Morphology is the component of grammar that builds words out of units of meaning(morphemes) where a morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of language.

Etymology is the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.

I don't see any difference between morphology and etymology. Can somebody help me understand difference with examples! Note:- Following questions seems duplicate but the intent of the question is different from seemingly duplicate question

  • Can you explain in your own words what you think they each mean? The definitions you've provided seem completely different to me and I don't see how they could be thought of as being equivalent at all!
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 10, 2017 at 13:27

2 Answers 2


Etymology was the term used for both concepts up to the early 20th century. Then de Saussure postulated the incompatibility of diachrony and synchrony and nothing was ever the same again.

Etymology is a study of the history of words' form and/or meaning, and history implies diachrony. Thus, the word lord comes from Old English hlafweard "one who guards the loaves". During the centuries the form of this compound word changed (the two parts of the compound merged into a single stem), and also the meaning evolved into something different. The study of such processes is the diachronic analysis.

On the other hand, morphology refers to the word form in synchrony. When we analyse a word into its constitutive parts, such that they are functional within this language and speakers are, possibly, aware of them, we do a synchronic analysis. For example, an average speaker of English knows that landlord is a compound word built from land + lord, or that lords is a plural form of lord built by adding the plural marker -s to the stem. But no speaker would ever know the diachronic origin of the word lord from its Old English prototype, without a specialist training in Linguistics.

Saussure's claim is that above mentioned two approaches to the analysis of language cannot be combined together. You can do either one or the other. In other words, you cannot describe the synchronic grammar of a language making reference to some of its preceding diachronic stages.


Let's give an example:

You may be aware that all kinds of political scandals (especially in the US, like Iran-Contra-gate) are nowadays given names ending in -gate.

From a morphological point of view, -gate is is a suffix denoting "scandal".

From an etymological point of view, -"gate" is derived from the common English word gate (meaning, of course "gate") that is related to other Germanic words like Icelandic gat "hole" and that has outer-Germanic relations as well. It has acquired the meaning scandal rather recently due to the Watergate scandal in 1972 (that got its name from a place name).

You see, that etymology takes much more dimensions of explanation into account: Historical stages of the language, relations to other languages. Morphology is just a description of the present stage of the language.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.