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Describing language
Describing language

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4.3 What are the morphemes telling you?

You saw at the start of Section 4 that suffixes (bound morphemes attached to the end of a word) can change the grammatical properties of a word. In this section you’ll take a closer look at this feature of language.

One of the most important morphemes that we can add to nouns in English is -s. (You’ll learn more about nouns next week.) Adding -s to a noun allows you to show that you’re talking about more than one of something:

Singular Plural
House Houses
Table Tables
Tree Trees
Porcupine Porcupines

Some adjustments are made for spelling:

Singular Plural
Tomato Tomatoes
Reply Replies
Church Churches
Knife Knives

But there are only relatively few plurals that don’t follow this general pattern in English, such as:

Singular Plural
Foot Feet
Child Children
Man Men
Mouse Mice

With verbs (which you’ll learn about in Weeks 3 and 4) the most important morpheme is probably -ed. When added to the basic form of the verb, it shows you are referring to the past, not the present: walk > walked, laugh > laughed, watch > watched. This is an important difference, and although there are some irregular verbs (sing > sang, feel > felt) most verbs use the -ed form.

Activity 7 Choose the right form of the word

Timing: This activity should take around 5 minutes
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In 2006 I lived in a flat in the centre of town.

There are lots of cows in the field.

He wants to meet you.

How many children do they have?

That jacket does absolutely nothing for you!

Even if you’ve never heard or morphology before, your knowledge of English will probably have led you to the right answer without much hesitation. If you did choose a different answer, your meaning would probably still be understood by most English speakers, and some adult learners of English do say them.