Bound Root Morphemes

Today’s post begins with a funny story. All of the English majors in college were required to write a ten page paper on the etymology of a single word. It was one of those assignments that had gained infamy, and many students spent a great deal of time trying to find the perfect word before they had even enrolled in the course. As for me, I chose coffee. Predictable, I know.

A good friend of mine chose huckle, as in huckleberry. The word itself isn’t actually a word, it’s a bound root morpheme. This requires a brief lesson in linguistics. A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaningful language. Girl is a morpheme, as is skip. Girlfriend has two morphemes, as does skipper. Got it? Some morphemes can be free (as in girl, skip, and type) whereas other morphemes are bound (as in huck, funct, and ept). A free morpheme has meaning, a bound morpheme does not. In order to make the bound morphemes make sense, you have to add another morpheme. Funct must become defunct and ept must become inept. So, to review, there are free morphemes and bound morphemes. A free morpheme can stand alone, and a bound morpheme must be attached to another morpheme before it makes sense.

For the purpose of clarity, some linqustics folk call them “bound morphemes” while others call them “bound root morphemes”. I prefer the longer.

Having chosen huckle as his word, my friend was faced with a problem. Huckle isn’t actually a word. It’s a bound root morpheme (technically, it’s two bound morphemes). So he took action and decided to wage a fairly aggressive underground campaign to free huckle – literally. Everywhere he went, he’d scribble “Free Huckle!”. He’d tag bathroom stalls, library books, and campus bulletin boards. His goal was simple: to free huckle from it’s bound mopheme bonds. Of course, nobody who didn’t know of this campaign had any clue what “Free Huckle!” was supposed to mean when it was written on a bathroom stall.

Sadly, huckle is still a bound root morpheme. So I’ve spent the last few years compiling an interesting list of fellow bound root morphemes. Perhaps a small army of these guys could eventually form into something larger and more meaningful.

Here is the list I have so far. I would welcome any additions you have. Keep in mind that some of these are presented in their longer form to clarify their bound status (gruntled for example, is actually two bound morphemes; one of which is a free morpheme – grunt – but this creates a different morpheme).

Can you connect these bound morphemes with their missing morphemes? For example, you can inflate or deflate a balloon, but can you flate a balloon?






















There are, of course, millions of bound morphemes (including –ful, de-, and –es), but this particular list aims to find the funniest ones.


33 responses to “Bound Root Morphemes

  1. a great list for a word junkie. my faves are the ones that can mate with multiple bound morphemes. of course “in” and “be” aren’t bound morphemes are they? no, but suddenly i want to do a crossword.

  2. Hi ,
    I am a student and my major is English.
    Great list and great explanation. I am taking a morphology class this semester.

  3. Hey! I’m also student. I tried to find missing morphemes, but I have bad result, I found just:
    trepid- trepidation and funct-function
    Some of the morphemes are free one:
    evitable – able to be avoided, vincible-capable of being defeated or overcome, capitated- adj.= capitate, fuddled- to cause to be confused or intoxicated.
    and about gruntled I didn’t understand coorectly, I found: gruntled – happy or contented; satisfied , so also free root morpheme?

    Thank you! Mila

  4. How about struct? One can construct or destruct an item, but can one struct it?

  5. Is couth one?

  6. can you send me all the bound root morphemes i need it in my study please thanks… barry

  7. ‘plete’ and ‘plenish’

    also, ‘ept’ could become ‘inept’ OR ‘adept’, just to be a positive thinker! boosh!

    this is a very reader-friendly explanation of bound root. kudos!

  8. hello…
    thank you very much somehow you’ve enlighten my mind about those thins… i really appreciated it…..
    but i will much more appreciate it if you can send me more root bound morphemes for the future use…
    thank you..

    with regards,

  9. more examples of bound root

  10. thank u for the clarification i would appreciate it really if some one provides me with the whole list of bound roots .THANK U again

  11. I thought a bound root morpheme was any content morpheme that has no clear independent linguistic meaning (as opposed to a more distant etymological meaning), like “boysen-,” or forms the root of the word it is in, but is not free, like “-fer”.

    Bound morphemes on the other hand, include those and all your regular affixes like “re-” or “-y” or even inflectional suffixes like “-s”. >.>

  12. What is this?
    “.struct” or “funct-” are not at all a morphemes or a bound morphemes! They don´t exist in English, since they have neither a semantic nor a grammatical meaning. Only because, they can´t stand alone, doens´t make them bound morphemes. And every kind of morpheme HAS TO HAVE a meaning, otherwise it´s not a morpheme. Any comments?

    • Yes.

      If the examples are not morphemes, then how do you explain their use in the multiple words they feature in? they fit the definition of a bound root morpheme exactly; a root that cannot stand as a word alone, and therefore only has meaning when paired with a derivational affix, or another root.

      other such examples include -ceive (conceive, receive, deceive) -mit (transmit, permit, commit, submit), etc.

  13. Just wanted to add that bound morphemes can have their own meaning.
    Take “re-”
    meaning “to do something again”
    Even though the meaning isn’t strictly apparent until it’s attached to another morpheme

  14. I’d like to add:

  15. Grindmaster:
    ” [These are] not at all a morphemes or a bound morphemes! … since they have neither a semantic nor a grammatical meaning.” [sic]

    Good thing the topic is talking about Bound Root morphemes then. 😉

  16. I would be very grateful if there are list of bound morphemes here..

  17. > I thought a bound root morpheme was any content morpheme that has no clear independent linguistic meaning (as opposed to a more distant etymological meaning), like “boysen-,” or forms the root of the word it is in, but is not free, like “-fer”.

    > Bound morphemes on the other hand, include those and all your regular affixes like “re-” or “-y” or even inflectional suffixes like “-s”. >.>

    Yes, this is what I have been taught as well in my linguistics course. In fact it’s far easier to find examples of the latter kind of bound morpheme than bound roots.

  18. thank u for this information

  19. Grindmaster…you are right. Forget everything you read this post, it’s wrong!

    AP, bound root morphemes are the same as bound morphemes or roots, just switchin’ the name up a bit.

    Bound morphemes are NOT things like “funct” (wth, seriously) or “cran”. -_- A morpheme is the SMALLEST unit of meaning. Therefore words like functional and defunct do not contain two morphemes, they each contain one, as these words can not be broken down further into meaningful parts. These are dealt with in a separate part of morphology. Look up “fossilized terms”.

    A bound morpheme is an affix, that always has to be attached to another word in order to be meaningful. Eg, we all know “-ed” is the morpheme for regular past tense, but it means nothing alone. However “enroll” (a free morpheme) is given new meaning by adding bound morpheme -ed.

  20. Morphemes are classified into “Bound” and “Free”; the former morphemes can not stand themselves as a word, and are further divided into “root”, e.g: Matern- ; and “non root” which contains the AFFIXES i.e. both prefixes (im-; un-; dis-) and suffixes (which are further classified into “Inflectional”: e.g. -ed; -s of the 3rd person singular in verbs and plural of regular nouns; comparative -er and superlative -est, etc. and “derivational”: e.g. -ly; -ful, etc. continues…

  21. The latter (i.e. “FREE” morphemes) can stand by themselves as a word, and are divided into: “Root” (here we put the words that have an “Open-class” membership, i.e. Content or Lexical words such as nouns (girl), verbs (play), adjectives (nice), and adverbs (fast)) and “Non Root” (where we place words that have a Closed-class membership, i.e. Function words such as pronouns (i,you,he,she,it,etc.) prepositions (over, by), conjucnctions (and, or, but) etc.).


  22. Now, let us consider the “Free root morpheme” Mother (noun) and the “Bound non root derivational morpheme” -ly:
    If we add “-ly” to “mother” we obtain a new word (or rather another class of word) viz “MOTHERLY” which is an adjective. Therefore, in this case, we can be sure to say that “-ly” is an “adjective-forming morpheme”. We have switched classes (from noun to adjective) by adding “-ly” However, if we were to add “–ly” to, let’s say, an adjective (e.g. careful) we would be forming the Word ”Carefully” which is an adverb! In this case, “-ly” would be an adverb forming morpheme.
    Example 2 with a “bound non root inflectional morpheme –s”
    “-He plays tennis everyday”
    This morpheme is showing us several grammatical categories like case, tense, etc. We simply have a” free root morpheme” PLAY (content-lexical Word; VERB) with the “bound non root inflectional morpheme –s” indicating that that verb is in the 3rd person singular, present continuous
    So, summing up: bound morphemes can’t stand by themselves as a word but need to be bound to another morpheme to form a Word. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t have a meaning on their own! Morphemes take the lowest position in the gramatical chain, in the grammatical hierarchy. Words are made up of morphemes. But morphemes have a meaning, independendently if they are “free” or “bound”

  23. This is very much helphful. Thanks a lot :))

  24. Im still studying more about them

  25. is ‘cident inaccident or incident a bound root morpheme?

  26. * in accident

  27. Hi, I am a student too. I don’t quite agree with your statement that bound morpheme doesn’t have meaning. Bound morpheme is also a morpheme which you already said that it’s the smallest meaningful unit of language. So do “ly”, “s”, and the other. “ly” at the word knowingly means adjective or /with/. if you say “she looks at me knowingly” you can also say she looks at me /with/ knowing. and so “s” at a word cars. the “s” means /many/ and so on.

  28. Sri Suci – I agree. Every morpheme has meaning (that’s an essential part of its definition). Some morphemes are derivational – their inclusion creates a new word with different meaning than would have existed it he morpheme was removed from the word (eg immaterial and material). Other are not derivational, they are inflexional: they do not create a new word,but they change the grammatical from or function of the word (eg -s for plural, -‘s for possessive, -ed for past tense of verb.

    This chain began with an interesting mission – to compile list of derivational morphemes – (one that create a new word with different meaning), but which are ‘bound’ because we con’t have them n our language as acceptable separate words.

    i was told (by a lingisutics lecturer) that ‘venge’ in ‘vengeful’ and ‘vengeance’ is a bound morpheme. I thought I could venge myself on others, which would make it a free morpheme as a verb. What do other think – is ‘venge’ a free morpheme in Standard English?

  29. Pingback: Andrea’s dictionary – ONLINE Dictionary

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