Words. What are words?
Take a minute to formulate a definition. How would you describe what a word is?
Here’s my definition (and in full disclosure, it took me about a week of thinking to come up with this): A word is a lexical unit representing a thing, concept, or idea.
Here’s what my second favorite word resource has to say about it:
a unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning. Words are composed of one or more morphemes and are either the smallest units susceptible of independent use or consist of two or three such units combined under certain linking conditions, as with the loss of primary accent that distinguishes blackbird from black bird. Words are usually separated by spaces in writing, and are distinguished phonologically, as by accent, in many languages.
Here’s a distilled version: A morpheme is the smallest unit of language and has an assigned meaning. So you remember your roots and affixes (suffixes, prefixes, and infixes)? Those are morphemes. Words are made up of one or more morphemes. Make sense?
You might be wondering why this is important. Will God still use you if you mix up your suffixes? Of course He will. But let me repeat what I said yesterday about worship: to worship at only part of our capacity is to shortchange Him the glory that is rightfully His. And when He calls us to a work and gives us a passion for a particular kind of worship, I think it’s critical we learn as much about it as we can so we can exercise it as best we’re able. The better we understand the science of language, the better we can execute the art.
Affixes are morphemes that can’t stand alone. They have to be attached to a root word to exist and have meaning. You’re probably familiar with the terms prefix and suffix, which refer to morphemes that attach to the beginning or the end of a root word respectively. (Rarely in English will you encounter an infix, which is attached in the middle of a word.)
There are two types of affixes: derivational and inflectional. Derivational affixes change the meaning of a word. Here are a few examples:
All but eight affixes in the entire English language are derivational. The other eight are inflectional and are all suffixes. I made you a virtual poster listing them all, plus examples:
Morphemes are the smallest unit of language and have an assigned meaning. They can be roots or affixes.
Affixes are morphemes that cannot stand alone. They are prefixes (joined to the beginning), suffixes (joined to the end), or infixes (joined in the middle. These are rare in English).
Words are made up of one or more morphemes. The morphemes that make up the word determine its meaning.
Now that we know that, let’s put that knowledge to practical use! Comment with one of your favorite words and its breakdown into morphemes and you could enter to win $10 to Starbucks. Who wouldn’t enjoy an iced vanilla chai tea latte this week? My hand is raised high. I’m obviously not entering, but I broke down a word for you anyway:
PS. Nobody is grading you for accuracy here. I super love grammar, so I want you to love it! And if you walk away from here with a little more understanding, confidence, and love for it, I’ll be more than satisfied.
Many thanks to the Rochester Institute of Technology’s page on morphemes for the more technical information found here.