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Category: English

Autor: anton 27 December 2010

Words: 1209 | Pages: 5


Describe the difference between a morpheme, a morph and an allomorph.

Universitдt Duisburg – Essen

Anglistik Tutorium

Table of Content

1. Introduction………………………………………………………..2

2. Morphemes, morphs and allomorps: extended definiton…….3

2.1. What is a morpheme?……………………………………3

2.2. What is a morph?…………………………………………3

2.3. What is an allomorph?……………………………………3

3. Differences between morphemes, morphs and allomorphs in linguisitc science………………………………………………….4

4. Conclusion…………………………………………………………5

5. References…………………………………………………………6


1. Introduction

What we are talking about when it comes to usage of the terms morpheme, morph and allomorph is usually innately related to linguistic science, respectively the study of human and other communication systems.

However, one might also be concerned with the fact that the hierarchical term of which morpheme, morph and allomorph are subbranches, namely Morphology, was firstly introduced by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832) to describe the study of forms in nature and the evolution of those forms in order to meet higher standards.

Although the implied meaning of the term morphology, which is the study of forms, hasn’t changed within the process of transferring it to make it usable in linguisitc sciences, the knowledge that lies beneath it had undergone several changes to make it fit the linguisic needs more appropriately.

In linguisitc science, Morphology approaches to, since there is no uniform definition of “word”, define words as structural units which are composed of at least one base morpheme and one or more additional or decomposable morphemes (Study Guide Morphology, Antje Lahne, ).

This point of view is opposed within lingusitic science to other approaches to define “word”, e.g. semantic approaches that simply define “word” as an independent unit of meaning.

The focus of this manuscript is to give a short description of the three main subbranches of morphology that are morphemes, morphs and allomorphs and further to display and explain the differences that occur between the interconnection of these within a certain language or system of communication.


2. Morphemes, morphs and allomorphs: extended definitions

2.1. What is a morpheme?

Morphemes are the smallest linguistic elements capable of either having a grammatical meaning or a grammatical function (Yule, The Study of Language, 2006, 63). They can be furtherly subdivided into the categories free morphemes and bound morphemes.

Free morphemes can occur as independent words or units of meaning whereas bound morphemes cannot be used as single units of meaning by themselves but rather as combinatory elements that make up a unit of meaning by combination of the same.

2.2. What is a morph?

Morphs are the concrete elements which realize or represent morphemes in a specific context (Yule, The Study of Language, 2006, 67). The meaning of the term “morpheme” can be described as abstract definition of those word formation parts that can be used to display a specific process of word formation, whereas a morph is more likely to stand for and display the specific word part(s) that a morpheme is made up of. In other words, the morpheme ‘plural’ is the abstract term that implies the usage of all plural morphs that can be used to realize the morpheme ‘plural’.

2.3. What is an allomorph?

A group of allomorphs basically are the compund of all realizable morphs that belong to the same morpheme. An allomorph must always be considered as one of a group of allomorphs for a morph can only be granted the status “allomorph” when it serves the same purpose as other

(allo-)morphs for the same morpheme.


3. Differences between morphemes, morphs and allomorphs in linguistic science

In the following paragraph, I will try to illustrate the differences and processes of interconnection between three substantial parts of linguisitc morphology by using a proper example. To start off with, the morpheme ‘plural’ is a good indicator to display the differences between morphemes, morphs and allomorphs.

The morpheme ‘plural’ is the abstract indicator to make the reader know that he or she has to think of all the different morphs that are used to realize a transformation of a specific singular term to a plural form of the same term regarding the context. This process of transformation can be achieved by adding the known suffixes (respectively morphs) that indicate a plural form to the term of interest, such as (in English Language), -s; -es; -rs; -n; -en; or even the zero morph which occurs as a result of transforming the singular word sheep to the plural form sheep (Yule, Study of Language, 2006, 67).

Since it is clear now that a morpheme is a rather abstract unit used to indicate a specific process of transformation that changes the meaning or grammatical function of a word by adding a specific morph that realizes the result of this transformation process, what is left now is a detailed description of the difference between a morph and an allomorph.

Taking into consideration the example of the ‘plural’ morpheme again, one can say that the total number of morphs that can be used to realize a transformation of a singular term to a plural form of the same term can also be summarized into a distinct category, namely the category of allomorphs.


Hence, an allomorph is a specific morph that serves the same purpose as one of several morphs which can be summed up within one group to indicate a change in the appearance and meaning of a word.

Concerning the ‘plural’ morpheme, one can say that the morphs ‘-s; -es; -rs; -n; -en; etc.’ are all allomorphs of the morpheme ‘plural’ (Yule, Study of Language, 2006, 67). However, the morphs ‘-s and –n’ can simultaneously be referred to as morphs as well, due to the fact that they cannot only serve as allomorphs of the morpheme ‘plural’ but also as morphs or allomorphs of the morpheme ‘past tense’. Thus, when trying to analyze the differences between allomorphs and morphs, one must always take into consideration the total number of morphemes that can certainly contain identical morphs in some instances, but there will never be an identical group of allomorphs within the components of two distinct morphemes.

4. Conclusion

Although there have been edited and published several long and short discourses on the topic of morphology and especially on the components that morphology is based upon, it is rather hard to find a good way of introducing oneself to this topic. However, I found a good introduction within a simple five or six sentences contained in George Yule’s Textbook, The Study of Language, that helped me to a great extent in my further research on the subject of morphology. If one is to completely understand the subject at all, it is crucial to start off by finding a decent definition of the term ‘morpheme’ to begin with, and then continuing research by evaluating the organization of how the three terms ‘morpheme, morph and allomorph’ correspond with each other in order to be able to find out and describe the differences that occur from the interconnection of those.



Yule, George. 2006. The Study of language. New York: Cambridge University Press

Lahne, Antje. Study Guide Morphology, Proseminar Introduction to Synchronic Linguistics. Datum der Recherche: 28.05.2006, erhдltlich im Internet unter

McIntyre, Andrew. English Morphology, Proseminar ґIntroduction to Synchronic Linguisticsґ, Sommersemester 2000. Datum der Recherche: 03.06.2006, erhдltlich im Internet unter


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