Source: An Introduction to Language (10 ed, 2014) by V Fromkin, R Rodman, N Hyams. I already read this.

[p 578:] root = The morpheme that remains when all affixes are stripped from a complex word, e.g., system from un + system + atic + ally

[p 581:] stem = The base to which one or more affixes are attached to create a more complex form that may be another stem or a word; see root, affix.

[p 597:] base = any root or stem to which an affix is attached.

[p 43:] In the preceding example [at the bottom of p 42], system [...] are bases.

I know that the Ancient Greek etymon of 'system' comprises two morphemes, but which the authors never revealed and so to which the authors are not referring.

How does the definition above imply that the English noun 'system' is a base?
'system' has no affix attached!

  • What is the example given at the bottom of p.42?
    – gaeguri
    Jan 5, 2016 at 2:54
  • @gaeguri Please find pg 42 in this PDF.
    – user5306
    Jan 5, 2016 at 3:13
  • The definition of stem in your question seems different from the one given by this sentence on page 42: "When a root morpheme is combined with an affix, it forms a stem." Jan 5, 2016 at 3:48

2 Answers 2


Here is my interpretation of the relevant passage: The noun "system" is not a base in any general sense. The "base" is merely the complementary part to the "affix." To put it as a math equation:

stem - affix = base
base + affix = stem

A base may be a root or a stem, and that root or stem may or may not be able to function as an independent word.

On page 42, we have the following words that are composed of bases and affixes:

  • systematic (composed of the base system + the affix -atic)
  • unsystematic (composed of the base systematic + the affix un-)
  • unsystematical (composed of the base unsystematic + the affix -al)
  • unsystematically (composed of the base unsystematical + the affix -ly)

So the authors are saying that "system" is a base specifically in the context of analyzing the word "systematic," which does have a suffix.


The reply to "How is the English noun 'system' a 'base'?" is that it isn't a base. The noun "system" is derived from the base "system-" by adding a zero suffix for the nominative singular:

"system-" base + "-0" suffix = "system" noun.

Is that confusing? Yes. But to make sense of the account in your text, I think you have to distinguish between the base "system-", which occurs in many derived forms, including the nominative form "system", and the nominative form itself, even though there happens to be no actual affix in this case, in English.

Describing it this way is more useful in other languages with more interesting morphological systems than English's.

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