I am a bit confused with the usage of the terms root, lemma and stem. My understanding of the terms are as follows.

  • Root:The central (free) morpheme which has the content to which other bound morphemes are added so as to form a word.

  • Lemma: An inflected form that acts as a head. It represents all the inflected word forms of a given root, when used independently like in a dictionary.

  • Stem: The portion of strings that are common in all the inflections of a word.

I am further confused, when it comes to the derived words. For example, if I am dealing with the inflection 'drivers'. What is the lemma of the word, and what is the `root' of the word?

1 Answer 1


For your English example drivers

  • The lemma is driver
  • The stem is also driver
  • The root is driv

The whole thing is better explained in a language with more inflections, where things become interesting.

Take the Latin verb laudare "to praise"

  • The lemma is (depending on convention) either laudare or laudo "I praise"
  • There are three stems: The present stem lauda, the perfect stem laudav, and the supine stem laudat represented by the principal parts laudare, laudo, laudavi, laudatum
  • The root is just laud without the so-called thematic vowel a
  • The noun laus, laudis "praise" has root and stem laud

Note that the term root is language dependent, for Semitic languages it usually consists of three consonant without any vowels. Also for stems there is some leeway in the definition. Both root and stem are product of the analysis of word forms, and often there is a canonical way of doing this, but sometimes linguists may disagree.

  • The terms that are mentioned in this answer are extremely unconventional and I would even say some are not idiomatic in Anglo-American linguistics. Even though lemma is totally legitimate, lemma in the sense of "lexeme" is used primarily in computational morphology and lexicography. "Theme vowel", on the other hand, is virtually non-existent in Anglo-American linguistics; the usual term is a thematic vowel.
    – Alex B.
    Apr 4, 2018 at 3:19
  • @AlexB. Fixed that. I often translate terminology from my native language and look up whether the translated term exists somewhere. Apr 9, 2018 at 13:58
  • @AlexB. And for lemma, I am indeed doing some corpus linguistics, it is a bread-and-butter term for me. Apr 9, 2018 at 14:00

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