The adjective "happy" is a free morpheme. And at the same time, it is an adjective which is one of the lexical morphemes. So, can I say that "happy" is (a lexical free morpheme)?
In the same way, can I say for example that the word "the" is (a functional free morpheme) or that the suffix "-ed" is (an inflectional bound morpheme)?

  • Welcome to Linguistics. Since this question is English-specific, you may probably find a better audience for it at English.SE or English Language Learners.SE Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 6:22
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    @bytebuster "Language-specific grammar and usage questions are off-topic unless primarily concerned with linguistics rather than usage." The question is clearly more about linguistic analysis than usage, especially in being extendable to any language, which is why I vote to leave it here. Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 9:24
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    This is a very basic question - was there anything in particular which made you think that you couldn't say happy is a free lexical morpheme?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 14:14

2 Answers 2


I can't really imagine a context where such a description would be useful, since normally you talk either about combinatorial behaviour (free vs bound vs something else) or semantic properties (lexical vs functional vs ...), and now you're kind of jumbling these two parameters up.1
But it's not wrong either, so I guess it would be okay to say.

1 It's also partially redundant because e.g. derivational morphemes are always bound (except there are some very weird language where this isn't the case; in this case feel free to correct me).
Maybe it would sound better if you switched the order and said "bound inflectional morpheme", because the latter implies the former and putting the more specific thing first and as a second description what is already implied anyway (like "inflectional bound") sounds a bit clumsy to my ears. But that's just hair-splitting.


I agree with lemontree that it's mixing up formal and functional properties (which may not always be useful), and that usually, it's probably better to put it in the sequence lemontree mentioned. With that said, I think there is one context where one could possibly say 'free lexical morpheme': To contrast them with bound lexical morphemes, which are present in modern Mandarin as well as other varieties to a lesser extent. For example, the Chinese word for 'happy' contains a free lexical morpheme kuai4 ('fast') and a bound lexical morpheme le4 ('happy').

Also, you should be very careful when calling 'the' a free morpheme. 'The' can only appear with an NP after it, and never in isolation. It is also phonologically unstressed and dependent on the NP. Though it appears to be free in our conservative writing system, in practice it's more like a clitic, and many modern writers prefer to call a spade a spade and refer to it as one.

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