From my basic lay understanding of non-polysynthetic linguistics (and this answer), a word may be either:

  • #1. A single root (or "stem" or "base") morpheme; or
  • #2. One or more affixes combined with a root.

Is there a more specific term for a word of the #2 type? For example, the word "enjoy" would be an instance of that term, but the word "joy" would not.

An existing english.stackexchange question asks almost the same thing, but its answer is that #1 is a root and #2 is a root plus affix(es), which doesn't quite answer my question. I'm looking for a term that specifically means #2.

  • 1
    Derivation or inflection, I'd say Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 18:55
  • 1
    I think this depends on the theoretical framework you're working under or, in some cases, the researcher you're talking to. For instance, I understand base to be a general term for roots and stems, a root to be a free morpheme with no affixation, and a stem to be a root with any combination of affixes attached. Another linguist may very well think of these terms differently, especially if they're working under a different theoretical framework. Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 0:19

4 Answers 4


There are appropriate adjectives, but not nouns: "joy" is monomorphemic, "enjoy" is polymorphemic (under a liberal interpretation of English morphology). Other words like derivation, inflection etc. refer to the morphological process, but not the product of a morphological process (or its lack, in the case of an underived / monomorphemic root). Also note that an answer from English SE is likely to only consider the kinds of morphology found in English, and in many languages, roots are not even words.

  • This is the clearest answer, but jknappen's answer is ideal for any reader looking for more info. Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 0:04

There are several common terms in use, e.g. monomorphemic or simplex words, and polymorphemic or complex words; cf. the screenshot below from The Oxford Handbook of the Word (from the article written by Geert Booij):

enter image description here

Incidentally, I would analyze enjoy as a simplex word, at least synchronically in (Modern) English; see the screenshot above.

  • Also enlighten, lighten, redden, blacken, and soften?
    – jlawler
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 19:34
  • @jlawler redden, blacken, soften: ADJ+en, suffix; lighten (and its derivative enlighten): N+en, suffix.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 20:21
  • The causative/inchoative prefix en- and the causative/inchoative suffix -en are no longer productive. There are lots of -en words, as you note, but there are lots of en- words, too. Here's 18 that start with em-: embalm embargo embark embattled embed embellish embezzle embitter emblazon embody embolden emboss embrace embrasure embroider embroil employ empower. There isn't room for the 51 others that start with en-, like ensure, enforce, engrave, enlist, enroll, and enslave.
    – jlawler
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 2:24
  • @jlawler some of the 51 words you mention are irrelevant, e.g. ensure (en+ADJ); some are somewhat questionable, e.g. OED says enforce and enroll were borrowed as such etc.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 3:59
  • @jlawler also note that I originally wrote "synchronically in (Modern) English" in my answer - cf. yours "The causative/inchoative prefix en- and the causative/inchoative suffix -en are no longer productive" [emphasis mine - A.B.].
    – Alex B.
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 4:01

There is a lot of terminology floating around that.

First, the basics: There are word forms occurring in real life. A word form belongs to a lemma that is a canonical word form relating to some other forms (e.g., for the lemma "have" there are the word forms "have", "having", "has", and "had"). Then, there is a stem that is generated off a word form by cutting some affixes. All those terms relate to basic morphology (there is not a lot of it left in English, other languages have a much richer morphology). Note that one lemma can have several (more or less obviously) related stems, like Latin scribere, scribo, scripsi, scriptum exhibiting three stems (present, perfect, and supine stem).

Morphemes come into play when you consider semantics. Derivational morphology and composition are means of creating word forms (and even stems) containing more than one morpheme. A word form containing only one morpheme is called monomorphemic. With two morphemes, it is dimorphemic and so on. As an opposite of monomorphemic, the term polymorphemic can be used.

You can also put your focus on word formation, than you find that a word is suffixed (only rarely suffigated, has a suffix attached), prefixed (with a prefix), infixed (with an infix), or just affixed (with an unspecified affix).

  • imho bimorphemic is more common than dimorphemic in morphological research.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 20:58
  • 2
    Interesting forms, the ones I'm familiar with are: suffixed, prefixed, infixed, affixed. Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 22:54
  • @GastonÜmlaut you're absolutely right. All those words, suffigated etc. are extremely rare in English, unlike in German or Russian linguistics.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 1:49
  • 1
    @AlexB.: I thought about bimorphemic, too, but than I decided for dimorphemic because it is a Greek-Greek formation while bimorphemic is Latin-Greek. Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 7:07
  • 1
    IMHO this answer covers it but is just missing the actual string polymorphemic. Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 11:57

'Derived words' are also used, especially in the context of functional linguistics. In French, we don't use 'complex words' for the words su/pr/in-ffixed, rather we used 'les mots dérivés'. You'll find different terminology associated with these, but the standard assumption is that 'affected' 'marked' or 'derived' are always the opposite of 'basic form' 'root form', etc.

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