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LEARN CHINESE: CHINESE GRAMMAR

Morpheme

1. What is Morpheme

Morpheme (语素), one of the basic units of word structure in Chinese grammar, is the smallest combination of meaning and phonetic sound in Chinese language. For example, '书' (book) is a morpheme, its phonetic sound is 'shū' and its meaning is '成本的著作'; '马虎' is also a morpheme, its phonetic sound is 'mǎ hu' and its meaning is '不认真'. Morphemes can not be separated into any smaller combinations of meaning and sound, otherwise, it either means nothing or means something which completely irrelavant to its original meanings.

In most cases, each morpheme has one syllable, such as '人', '天', '吗', '好' etc; there are also two-syllable morphemes, such as '参差', '荒唐', '尼龙' etc; a few has more syllables, such as '巧克力' '萨其马', '法西斯', '乌鲁木齐' etc. Some two-syllabe morphemes actually are transliterations from other languages and almost all three-syllabe morphemes are transliterations.

2. Morpheme Types

From above, we know, a morpheme can be a one-syllable morpheme or a multi-syllable morpheme according to the number of its syllables. Besides this, by its ability to make up words, a morpheme can also be classified into three types:

1). Free morpheme - 自由语素. This kind of morphemes can be used independently as words, and also they can make up words with other free morphemes, such as:

2). Half-bound morpheme - 半自由语素. This kind of morphemes can not be used independently as words, but only work with other morphemes to make up words, while their positions are not fixed, such as:

3). Bound morpheme - 不自由语素. This kind of morphemes can not be used independently as words, but only work with other morphemes to make up words, while their positions are fixed, such as:

儿 (花儿) 老 (老张) 家 (画家, 作家)

tip: in word '花儿', '儿' is a bound morpheme, but in word '儿子', it is a free morpheme, means 'son'. To say a morpheme is a free one or bound one, you need to know its meaning, which is the most important element.

 

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