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Word vs. Morpheme — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Published on October 11, 2023
A word is a standalone unit of meaning, while a morpheme is the smallest grammatical unit in a language.
Word vs. Morpheme — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Word and Morpheme

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Key Differences

In linguistics, both Word and Morpheme hold distinct definitions and roles. A Word can be simply understood as a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing. It can stand alone and convey a specific idea or concept. For instance, "dog" or "run" are words. A Morpheme, on the other hand, is the smallest grammatical unit that carries meaning. While some morphemes can stand alone as words, others cannot. For example, "un-" in "undo" is a morpheme but cannot stand alone as a word. Every word comprises one or multiple morphemes. The word "cats" has two morphemes: "cat" (indicating the animal) and "s" (indicating plurality).
Fiza Rafique
Oct 11, 2023
In diving deeper into the construct of a Word, it becomes apparent that words serve as the primary carriers of meaning in our communication. We string words together to form sentences, and by doing so, convey more complex ideas. Morphemes, conversely, serve to modify or refine the meanings of those words. They're like building blocks that, when combined in various ways, give rise to different words with nuanced meanings. The distinction is crucial in understanding how language functions: while words are central to conveying fundamental ideas, morphemes help in expressing the subtleties and intricacies of those ideas.
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Oct 11, 2023

Comparison Chart

Definition

Standalone unit of meaning.
Smallest grammatical unit carrying meaning.
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Oct 11, 2023

Dependency

Can stand alone.
Some can stand alone, some can't.
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Oct 11, 2023

Example

"Dog", "Run".
"Un-" in "undo", "s" in "cats".
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Oct 11, 2023
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Number of Morphemes

Can have one or more morphemes.
Is itself a single morpheme.
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Oct 11, 2023

Use

Primary carriers of meaning in sentences.
Modify or refine meanings of words.
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Oct 11, 2023

Compare with Definitions

Word

A spoken or written utterance.
He said a word of thanks before leaving.
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Sep 27, 2023

Morpheme

The smallest meaningful unit in grammar.
The morpheme s indicates plural in many words.
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Word

A promise or assurance.
I give you my word that I'll be there.
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Morpheme

Can be free (standalone) or bound (needs a host).
Book is a free morpheme, while ed in booked is a bound morpheme.
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Word

A command or order.
At my word, they started the performance.
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Morpheme

Used to create or modify a word's meaning.
Adding the morpheme ly to quick forms quickly.
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Word

In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with objective or practical meaning. In many languages, words also correspond to sequences of graphemes ("letters") in their standard writing systems that are delimited by spaces wider than the normal inter-letter space, or by other graphical conventions.
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May 13, 2022

Morpheme

A linguistic element that can't be broken down further without losing meaning.
In unhappiness, un- is a morpheme indicating negation.
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Sep 27, 2023

Word

A sound or a combination of sounds, or its representation in writing or printing, that symbolizes and communicates a meaning and may consist of a single morpheme or of a combination of morphemes.
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May 13, 2022

Morpheme

A morpheme is the smallest meaningful lexical item in a language. A morpheme is not necessarily the same as a word.
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Word

Something said; an utterance, remark, or comment
May I say a word about that?.
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Morpheme

A meaningful linguistic unit that cannot be divided into smaller meaningful parts. The word man and the suffix -ed (as in walked) are morphemes.
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Word

A command or direction; an order
Gave the word to retreat.
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Morpheme

(linguistic morphology) The smallest linguistic unit within a word that can carry a meaning.
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Word

An assurance or promise; sworn intention
She has kept her word.
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Morpheme

The smallest unit of meaning of a language, which cannot be divided into smaller parts carrying meaning; it is usually smaller than a single wordform, such as the -ed morpheme of verbs in the past tense or the -s morpheme of nouns in the plural form.
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May 13, 2022

Word

A verbal signal; a password or watchword.
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Morpheme

Minimal meaningful language unit; it cannot be divided into smaller meaningful units
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Word

Discourse or talk; speech
Actions speak louder than words.
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Morpheme

The building blocks of words.
The word running consists of the morphemes run and ing.
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Sep 27, 2023

Word

(Music) The text of a vocal composition; lyrics.
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May 13, 2022

Word

Hostile or angry remarks made back and forth.
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Word

News
Any word on your promotion?.
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Word

Rumor
Word has it they're divorcing.
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Word

Used euphemistically in combination with the initial letter of a term that is considered offensive or taboo or that one does not want to utter
“Although economists here will not call it a recession yet, the dreaded ‘R' word is beginning to pop up in the media” (Francine S. Kiefer).
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May 13, 2022

Word

See Logos.
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Word

The Scriptures; the Bible.
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Word

(Computers) A set of bits that is of a fixed size and is typically operated on by a computer's processor.
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Word

To express in words
Worded the petition carefully.
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Word

(Slang) Used to express approval or an affirmative response to something. Sometimes used with up.
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Word

The smallest unit of language that has a particular meaning and can be expressed by itself; the smallest discrete, meaningful unit of language. contrast morpheme.
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Word

The smallest discrete unit of spoken language with a particular meaning, composed of one or more phonemes and one or more morphemes
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Word

The smallest discrete unit of written language with a particular meaning, composed of one or more letters or symbols and one or more morphemes
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Word

A discrete, meaningful unit of language approved by an authority or native speaker (compare non-word).
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Word

Something like such a unit of language:
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Word

A sequence of letters, characters, or sounds, considered as a discrete entity, though it does not necessarily belong to a language or have a meaning
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Word

(telegraphy) A unit of text equivalent to five characters and one space.
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Word

(computing) A fixed-size group of bits handled as a unit by a machine and which can be stored in or retrieved from a typical register (so that it has the same size as such a register).
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Word

(computer science) A finite string that is not a command or operator.
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Word

(group theory) A group element, expressed as a product of group elements.
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Word

The fact or act of speaking, as opposed to taking action. .
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Word

Something that someone said; a comment, utterance; speech.
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Word

A watchword or rallying cry, a verbal signal (even when consisting of multiple words).
Mum's the word
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Word

(obsolete) A proverb or motto.
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Word

(uncountable) News; tidings.
Have you had any word from John yet?
I've tried for weeks to get word, but I still don't know where she is or if she's all right.
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May 13, 2022

Word

An order; a request or instruction; an expression of will.
He sent word that we should strike camp before winter.
Don't fire till I give the word
Their mother's word was law.
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Word

A promise; an oath or guarantee.
I give you my word that I will be there on time.
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Word

A brief discussion or conversation.
Can I have a word with you?
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Word

(meiosis) A minor reprimand.
I had a word with him about it.
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Word

(in the plural) See words.
There had been words between him and the secretary about the outcome of the meeting.
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Word

Communication from God; the message of the Christian gospel; the Bible, Scripture.
Her parents had lived in Botswana, spreading the word among the tribespeople.
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Word

Logos, Christ.
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Word

(transitive) To say or write (something) using particular words; to phrase (something).
I’m not sure how to word this letter to the council.
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Word

To flatter with words, to cajole.
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Word

(transitive) To ply or overpower with words.
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Word

To conjure with a word.
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Word

To speak, to use words; to converse, to discourse.
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Word

Truth, indeed, that is the truth! The shortened form of the statement "My word is my bond."
"Yo, that movie was epic!" / "Word?" ("You speak the truth?") / "Word." ("I speak the truth.")
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May 13, 2022

Word

An abbreviated form of word up; a statement of the acknowledgment of fact with a hint of nonchalant approval.
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May 13, 2022

Word

The spoken sign of a conception or an idea; an articulate or vocal sound, or a combination of articulate and vocal sounds, uttered by the human voice, and by custom expressing an idea or ideas; a single component part of human speech or language; a constituent part of a sentence; a term; a vocable.
You cram these words into mine ears, againstThe stomach of my sense.
Amongst men who confound their ideas with words, there must be endless disputes.
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May 13, 2022

Word

Hence, the written or printed character, or combination of characters, expressing such a term; as, the words on a page.
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Word

Talk; discourse; speech; language.
Why should calamity be full of words?
Be thy words severe;Sharp as he merits, but the sword forbear.
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Word

Account; tidings; message; communication; information; - used only in the singular.
I pray you . . . bring me word thitherHow the world goes.
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Word

Signal; order; command; direction.
Give the word through.
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Word

Language considered as implying the faith or authority of the person who utters it; statement; affirmation; declaration; promise.
Obey thy parents; keep thy word justly.
I know you brave, and take you at your word.
I desire not the reader should take my word.
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Word

Verbal contention; dispute.
Some words there grew 'twixt Somerset and me.
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Word

A brief remark or observation; an expression; a phrase, clause, or short sentence.
All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
She said; but at the happy word "he lives,"My father stooped, re-fathered, o'er my wound.
There is only one other point on which I offer a word of remark.
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Word

To use words, as in discussion; to argue; to dispute.
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Word

To express in words; to phrase.
The apology for the king is the same, but worded with greater deference to that great prince.
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Word

To ply with words; also, to cause to be by the use of a word or words.
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Word

To flatter with words; to cajole.
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Word

A unit of language that native speakers can identify;
Words are the blocks from which sentences are made
He hardly said ten words all morning
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Word

A brief statement;
He didn't say a word about it
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Word

New information about specific and timely events;
They awaited news of the outcome
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Word

The divine word of God; the second person in the Trinity (incarnate in Jesus)
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Word

A promise;
He gave his word
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Word

A secret word or phrase known only to a restricted group;
He forgot the password
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Word

An exchange of views on some topic;
We had a good discussion
We had a word or two about it
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Word

The sacred writings of the Christian religions;
He went to carry the Word to the heathen
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Word

A verbal command for action;
When I give the word, charge!
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Word

A word is a string of bits stored in computer memory;
Large computers use words up to 64 bits long
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Word

Put into words or an expression;
He formulated his concerns to the board of trustees
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Word

A distinct unit of language with a specific meaning.
The word apple refers to a fruit.
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Word

A piece of news or information.
Have you heard the latest word on the merger?
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Common Curiosities

Are all morphemes words?

No, while some morphemes can stand alone as words, many cannot.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 11, 2023

What's an example of a bound morpheme?

"Un-" in "unhappy" is a bound morpheme, as it cannot stand alone.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 11, 2023

What is a word in linguistics?

A word is a distinct meaningful element of speech or writing that can stand alone.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 11, 2023

How does a morpheme differ from a word?

A morpheme is the smallest grammatical unit carrying meaning, while a word is a standalone unit of meaning.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 11, 2023

Can a word consist of multiple morphemes?

Yes, for example, "running" has two morphemes: "run" and "ing".
Fiza Rafique
Oct 11, 2023

Is "s" in "cats" a word or a morpheme?

It's a morpheme indicating plurality.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 11, 2023

Why are morphemes important in language?

They are foundational units that allow for the creation, modification, and nuance of words.
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Oct 11, 2023

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at AskDifference.com, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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