“The study of how words change their forms according to use is referred to as morphology” writes John Seely in his book the Oxford A-Z if Grammar & Punctuation. To help explain this, I’ve created a few examples:
- Please relax when you get home
- She always relaxes when she gets home.
- I feel relaxed when I put my feet up.
- Relaxing is something I dream about.
In sentence two, the word relaxes is made up of two parts. Relax is just another word for rest, and -es shows that it is plural. You will also notice in sentences three and four, how the word relax changes form when it is placed in different parts of the sentence i.e. they end in -ed and -ing. The separate parts e.g. relax and –ed are called morphemes.
This also works for nouns. When a word such as ‘plant’ is shown in the plural i.e. plants, the two morphemes are plant and -s. Similarly, the noun ‘box’ (past tense ‘boxed’) would be split into the two morphemes box and -ed
They don’t like the cold.
Don’t take them outside then.
What about me?
My whole day has been busy.
In examples C and D, the personal pronouns in bold are also called morphemes. Did you see how they changed forms in the second sentence in each example?
Note: Morphology also means “the branch of biology concerned with the form and structure of organisms” and “the form and structure of anything”, but this blog only covers “the form and structure of words in a language” (definitions from Collins English Dictionary & Thesaurus).
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John Seely The Oxford A-Z of Grammar & Punctuation, USA
Collins English Dictionary & Thesaurus