English Grammar. Morphology

Grammar is a branch of linguistics that deals with the form and structure of words. Grammar is one of the oldest fields of study, as well as one of the most durable. Even Plato can be labeled as an early grammarian, because he was responsible for dividing the sentence into subject and verb.

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Grammar is the system of a language. English grammar is defined as the body of rules describing the properties of the English language.

Grammar is traditionally subdivided into two different but inter-related areas of study: morphology and syntax. The term morphology appeared in 1859. Morphology is the identification, analysis and description of the structure of words. It studies the building blocks of a language. Morphology shows the structure, organization and usage of every constituent. Besides it prescribes the correct organization and combination of language elements. Morphology is particularly important because native speakers of English create new words constantly. By the syntax of a language we mean the body of rules that speakers follow when they combine words into sentences.

Word structure in Modern English

The term morpheme is derived from the Greek morphe “form” and –eme, a Greek suffix that was adopted by linguists to denote the smallest unit with a distinctive feature.

The morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of language. Morphemes occur in speech only as constituent parts of words, not independently, although a word may consist of a single morpheme. Words are composed of morphemes of different types: root-morphemes and affixational morphemes. Words that consist of a root and an affix are called derived words or derivatives and are produced by the process of word building known as affixation.

The root-morpheme is the lexical nucleus of the word, it has a very general and abstract lexical meaning common to a set of semantically related words constituting one word-cluster, e.g. teach, teacher, teaching.

Affixational morphemes include inflections and derivational affixes. Inflections carry only a grammatical meaning and are relevant only for the formation of word-forms (-s, -ing, -ed, -er, -est). They indicate tense, form, aspect, number, person. Derivational affixes are relevant for building various types of words. They are lexically always dependent on the root which they modify, e.g. –er work – worker, compare with hot – hotter.

Roots and derivational affixes are generally easily distinguished and the difference between them is clearly felt as e.g. in the words helpless, handy, blackness, Londoner, refill, etc. The root morphemes help-, hand-, black-, London-, -fill are understood as the lexical centers of the words and –less, -y, -ness, -er, re- are felt as morphemes dependent on these roots.

One and the same morphemic segment, depending on various morphemic environments, can in principle be used now as an affix (mostly, a prefix), now as a root:

  • out — a root-word (preposition, adverb, );
  • throughout — a composite word, in which -out serves as one of the roots
  • outing — a two-morpheme word, in which out is a root, and -ing is a suffix;
  • outlook, outline, outrage, out-talk, — words, in which out- serves as a prefix;
  • look-out, knock-out, shut-out, time-out, — words (nouns), in which -out serves as a suffix

On the basis of the degree of self-dependence, “free” morphemes and “bound” morphemes are distinguished. Bound morphemes cannot form words by themselves; they are identified only as component segmental parts of words. As different from this, free morphemes can build up words by themselves, i.e. can be used “freely”.

For instance, in the word handful the root hand is a free morpheme, while the suffix -ful is a bound morpheme.

Semi-bound morphemes may function both as root morphemes and as derivational elements. E.g. -man in manmade, manservant ; -man in gentleman, -proof -waterproof

Allomorphs are variants of the same morpheme, e.g. –ion, -tion, -sion, -ation (calculate – calculation, move-motion, depress – depression, transform – transformation). They are positional variants of the same suffix, they do not differ in meaning or function but show a slight difference in sound form depending on the final phoneme of the preceding stem. Other ex include –able, -ible (capable, responsible), im-, in- (immoral, inappropriate), ir-, il- (irregular, illegal).

The suffixes – able and –ed are different morphemes, not allomorphs, because adjectives in –able mean “capable of” and –ed is an incflection showing the past tense of a verb.

Inner flections are changes inside the word (usually in vowels, sometimes in consonants) in order to express different grammatical categories: foot – feet, meet – met.

Grammatical structure of the English Language

Languages can be synthetic (inflected) or analytical (isolating) according to their grammatical structure. In synthetic languages, such as, for instance Russian, Romanian, the grammatical relations between words are expressed by means of inflections (the change in the form of a word that indicates distinctions of tense, person, gender, number, mood, voice, and case) or by agglutination (a grammatical process in which words are composed of a sequence of morphemes). Latin is an example of an inflected language; Hungarian and Finnish are examples of agglutinative languages.

Whereas in English you would say, “to my little house”, you could say all that in one word in Hungarian: “házacskámba”.

This is so because you glue the little particles meaning “to”, “my” and “little” at the back of the word stem, “house”. Like this: ház + (a)cska + m + ba.

Directly translated into English, it would look like this: “houselittlemyto”.

Highly synthetic languages, in which a whole sentence may consist of a single word (usually a verb form) containing a large number of affixes are called polysynthetic. Eskimo and many American Indian languages are polysynthetic.

In analytical languages, such as English, the grammatical relations between words are expressed by means of form words and word order. An analytic language is commonly identified with an isolating language. Typical examples are Vietnamese and Classical Chinese, which are analytic and isolating. Analytical forms are mostly proper in verbs. An analytical verb-form consists of one or more form words, which have no lexical meaning and only express one or more of the grammatical categories of person, number, tense, aspect, voice, mood and one notional word, generally an infinitive or a participle.

e.g. He has come.

I am reading.

The analytical forms are: tense and aspect verb-forms (the Continuous form, the Perfect form, the Perfect Continuous Form, the Future Indefinite form, also the interrogative and negative of the Present Simple and Past Indefinite Tenses), the Passive Voice, the analytical form or the Subjunctive Mood:

I would go there if I had time.

However, the structure of a language is never purely synthetic or purely analytical. Thus, in the English language there are endings: -s, -ed, ‘s, inner flexions: man-men.

One of the marked features of the English language is the extensive use of substitutes. A word substitute saves the repetitions of certain words. Here belong: one (ones), that, do.

e.g. Give me a book and take one for you.

That generally substitutes nouns, especially abstract nouns and nouns of material followed by an attribute. E.g. He believed his work was better than that of the other artist.

Do substitutes verbs. e.g. You know it better than I do.

Synthetic languages are numerous and well-attested, the most commonly cited being Indo-European languages such as Sanskrit, Spanish, Persian, Greek, Latin, Lithuanian, German, Italian, French, Romanian, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and Czech, as well as many languages of the Americas.

General classification of the parts of speech

According to their meaning, morphological characteristics and syntactical function, words, fall under certain classes called parts of speech.

We distinguish between notional and structural parts of speech. The notional parts of speech perform certain functions in the sentence: the function of subject, predicate, attribute, object, or adverbial modifier. The notional parts of speech are:

  • The noun,
  • The adjective,
  • The pronoun,
  • The numeral,
  • The verb,
  • The adverb,
  • The words of the category of state,
  • The modal words,
  • The interjection.

The structural parts of speech either express relations between words or sentences or emphasize the meaning of words or sentences. They never perform any independent function in the sentence. Here belong:

  • The preposition,
  • The conjunction,
  • The particle,
  • The article.