In this webpage, I teach a methodical approach to the grammar of words as a way to understand & learn foreign languages better. This course is part of a series of free online linguistics courses. These lessons have the following requirements and recommendations:
- Required: No previous knowledge of linguistics required
- Required: Any previous study of one or more foreign languages
- Recommended: Have purchased, studied and completed all exercises in Native Grammar: How Languages Work
- Recommended: Be in the process of learning or starting to learn a new foreign language
Introduction to Grammar
This site contains explanations, instructional videos with audio, and practice exercises to help you learn all about morphology. If you enjoy this approach and would like more activities, explanations and review tests, consider my book for beginners titled Native Grammar: How Languages Work. This course is divided into the following sections/lessons:
- How languages build words: morphemes & allomorphs
- The grammar of nouns
- The grammar of verbs
- The grammar of pronouns
- The grammar of adjectives
- The grammar of particles
- Putting words together
- Closing observations & FAQ
- Answers to the exercises
- Further resources & about the author
If you've studied English or another foreign language as a classroom subject, chances are good that you learned grammar from a traditional perspective. You memorized the peculiarities of a given language and your teachers corrected you when you said things the wrong way. This point of view was tied to the memorization of rules as well as to literature and the arts. Its tendency to tell learners and speakers what ought to be said has earned it the moniker prescriptive grammar.
There is another perspective. You might instead choose to learn the fundamentals of grammar and use them to describe how languages work. Instead of telling native speakers how to speak their language, this perspective seeks to understand how native speakers actually use their language. This point of view is tied to analysis, the deduction of and application of rules, as well as to social sciences and the speech of native speakers. It takes the modern linguistic form of descriptive and generative grammar. Since most students learn another language with the express aim of communicating with speakers of that language, learners may find this perspective clearer and more in line with common sense.
In this course, we will study how languages build their words. We will explore what linguists call morphology, which is another way of talking about the grammar of words and parts of words. The first lesson will introduce the basic concepts that allow languages to build words. Subsequent lessons will examine individual parts of speech, the grammatical categories we may use to sort words. The final lesson discusses features that emerge only when we consider relations between words. Along the way, you will work with a variety of languages. You will have the chance to sharpen your linguistic senses to analyze the pieces and functions of words in any language clearly and efficiently.
How languages build words
Morphemes and allomorphs
Every sentence spoken in every language is built from grammatical atoms called morphemes. A morpheme is the "smallest meaningful unit" you can find when you break phrases and words apart. Morphemes can be long like annihilate or very short like the "past tense" -(e)d tacked onto annihilated.
Morphemes have allomorphs, or various ways they show up in language. In English, -ed marks the past tense, but it doesn't always have the same pronunciation. Speakers pronounce it as [t] in helped but [d] in cubed. Past-tense [t] and [d] are simply two allomorphs of the same morpheme /d/.
You now have some basic concept of morphemes and allomorphs, but how do you apply this to everyday language? To begin analyzing words, separate morphemes with a hyphen.
|English||Amazing! The farmer speaks Latin!|
|amaz-ing the farm-er speak-s Latin|
Keep in mind that morphemes and allomorphs are identified based on how speakers of a given language build words. Morphemes are language-specific. English speakers cannot break annihilate into smaller meaningful units, but Latin speakers could find the historical morphemes an-nihil-at-e.
Types of morphemes
Different morphemes have different functions. The morphemes farm, speak and amaz(e) have clear semantic content - if you speak standard English, you know what they mean. But what about less obvious morphemes like -s and -ing? These morphemes attach to another morpheme to provide it with a grammatical meaning, and are known as inflectional morphemes. The grammatical meaning of the inflectional morpheme -ing in amaz-ing is “present participle”.
The case of -er in farm-er doesn't involve the kind of "grammatical meaning" expected from inflectional morphemes. Instead, -er creates a new word with a new meaning. While speaks and speak may be considered a separate form of the same word, farmer and farm are two different words. Morphemes like -er that attach to other morphemes to derive new words are known as derivational morphemes.
Notice that morphemes like speak and Latin can exist on their own - they are free morphemes. On the other hand, bound morphemes must attach to another morpheme before a speaker can use them. Inflectional and derivational morphemes cannot exist on their own - they are known as affixes (from the Latin stem af-fix 'fixed to'), and are necessarily bound morphemes.
Affixes that attach before other morphemes are called prefixes, including the derivational pre– in pre-fix. Suffixes attach to the end of another morpheme, such as the inflectional -ed in studi-ed. Since they fall at the end of words, suffixes are also referred to by the informal name endings. When written alone, you may see prefixes with a hyphen following the morpheme and suffixes with a hyphen preceding the morpheme.
Base morphemes and attaching morphemes
The morpheme that carries the word's central meaning is often called the root morpheme. In French, the root port- has the meaning 'carry'. French speakers must add inflectional affixes to that root to make it usable, such as porter 'to carry', portant 'carrying' or elle porte 'she carries'.
French speakers may add derivational prefixes to the root port- to form ap-port- 'carry towards'/'bring' and its opposite em-port- 'carry away'/'take'. These are derived words, but we cannot call them roots - they are stems formed from the root port-. Again, French speakers must add inflectional affixes to that stem to use it, as in apporter 'to bring' or elle apporte 'she brings'. The morpheme port- is the root and stem of porter, while apporter has the root port- and the stem apport-.
Ways of expressing grammatical concepts
In this course and especially in the parallel coursebook Native Grammar, I will give examples from a variety of languages. Each language handles grammar differently, but we can remark on a few general cross-linguistic tendencies.
A language may grammatically mark a word by attaching an affix or placing it near another word with some grammatical meaning. The French word porté 'carried' is grammatically marked, but so is the Japanese word 日本語 nihongo 'Japanese (language)' in 日本語の本 nihongo no hon (Japanese - possessive affix - book) '(a) Japanese book'. Words that do not take such morphemes are unmarked.
Keep in mind that unmarked or less marked words may also represent a grammatical concept: the word mom is an unmarked singular noun (the plural mom-s is marked). Since in this case nothing means something, we can talk about a zero morpheme or null morpheme, sometimes written as a zero (0). Applying this concept, mom-0 represents the singular (only one mom) while mom-s represents the plural (two or more moms).
A language might explain a feature in words rather than mark it outright. The marked Romanian word omului has the root om 'person' and an affix –ului that marks direction towards. English uses periphrasis, Greek for 'speaking around', to translate this single Romanian word: 'to the person'.
A language may also rely on compounding, which involves combining two or more words to form a new concept: keyphrase simply compounds the noun key with another N phrase.
A language may simply appropriate a word from one word class and use it in another, a technique known as conversion. For example, the noun query (class = N) has also come to be used as a verb query (class = V) without undergoing any change in form: query the database.
Lastly, a language may use word order, or arranging words in a specific way. This is an especially important when considering basic word order, which describes the normal arrangement of subjects, verbs and objects in a language. So, English may be considered an SVO (subject-verb-object) language, Classical Latin an SOV language, and Classical Arabic and Modern Irish a VSO language.
Classifying languages by their word-building tendencies
Some languages, including Indo-European languages like Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit, tend to form words by tacking on all kinds of grammatical affixes. We describe these languages as synthetic languages. Synthetic languages build words by adding affixes to roots and stems. Synthetic languages are associated with bound morphemes, especially when it comes to content words like nouns and verbs. Consider Caesar’s famous quote, in which the verbs ‘come’, ‘see’ and ‘conquer’ are necessarily bound to an affix:
|Latin||Ven-i vid-i vic-i.|
|'I came, I saw, I conquered.'|
|Ven-io vid-eo vinc-o.|
|'I come, I see, I conquer.'|
There are two major types of synthesis. Fusional languages shove a lot of grammatical information into their affixes. The ending -i in the Latin examples above fuses together information about who conquers and when the conquest takes place.
More commonly, synthetic languages divide grammatical information into separate affixes. Such agglutinative languages often add strings of affixes to form words.
|'We are at your house.'|
Many languages are not synthetic at all, and require few if any affixes. Such languages are analytic. In such languages, the vast majority of morphemes are individual, usable words in their own right. Modern English has this tendency: learn is a root morpheme and a word in its own right, while equivalent Italian root impar- must take on affixes that turn it into a usable word, such as imparo 'I learn' or imparare 'to learn'. Compare this to a Mandarin Chinese word like 喝 (hē) 'drink', which never takes affixes. Analytic languages may employ periphrasis, compounding and word order to convey the kind of information explicitly marked in synthetic languages.
Crucially, all of the terms in this section represent general tendencies rather than exceptionless rules. Languages aren't purely synthetic or analytic. Synthetic languages have words that cannot attach to affixes, while analytic languages may use separate words to mark grammatical function in a way strongly reminiscent of affixation.
1) Divide the following phrase into morphemes.
2) Which morphemes are free and which are bound in the sentence above? Identify the roots, stems and affixes.
3) Based on that same sentence, how would you classify English (among the types of languages introduced above)?
4) English speakers may talk about many books (with an [s] sound) but many songs (with a [z] sound). What is the relationship between the suffix pronounced [s] and the suffix pronounced [z]?
The grammar of nouns
Words that provide labels and names for people, things and concepts are known as nouns. In fact, the term 'noun' comes from the Old French word for 'name'. In this section, we'll examine the various ways languages look at nouns and consider the basic properties of nouns.
Languages may grammatically count how many people or things are being labeled by marking the noun. This property of the noun is known as number. Languages that distinguish singular nouns from plural nouns have two grammatical numbers: singular and plural. Other languages have more grammatical numbers, such as dual (two instances of a noun), collective (when the noun represents a single group) and nullar number (for zero instances of a noun).
|English||a language||some language-s||no language-s|
|Ancient Greek||ποῦς poû-s||πόδε pód-e||πόδες pód-es|
|'a foot' (singular)||'two feet' (dual)||'feet' (plural)|
|Japanese||友 tomo||友達 tomo-dachi|
|'friend(s)' (sing & pl)||'a group of friends' (collective)|
Class & gender
Languages may divide nouns into categories. This property of categorizing nouns is known as class. Class may be related to the meaning of a noun, the form of a noun, or may be largely arbitrary. English does not distinguish noun classes, but check out a few languages that do.
One type of class, or feature similar to class, is noun gender. Languages with noun gender may separate masculine, feminine and neuter nouns. Keep in mind that gender is a grammatical property, and, depending on the language, may not relate to physiology or meaning. In the Kannada examples above, you can start to see that Kannada ties gender to the meaning of nouns (nouns that label females are feminine, while nouns that do not are not feminine). On the other hand, in most Indo-European languages, most feminine nouns label arguably neuter concepts like French la vie 'life' or une maison 'a house' (both feminine nouns). Similarly, languages with masculine nouns do not necessarily insist that a masculine noun is literally male, they only signal that the noun belongs to a specific grammatical category.
|Spanish||el cuarto||la cas-a|
|'the room'||'the house'|
|gender:||(common (masc + fem))||(neuter)|
|'the room'||'the house'|
Languages may mark a noun's use in a sentence, which is called the noun's case. Consider again the place of S (subjects) and O (objects) in a sentence. When a noun is the subject, a language might mark it with the nominative or subject case. When a noun is the object, a language might mark it with the accusative or object case.
|'I lost (the) day.'|
|'(The) day is fleeing.'|
As you can see, Latin clearly marks the subject noun dies with a nominative case suffix and the object noun diem with an accusative case suffix. Recall that affixes aren't the only way to mark - Japanese and Hawaiian mark with separate small words that sit next to the noun. Also, languages may distinguish further cases, such as the genitive (possessive), as in English the dog's bone, or the dative case (for "giving to") seen in Romanian omului 'to the person' and Latin hominī 'to the man'.
Languages may mark case formally like Latin. Alternatively, a language may use periphrasis (the way English translates the Romanian dative case omului with the phrase 'to the person') or word order (the way English places subjects before verbs and objects after instead of marking them with nominative and accusative case).
For convenience, you can list some or all of the forms of a noun in a language, taking note not only of case but of all of the properties introduced above. To give certain forms of a noun is to decline it. For instance, Latin diem is the singular accusative form of the masculine noun dies.
1) Identify the properties marked on the following English nouns:
2) The Latin noun caseus 'cheese' has the nominative case suffix -s like dies above. How would you translate 'I lost the cheese'?
3) The German noun Freundin '(female) friend' is feminine, Freund '(male) friend' is masculine and Mädchen 'girl' is neuter. What can you say about German noun gender based on these few examples?
The grammar of verbs
Very roughly, verbs are action words. Rather than label or name, they state what happens or what is done. Below we will explore grammatical properties of verbs, coupled with examples from languages that explicitly demonstrate those properties in their verbs.
Person, number & gender
Like nouns, verbs can reflect grammatical number and gender. At its core, this is no different from the number and gender introduced when we discussed nouns above.
|'gives' (singular)||'give' (plural)|
|'speaks' (masculine)||'speaks' (feminine)|
Verbs often display another property called person. Don't let the term confuse you - person refers to the level of remove from the speaker. The speaker is the first person, the addressee is the second person and the third person represents others spoken about. Person and number tend to combine to form a full set of persons, which we'll hash out later when we study pronouns.
|Catalan||parlo||'I speak' (1st person singular)|
|parles||'you speak' (2nd person singular)|
|parlem||'we speak' (1st person plural)|
|parleu||'you all speak' (2nd person plural)|
As is true of every property we've seen, some languages have a grammatical way of indicating person, gender & number, while other languages do not. In Japanese, for instance, verbs are not marked for person, number or gender: yomu 'read' can refer to any person, any number and any gender. Likewise, English verbs in the past tense are unmarked when it comes to these properties.
The tense of a verb refers to the time when the action takes place when that time is presented grammatically. Many languages frequently display this information in their verbal morphology.
|'speaks' (present)||'spoke' (past)||'will speak' (future)|
|Japanese||話します hanashimasu||話しました hanashimashita|
|'speaks'/'will speak' (nonpast)||'spoke' (past)|
The verb's aspect refers to the frequency or the duration of an action. This information is grammatically marked in a number of languages. Languages often make a basic distinction between complete one-time actions (called "perfect" from Latin perfectum 'done through' or 'carried out'), and ongoing or incomplete actions (labeled "imperfect"). Other aspects include the progressive (for actions in progress at a given time, as in I was studying) or the frequentative (actions done over and again like keep studying). Crucially, pay attention to the difference between aspect and tense.
|'spoke' (perfective)||'used to speak' (imperfective)|
|'form a wave' (unmarked)||'form ripples' (frequentative)|
Languages may indicate the verb's mood, which is the speaker's manner of construing the action. Common moods may relate facts or declarations (the so-called factitive, realis, indicative or declarative moods), ask questions (the interrogative mood) or make counter-to-fact statements (subjunctive, optative, conditional, irrealis and many other moods). Few languages mark very many moods (English uses "modal verbs" like can or should to stand in for most of these ideas), but languages the world over have a cumulative variety of ways to express mood.
|'you love' (indicative)||'that you may love' (subjunctive)||'love!' (imperative)|
|'(does) read' (affirmative)||'doesn't read' (negative)||'can read' (potential)|
The verb's voice refers to the level of participation in an action. In languages that distinguish formal voice, it is a morphological feature marked on verbs. The active voice involves the direct participation of an actor or agent. The passive voice indicates that the verb's action is done to a participant or "patient".
|'I love' (active)||'I am loved' (passive)|
|'reads' (active)||'is read' (passive)|
1) Identify all of the verb properties reflected in the following English phrases:
2) Break the previous phrases into morphemes. In each case, explain how English represents the properties we discussed.
3) We can list specific forms of verbs in languages that formally mark their verbs, and such a process is called verb conjugation. For which of the following concepts can you conjugate the English verb talk, and which must be represented with periphrasis?
The grammar of pronouns
Pronouns stand in for nouns, often allowing speakers to reference a noun without repeating or explicitly labeling it. As you will see, this doesn't mean that pronouns are entirely dependent on nouns - they hold their own in most sentences without any specific tie to any specific noun. Instead, pronouns may refer back to a noun already mentioned, like in English John installed the patch, and it fixed the problem. Pronouns may also gesture towards a person or thing (or people or things) without refering back to a specific noun, as in they haven't found the gene that explains all of human language.
Person, number & gender revisited
We would expect the fundamentals of pronouns to work a lot like nouns. If you continue to study our syntax and, especially, generative grammar courses, you will learn about the differences between nouns and pronouns. Still, for our basic understanding of smorphology, it's helpful to notice that pronouns often share the properties of number and gender.
|'he' (masculine)||'she' (feminine)|
|'they' (masculine)||'they' (feminine)|
Notice that pronouns tend to mark gender less arbitrarily. English he refers to males, she to females and it to nonhuman or inanimate "neuter" words. In languages like French and Spanish, which distinguish only masculine and feminine gender, the pronoun used for apparently "neuter" words corresponds to the grammatical gender of the noun: French elle means both 'she' for females and 'it' for feminine nouns. Of course, many languages fail to distinguish pronominal gender (the way the same English pronoun you refers to any addressee regardless of gender).
Unlike nouns in most languages, pronouns often distinguish person (although consider examples of languages that mark person on nouns like the Uto-Aztecan languages). Not only does English have a pronoun for a single person being spoken about (3rd person singular (s)he), but it also has a pronoun for the person spoken to (2nd person singular you) and the speaker (1st person singular I).
|'I' (masc & fem)||'you' (masculine)||'he'|
Pronouns may also take the lead of nouns and distinguish grammatical case. English nouns are impoverished when it comes to morphological (formal) case marking, but our pronouns still manage to distinguish case quite clearly: I is used as the subject (nominative case), but me as an object (accusative case). Compare examples case-marked pronouns in Classical Greek and English.
|Ancient Greek||ἐγώ egó||'I' (nominative)|
|ἐμέ emé||'me' (accusative)|
|ἐμοῦ emoû||'of me' (genitive)|
|ἐμοῖ emoî||'to me' (dative)|
1) List the nominative case singular, accusative singular, genitive singular and nominative plural forms of the English second person pronoun.
2) List the same forms of the first person pronoun in English.
3) How many genders does the English third person pronoun reflect in the singular? What about in the plural?.
4) Look at the Arabic data above. For which persons does the Arabic pronoun mark gender, and for which does it not?
The grammar of adjectives
Many languages have words whose primary purpose is description. Words that describe are called adjectives. Examples of adjectives in English include easy in an easy language, and brown and fuzzy in fuzzy, brown dog.
The way adjectives work
Not all languages have adjectives. Among languages with adjectives, two general trends appear. Some languages treat adjectives rather like nouns. Latin adjectives decline for gender, number and case: bon-us 'good' (masculine nominative singular) but bon-arum 'of the good (ones)' (feminine genitive plural).
Other languages treat adjectives more like verbs. More specifically, adjectives in such languages act like stative verbs, because they indicate states like 'be sad' or 'is ready'. Compare some examples from Japanese, which has both noun-like and verb-like adjectives.
|Japanese||可愛い本屋 kawaii hon'ya||本屋は可愛い。 hon'ya wa kawaii|
|'(a) cute bookstore'||'the bookstore is cute'|
|熱い! atsui!||熱いです atsui desu!|
|'(It) is hot!'||'(It) is hot!'|
A last point to consider is that many languages have productive ways of forming adjectives. For instance, adjectives may be formed from verbs, and in this vein participles represent an adjective-like or noun-like form of a verb. English derives participles through affixation: the present participle morpheme -ing is suffixed to sing in the phrase the singing parrot.
1) Do English adjectives work more like nouns or verbs? Give some examples and defend your position.
2) I mentioned that Latin adjectives decline for number and gender. Attempt to explain the role of number and gender could play in forming an adjective. Start with this basic question: to what would the number and gender of, say, a feminine singular adjective refer?
The grammar of particles
Particles are usually small, invariable words that play a grammatical function but have little content. The English words and, to, well, if may be classified as particles.
Types of particles
Many particles have a fixed place next to a word that they clearly relate to, and such words are known as adpositions (from a Latin word meaning roughly 'situated towards'). The fixed place of an adposition may be in front of another word, in which case the word is a preposition. The English word to in to the beach is a preposition, but so is the Maori object case marker i in te kōrero i te reo (the speaking object the language) 'speaking the language' (where reo 'language' is marked as object). Likewise, adpositions placed after a word are known as postpositions, such as the Japanese object marker wo in 本を読む hon wo yomu (book object read) 'to read the book' (where 本 hon 'book' is marked as object).
Particles that specify nouns are commonly known as articles. The definite articles specify a certain noun, such as English the in the language of the Romans. The indefinite article specifies one instance or some instances of a noun, such as a and some in a language of some tribes. Not all languages have articles, and some have one type but not the other - Irish has singular definite article an and plural na only, while Latin, Russian and Chinese have no articles whatsoever.
Particles may instead relate to entire phrases. Conjunctions link words or phrases, and include words like English and in burgers and fries or Latin sed in fide sed qui vide 'trust but watch whom (you trust)'.
Many particles simply express an emotion. Such emotive words are known as interjections, and include words like French aïe ! 'ouch!', bof ! 'shrug!' and hélas ! 'alas!'.
1) Identify and list three English examples containing prepositions.
2) What are the similarities between postpositions and suffixes? What are the differences?
3) List three conjunctions and three interjections not mentioned above.
Putting words together
For the most part, the properties we examined in the previous sections all applied to individual words. We briefly dissected the various parts of speech and considered the kinds of grammatical properties individual morphemes may display. In this last section, we will take a look at the kinds of relationships that link words but still have some morphological impact on individual words.
When one word describes or qualifies another word, the former is known as a modifier. We've already learned about adjectives, which modify nouns. Another class of words tends to modify verbs, earning them the name adverbs. The Italian adjective buono 'good' modifies the noun giorno 'day' in un buon giorno 'a good day' while the adverb bene 'well' modifies the verb parlare 'speak' in io non so parlare bene 'I don't know (how) to speak well'.
When two words must share the same properties, they agree with one another. For instance, we've noticed that both nouns and verbs may mark grammatical number, like singular and plural in English. Crucially, the verb doesn't mark grammatical number in isolation from other words - the verb's number must agree with the number of the subject noun (not the object or some other word!).
|English||My friend-0 speak-s many languages.||Your friend-s speak-0 one language.|
|(singular noun + singular verb + plural object)||(plural noun + plural verb + singular object)|
Languages often have some explicit way of marking possession, a tight relationship between two words which often asserts a kind of ownership. English nouns and pronouns both mark possession outright. Singular nouns add the suffix -'s (like John's or the car), while pronouns take a different form (like mine for I). Pronoun-derived possessive adjectives like my allow us to construct a pronominal parallel to "apostrophe s" statements: John's book or his book.
When we discussed cases, you learned about the genitive case. Languages that have a genitive case tend to use that case to show possession, as in Latin pil-a puer-i (ball-nominative boy-genitive) 'the boy's ball'. Languages may instead show possession using periphrasis, as most of the Romance languages do: compare Italian il libro di Anna, Portuguese o livro de Ana or colloquial Romanian cartea de Ană, all meaning (the book of Anna) 'Anne's book'.
When one word must comply with a certain property because of another, the second word is said to govern the former. This traditional definition is best seen through examples. In the sentence the dog saw me, the first person pronoun must be put into the accusative case to be used as the object of the verb see. The classical way of talking about this situation is to state that the verb see governs the accusative case.
Notice a key difference between this definition of government and our definition of agreement. When two words agree, they share the same form of the same property. When one word governs another, the governed word alone must comply with a grammatical property (the word see from our previous example never takes the property of "object case").
Some verbs take accusative objects, while others do not. Verbs that take such "direct objects" are transitive, while those that do not are intransitive. The transitive verb see takes a direct object (consider again the dog sees me). The intransitive verb go does not (we cannot say "the dog goes me").
Keep in mind that this treatment of transitivity is far too basic to account for the more complex issues that arise in syntax.
Topic and focus
Topicalization brings one element to the forefront of a sentence, making it the topic of that sentence. This often involves periphrasis, movement or both. Yet many languages explicitly mark topics with an affix or a particle, as seen in these Japanese examples.
|Japanese||本は私のです。 hon wa watashi no desu||私は本が好きです。 watashi wa hon ga suki desu|
|(book topic I genitive is)||(I topic book subject like is)|
|'The book is mine.' ('As for the book, it is mine.')||'I like the book.' ('As for me, the book is a like.')|
The focus (or comment) relates to information presented in the topic (or other previous information if the sentence has no topic). In English, focus may be brought to the surface by emphasis or periphrasis (consider John was the one she told or she told JOHN as answers to the question who did she tell?). In the Japanese examples above, we can clearly separate the topic from the focus (topic: hon wa versus comment: watashi no desu).
1) Is the verb keep transitive or intransitive? Use the concept of government to explain how you know this, and give an example.
2) Spanish speakers may optionally topicalize material in existential statements like para los viajeros no hay manera de llegar (for the travelers not there's way of arrive) 'there's no way for the travelers to get there'. What is the topic and what is the focus of that sentence? How might you replicate the topicalization in the English translation?
3) I mentioned that English has a set of pronoun-derived possessive adjectives like my and our. Besides possession, what is the relationship between possessive adjective and the noun possessed?
Final observations & FAQ
Why do you focus so much on words, pieces of words and parts of speech? I'm more interested in the linguistic perspective on sounds and pronunciation (or in the linguistic perspective on phrases, clauses and sentences).
This is a basic linguistic introduction to parts of words and grammatical categories words belong to. We spent only a brief amount of time considering what happens when we put words together, and never really discussed pronunciation. I highly recommend that you study all of these topics, but you may read the intro to IPA & phonetics on this site, and then move on to phonology. Alternatively, this introduction equips you to study larger and more complex chunks of language in our intro to syntax. Follow the link to see all of the nativlang.com linguistics courses for language learners.
You didn't discuss some topics relevant to morphology, such as typology, lexis or morphosyntax. How can I learn about those?
Well, I have a question for you: are you a linguist or just a language nerd? But, speaking seriously, this introduction touches on some of the material at the core of traditional understandings of morphology. Also, this course is tailored especially to language learners who need to extract practical information from linguistics rather than dive deep into the theory. That said, I will treat every one of those topics in future courses. First be sure to master the fundamentals in this lesson, then climb the linguistic & intellectual ladder to those topics.
I took your course on IPA/introductory phonetics, and noticed the parallel between phoneme/allophone and morpheme/allomorph. Is this a recurring theme in linguistics?
Put simply, yes it is. Using the grammar you learned above, you can see that -eme and allo- are both derivational morphemes. These are affixed to roots like phone (sound) and morph (form) to represent general underlying concepts speakers have in their heads (-eme) versus a particular output or variant (allo-).
Answers to the practice exercises
Practice Exercise (Morphemes & Allomorphs)
1) I read-0 the book-'s end-ing but it still does-n't make sense. (15 total counting a zero morpheme on read to indicate the past)
2) pre-, -'s & -n't are bound; all others are free. The only complex words are book's (root: book, suffix: -'s), (root: end, suffix: -ing, stem: ending) and doesn't (root: does, suffix: -n't).
3) The sentence shows some analytic tendencies (many single-morpheme words), yet also synthetic tendencies (fusional when it adds -'s, but arguably agglutinative in the case of the addition of pre- and -n't). In other words, it's hard to say.
4) [s] and [z] are both allomorphs of the same morpheme /s/ (the plural marker).
Practice Exercise (Nouns)
1) language: singular number, nominative/subject & accusative/object case; language's: singular, genitive/possessive case; languages: plural, nominative/accusative; languages': plural, genitive/possessive. All are unmarked when it comes to gender/class. You may also argue that language and languages unmarked when it comes to case.
2) This answer can be derived through a simple analogy: dies is to diem perdidi as caseus is to caseum perdidi (I lost the cheese).
3) First, German nouns have grammatical gender. There are at least three genders (and only three if this data is comprehensive): masculine, feminine and neuter. It seems that there is some relation between meaning and gender - some nouns that refer to females are feminine, and some nouns that refer to males are masculine. On the other hand, the relation between meaning and gender must, in some cases, be arbitrary (how else can we explain the neuter Mädchen). If -in turns out to be a feminine suffix (which would explain the pair Freund/Freundin), there is a clear correlation between form and gender in at least this example (although we'd need further examples to prove this claim).
Practice Exercise (Verbs)
1) is reading: third person, singular number, present tense, progressive aspect, indicative mood, active voice; stopped: unmarked for person & number, past tense, perspective aspect, indicative mood, active voice; do know: unmarked for person & number, present tense, imperfective aspect, interrogative mood, active voice; was made: third person, singular number, past tense, perfective aspect, progressive aspect, indicative mood, passive voice; must leave: unmarked for person, number, tense & aspect, optative mood (debatable), active voice
2) is read-ing (derivational suffix + periphrasis); stop(p)-ed (marking by inflexion, specifically suffixation); do know (periphrasis & word order); was made (inflexion of was, derivation in the case of made, periphrasis using the verb + participle); must leave (periphrasis).
3) talked, used to talk (periphrasis), is talking (periphrasis), talks.
Practice Exercise (Pronouns)
1) you, you, your, you (or, for some speakers, you all / y'all)
2) I, me, mine, we
3) Arabic second and third person pronouns distinguish gender, while the first person singular does not.
Practice Exercise (Adjectives)
1) The adjective occurs next to the noun it describes in English: the green book. A separate linking verb (or copula) is required when it describes a state: the book is green. Further, a number of English adjectives are derived from nouns, and vice-versa: the derivational affix -y forms the adjective sunny from the noun sun, and the derivational affix -ness forms a noun happiness from the adjective happy. This all suggests that English adjectives work more like nouns. On the other hand, adjectives derived from verbs (called participles) like learned in the learned student suggest that there is some connection between adjectives and verbs, too.
2) In Latin, an adjective takes the gender and the number of the noun it describes. The noun described and the adjective must agree in number and gender. Agreement is discussed in more detail in the section Putting Words Together.
Practice Exercise (Particles)
1) For example: to you, for you, without you.
2) Postpositions and suffixes both occur after the morpheme to which they relate. Also, both may carry grammatical information concerning the morpheme to which they relate. However, postpositions are considered separate words, while suffixes attach to the morphemes to which they relate.
3) Answers will vary.
Practice Exercise (Relationships between words)
1) The verb keep is transitive, since it clearly governs an object case noun or pronoun: don't keep him in a cage.
2) Topic: para los viajeros; focus: no hay manera de llegar. For example: The travelers, there is no way for them to get there.
3) Possessive adjectives act as modifiers (they modify the nouns they describe).
Further resources & about the author
Refer to the menus on the right side of this page for a few handpicked, recommended resources. These include websites, books & other learning materials to help you learn about morphology.
The author of this guide has written books on linguistics and language learning, including Native Grammar: How Languages Work.