morphē, meaning "form." The French borrowed -ème from their word phonème, which, like English phoneme, means "the smallest unit of speech that can be used to make one word different from another word." The French suffix and its English equivalent -eme are used to create words that refer to distinctive units of language structure. Words formed from -eme include lexeme ("a meaningful linguistic unit that is an item in the vocabulary of a language"), grapheme ("a unit of a writing system"), and toneme ("a unit of intonation in a language in which variations in tone distinguish meaning").

Examples of morpheme in a Sentence

The word “pins” contains two morphemes: “pin” and the plural suffix “-s.”
Recent Examples on the Web Important, too, was the morpheme a-, which referred to the mouth and, more broadly, to origins. Anvita Abbi, Scientific American, 16 May 2023 Those words are made up of morphemes, small elements that change their meaning depending on how they are combined. Ian Austen,, 22 Apr. 2023 In a multistage process of evolution, words describing diverse body parts had changed into morphemes referring to different zones and fused with content words to yield meaning. Anvita Abbi, Scientific American, 16 May 2023 The slips of paper contained the morphemes, which are the building blocks for the entire language. Ian Austen,, 22 Apr. 2023 Each of the, say, two hundred and fifty passengers on each flight hanging unwittingly on each morpheme. Gregory Pardlo, The New Yorker, 12 Feb. 2017

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'morpheme.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


French morphème, from Greek morphē form

First Known Use

1896, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of morpheme was in 1896


Dictionary Entries Near morpheme

Cite this Entry

“Morpheme.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


mor·​pheme ˈmȯr-ˌfēm How to pronounce morpheme (audio)
: a word or a part of a word (as re- or -call in recall) that contains no smaller unit of meaning
morphemic adjective

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