Research has proved that the average speaker of a language knows between 45,000 and 60,000 words. Where do these words come from? Is it really possible to store all these words, as well as all the grammatical rules and so much more information (that is not necessarily related to the English language) in our brains? These and a number of other similar questions have resulted in a very interesting aspect of the English language, namely the science of Morphology.
Morphology is the study of the formation of words, which are sometimes also referred to as morphemes. In truth, a morpheme is the smallest MEANINGFUL unit in a language. Some examples include, pen (noun); the -ed ending such as in the verb worked (implying regular past simple). The important thing to note is that morphemes cannot possibly be divided into smaller meaningful parts.
At this point it is important to point out that, as mentioned in the title, this article mainly focuses on lexical morphemes, more specifically, AFFIXES.
Base Word/ RootLook at the sentence below. What can you notice about the underlined words?
Although I enjoy playing tennis, I am not one of the best players on my team.
In fact, both playing and players have the same base word (or root), that is, play. In English it is possible to form many different words to convey different meanings using the same root. Let's look at the example below.
In this case able is the BASE WORD. Ability, disable and enable are words which stem from this base word. Each of these words has a fundamentally different meaning, however, there is always going to be some connotation (or relation) between the base word and the words which are formed from it.
Words are normally formed by adding AFFIXES to the base word. Affixes can be divided into three - PREFIXES, INFIXES and SUFFIXES. Prefixes are particles added in front of the base word, whereas, suffixes are particles added behind the base word. Infixes are particles which are added in the middle of the word, and can have both a prefix as well as a suffix attached to them.
Below there are a few examples to illustrate prefixes and suffixes. It is important to note that English has very few true infixes, and the ones it has are normally highly colloquial or else found in extremely technical terminology.
PrefixesAlthough affixes are ‘small particles', they carry a lot of meaning. For example, prefixes are normally used to change a word from positive to negative, or to show that an action is repeated. In other cases they are used to refer to size - that something is very small, for example.
Suffixes are normally used to change the class of a word, for example, from an adjective to a noun, or vice versa. They are also used to change words into verbs or adverbs.
The most common NOUN suffixes are the following:
The most common ADJECTIVE suffixes are the following:
The most common VERB suffixes are the following:
The most common ADVERB suffix is -ly.
However, like most things in the English languages, there are also a few exceptions to this rule.
In conclusion, affixes can be said to be the building blocks of any language in that they can be put together to form different shapes, or in this case, words. It is for this reason that a person's vocabulary can be as extensive as the figures mentioned in the introduction. In the same way in which a child uses the same blocks over and over again to build different shapes and forms, any other human being recycles language in the same way to form different words.
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