This involves breaking down a word into its component morphemes to find its meaning.

The following is the hierarchy of grammatical units:

Morpheme –> Word –> Phrase/group –> Clause –> Sentence

So, from here, we could say, morphemes join together to form a word, words to form a phrase (or group), phrases to form a clause and clauses to form a sentence.

We’ll be focusing on Morpheme and Word here.

A morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of grammar.

There are two types of morpheme.

  • Free/Base/Root morphemes (simple words). These are morphemes that can stand on their own. E.g, man, child, respect, A, and, cup, etc.
  • Bound/additive morpheme. These morphemes are dependent. Although, they’re meaningful, yet, they can’t stand alone.

They are affixes (prefix, infix & suffix)

Prefix – meaning, coming before a free morpheme.
E.g,

“dis-“, “mal-“, “un-“, etc

As in, “dis-respect”, “mal-administer”, “un-certain”, etc

Suffix – meaning, coming after a free morpheme.
E.g,

“-ive”, “-ity”, “-ful”, “-hood”

As in, “act-ive”, “moral-ity”, “use-ful”, “child-hood”, etc.

To understand this topic better, let’s analyse a word:

Disrespectful

Prefix – “dis-“

Root – “respect”

Suffix – “-ful”

Bound/Additive morphemes, as said earlier, are meaningful themselves.

They change the meaning of a root/base word when added to the root.

For example…

The prefix “Dis-” means “not” or “opposite of“.

The addition of the suffix “-ful” makes the word an adjective.

And I believe the root is a familiar word:

Respect“, a verb, meaning to reference or honour someone.

Therefore, the addition of “dis-” and “-ful” changes the meaning to “having a quality of NOT being able to honour someone/something” – “disrespectful”

Do you get that? Great!

You can use the principle of word-formation concept to arrive at the meanings of words.

Take a look at this question for instance:

Choose the word nearest in meaning to the word or phrase emboldened.

The man has strong distaste for alcohol.
A. Love
B. Aversion
C. Desire
D. Excitement
UTME 2015 q62

Ans – B

Explanation:

Focus word – “distaste

Prefix – “dis-“, meaning, “the opposite of…”

Root word – “taste, meaning, “the love/desire for…”

Therefore, “distaste” means, “not having love/desire for something”

And as required, you’re to find a word/phrase synonymous (closest in meaning) to it…

…and that should be “aversion”.  Do you understand? Great!

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