Dr. Johanna Rubba
English Department
Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo

Morphology Exercises


  1. Identify the component morpheme(s) of each word. How many morphemes does each word contain?

a) student 1*

g) de - form - s 3

m) island 1

b) stupid - ity 2

h) un - reli - able 3

n) class - room 2

c) un - fair 2

i) tri - al 2

o) paper 1

d) excell - ent 2

j) dis - infect - ant 3*

p) invers - ion 2

e) sleep - ing 2

k) un - fair - ly 3

q) magazine 1

f) un - employ - ed* 3

l) husband - s 2

r) ugly 1

s) sandwich 1

t) crinkl - y 2

* = a case could be made for further divisions in these words.


2) Isolate the affixes in each of these words and state whether each is prefix or suffix.

1-depose de- prefix

5-action -ion suffix

2-readily -ly suffix

6-repackage re- pref. -age suff.

3-active -ive suffix

7-unchanged un- pref. -ed suff.

4-behead be- prefix

8-forcefully -ful suff. -ly suff.


3) For the following words, identify all roots (base words).

1-dragged drag

6-unassuming assume

2-deactivated act

7-redness red

3-impossible possible

8-racketeers racket

4-thumbtack thumb, tack

9-cloudiness cloud

5-hopefully hope

10-exceptionally except (or -cept-)


* These exercises are adapted or taken from The structure of English, by Thomas E. Murray, 1995.


Refer to the following data to solve the problem below it.

List #1: taller, shorter, greener, higher, lower, sweeter, smarter
List #2: mower, teacher, sailor, farmer, caller, operator
List #3: never, cover, finger, either, river, candor, other, valor

Problem I: Use (a) your own knowledge of English and (b) the notion 'consistent match between meaning and form' to construct an argument in which you agree or disagree with the following statement, supporting your position with evidence from the data.

The item spelled 'er'/'or' is the same item in all of the words, in all three lists.

Disagree: There are two distinct 'er' morphemes in this data, according to the notion 'consistent match between meaning and form'. We do find such a match in lists 1 and 2 for both the 'er' and the rest of the word: 'tall', 'short', etc. occur elsewhere in the language with the same form and meaning as they have in the 'er' words of list 1; the same can be said of the words in list 2: 'mow', 'teach', etc. The 'er' component of these words also occurs with the same form and meaning in each list: in list 1, the 'er' consistently signals the meaning 'more'; i.e. 'taller' can be paraphrased as 'more tall'. In list 2, the 'er' signals the meaning 'a person or thing that does the action named by the base word', i.e., 'mower' can be paraphrased as 'a machine that mows', 'teacher' as ' a person who teaches', etc.

None of the words in list three show such a consistent match, however: we cannot find a consistent meaning for 'er' in this list ('never' means neither 'one who nevs' nor 'more nev'), and the part of the word left over if the 'er' is cut off does not exist as a word in the language – there is no word 'nev', 'riv' that has the same meaning as the 'nev ' of 'never' or the 'r i v' of 'river'.

Problem II: Do the same, using the following data:

List #1: soften, harden, sweeten, whiten, strengthen, lengthen, widen, deepen, redden, blacken, weaken
List #2: given, taken, eaten, broken
List #3: oven, open, coven, leaven, ramen, even, often, sudden

The item spelled 'en' is the same item in all of the words, in all three lists.

The same argument can be made as for the lists in Problem I: the 'en' of lists 1 & 2 have a consistent meaning: 'to make something have the quality named by the base' ('harden' = to make something hard, 'lengthen' = to make something long, etc.; and the 'en' of list 2 is the past participle suffix for irregular verbs, e.g. 'I have given, taken, eaten, broken'). The bases in lists 1 & 2 also occur elsewhere with the same meanings: 'soft', 'weak', 'give', 'take' are all words with the same meanings they have in lists 1 & 2.

* This exercise was adapted from Anatomy of English by Dorothy Sedley.

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