The word preposition. I am trying to break down a series of words into their constituent morphemes and am having trouble with the word 'preposition'. I can obviously see that the 'pre-' is a morpheme in itself. However for 'position' it seems to me that there are a few possibilities. Would it be pos + ition (my first instinct)? Or posit + ion? Posi + tion? Pos + it + ion?

If your instinct tells you one over the others, please explain why? I know that -ition is a suffix, but have read somewhere else that it is made of the affixes -ite and -ion. Are -ite and -ion seperate morphemes also then? Or is '-ition' one morpheme? I know that 'pos-' is a morpheme therefore it's just a case of whether to seperate the '-ition'.

Hopefully someone knows the answer to my question and can explain it to me. Many thanks in advance.

EDIT: I just wanted other peoples' take on it, as the answer I've come up with is pre + pos + ition but I'm pretty sure that's not right.

  • 2
    It's tricky, because the root is Latin pōn-, whose root in perfect forms is pos-. After that, -it- is the affix for the past participle, and -ion- the nominalizing affix (with the -n- dropped in nominative singular). BUT the word came into English without these pieces isolated. Apr 25, 2013 at 12:30
  • What Stoney says; note that, in -it-, the -i- is really a theme vowel, and the actual suffix is -t-.
    – Cerberus
    Apr 25, 2013 at 14:24
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    Couldn't you also argue for the Latin equivalent being "positio", which is constituted from pos-i-tio. "Pos" and "i" are as Stoney and Cerberus said; "tio" is the same morpheme as in oratio ("speech"), derived from ora-re. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/-tio#Latin
    – Aspinea
    Apr 25, 2013 at 16:14
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    But how far back do you want to go? There are morphemes and then there are morphemes -- some are newer than others. For instance, Latin pōn- is a daughter of PIE *apo-, just as English position is a daughter-in-law of Latin pōn-.
    – jlawler
    Apr 25, 2013 at 17:30
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    I suspect that, as far as present-day native speakers of English are concerned, there are two morphemes in 'preposition': 'pre-' and 'position'. I don't think anyone would analyse 'position' as being derived from 'pose' or 'posit' although it undoubtedly has an etymological relationship with those words. Apr 28, 2013 at 8:56

2 Answers 2


The concept of “constituent morphemes” is very problematic in the case of loan words. A loan word like “preposition” is borrowed as a unit. It is not analysable at a synchronic English level. To analyse it you need to retreat to the level of Latin etymology.

  • 1
    Wouldn't a synchronic / diachronic analysis yield differing results regardless of etymology? For example, in a native English speaker's lexicon, the word "Kamikaze" is one morpheme, but to a Japanese speaker it's two. (kami-kaze) Apr 17, 2014 at 7:15
  • 3
    I think that is exactly what I am saying. Or not?
    – fdb
    Apr 17, 2014 at 9:33
  • Perhaps I'm misunderstanding what you said. Are you saying that 'preposition' can't be analyzed at a synchronic level? I was saying that 'preposition' can be analyzed at both of these levels. (For example, despite being derived from Latin/Old French, "pre-" is a productive morpheme in English. Both synchronic and diachronic analyses would divide 'preposition' into different constituencies.) Apr 18, 2014 at 4:46

Question 3 Pre-, -posit (something that is posited) -ion.both pre and ion are constituent or bound morphemes while posit is the base or free morpheme

  • As others here pointed out, I think the key is that it's a Latin loan word that is not completely analysable in English.
    – robert
    May 19, 2014 at 16:02

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