Glossary: morphology


Morphology is the study of the internal structure of words.

A word’s morphology is its internal make-up in terms of root words and suffixes or prefixes, as well as other kinds of change such as the change of mouse to mice.

Morphology may be used to produce different inflections of the same word (e.g. boyboys), or entirely new words (e.g. boyboyish) belonging to the same word family.

  • dogs has the morphological make-up: dog + s.
  • unhelpfulness has the morphological make-up: unhelpful + ness, where unhelpful = un + helpful and helpful = help + ful

A word that contains two or more root words is a compound (e.g. news+paper, ice+cream).

Morphology looks at how words can be made up from smaller parts, e.g. bright + -er gives brighter; white + board = whiteboard; study + -ed = studied.

Compound word creation

An interactive activity to explore how compounds are made

In this activity, students work with an interactive smart board display to build compound words.

The Activity pages for this starter can be found in the menu entitled 'This Unit' in the upper right corner of this page. Each Activity page contains slides that can be displayed using a projector or smart board. 

Compound word creation: Activity 1

An interactive activity to explore how compounds are made

Compound word creation: Activity 2

For each word, see how many compounds you can think of which include the word.

Baby Sentences


  • Use implicit grammatical knowledge to translate examples of infant speech into complete sentences.
  • (For older students) use explicit grammatical knowledge to identify the types of changes that have been made in translating from the original examples.

Lesson Plan

The teacher explains that today, we will look at some real examples of English spoken by infants, and translate it into adult speech.

Baby Sentences: Activity

Daddy go work

Mummy read

Daddy bike

What that

Where blanket

Sock off

Teddy fall

Sammy tired

Building words

Exploring the internal structure of words


  • Identify prefixes, base words, and suffixes.
  • Build words by combining prefixes, base words, and suffixes.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of word classes by identifying the word class of the newly derived words.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of derivational morphology by using newly derived words in sentences.

Lesson Plan

The Activity page appears in the menu entitled 'This Unit' in the upper right.


Words like I'm, don't, and should've, which involve two words being joined together, are often called contractions. This lesson explores the many different types of words in this category, and the similarities and differences between them.


  • Describe examples of contractions.
  • Categorise a set of contractions.
  • Identify the differences between categories of contractions.

Lesson Plan

The teacher explains that today, we will study contractions.

Derived nouns and composition

In this activity we will look at suffixes that can change adjectives and verbs into nouns.

Derived nouns and composition: Activity 1

Complete the examples with nouns which are derived from the highlighted adjectives. The first answer is provided for you.

Anna was late. It annoyed me. → Anna's lateness annoyed me.

Jeff is shy. I didn’t notice this until the party. → I didn’t notice Jeff’s ___ until the party. I didn’t notice Jeff’s shyness until the party.

Morphology - an introduction

In this lesson, students explore word morphology. Morphology is an area of language study concerned with how words are formed. While syntax is about the larger structures formed when words are put together, morphology is about the structure within words.

Morphology - an introduction: Activity 1

Activity 1: Finding word parts

From the list below, pick out the words that are complex. Can you break them down into meaningful parts?

  1. bread
  2. sunshine
  3. fossil
  4. sleepwalker
  5. unhappy
  6. umbrella
  7. rebuild
  8. laughing

There are some further questions on the next slide.

Now look at the parts of the words that you have found. Which ones can be used on their own?

Morphology - an introduction: Activity 2

Activity 2: Same word or different words?

Would you say the following are different words or the same word?

  • hesitate, hesitates, hesitated, hesitating

It depends what we mean by ‘word’! In one everyday sense, they are all different words.

Morphology - an introduction: Activity 3

Activity 3: How many words?

Look at the sentence below and answer the following questions:

  1. How many different words, in the sense of dictionary words, are there?
  2. Which items can be grouped together as forms of the same word?
  • I think teasing tigers is unwise, because I teased a tiger once and barely escaped alive.


Noun endings

Exploring suffixes and how they affect word class

In this activity we will look at suffixes which change verbs and adjectives into nouns. This process is a part of derivational morphology

Prefixes in adjectives

In this lesson, students will look at some common prefixes that can be added to adjectives and see how they change meanings.


  • Identify some common prefixes in adjectives.
  • Describe the meanings contributed by common adjective prefixes.
  • Experiment with acceptable and unacceptable prefixes for particular adjectives.

Lesson Plan

The teacher explains that today, we will look at adjectives with distinctive prefixes.

Verb endings

In this activity we will look at suffixes which change adjectives and nouns into verbs. This process is a part of derivational morphology

Compounds: Break apart the words

Break down each of the following words into its meaningful parts. Label each part as either a prefix, a suffix, or a lexical base (a part which can typically be used as a word on its own).

Example: unkindness: un- (prefix) + kind (lexical base) + -ness (suffix)

You can check your work by pressing the buttons to see the answers.

Identify the word formation process

Identify the word formation process by clicking the correct answer.

Spelling: Rules

At some point, many of us learned some handy spelling rules that we’ve carried with us for years.

Most people probably remember the mnemonic:

  • I before E except after C.

That’s a very useful rule for remembering how to spell believe and receive. But what about seize and seizure? And what about leisure, either, or heifer?

Spelling: Spelling and word structure

Many common spelling errors occur with double consonants or vowel combinations, as in the following words:

Word structure

The study of word structure is called morphology. Understanding word structure helps us:

  • improve spelling
  • expand vocabulary

In studying word structure, we start by looking at a few key concepts first:

  • root words
  • prefixes
  • suffixes

Root words are words, or parts of words, that can usually stand alone. The following are all root words:


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