mor·​pheme | \ ˈmȯr-ˌfēm How to pronounce morpheme (audio) \

Definition of morpheme

: a distinctive collocation of phonemes (such as the free form pin or the bound form -s of pins) having no smaller meaningful parts

Other Words from morpheme

morphemic \ mȯr-​ˈfē-​mik How to pronounce morpheme (audio) \ adjective
morphemically \ mȯr-​ˈfē-​mi-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce morpheme (audio) \ 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 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 example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'morpheme.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of morpheme

1896, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for morpheme

French morphème, from Greek morphē form

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The first known use of morpheme was in 1896

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Dictionary Entries Near morpheme



morpheme alternant

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Cite this Entry

“Morpheme.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Aug. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on morpheme

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for morpheme

Britannica English: Translation of morpheme for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about morpheme


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