Morphotactics is the study of the rules in a language by which morphemes are allowed to combine.

So at least in how I think of if, morphotactics is like grammar, but at the level of morphemes instead of words.

At the level of grammar, we have different categories for different words (e.x. verbs, nouns, preposition, etc...) which inform the rules regulating how words are allowed to combine sentences.

My question is: Are there similar categories that linguists talk about with regard to morphemes?

For instance, what is the name for the class of words in English to which we can append the morpheme "^ation, or "^ize". In my natural language processing course, we used finite state machines and transducers to represent these categories, but I'm wondering if there are principled linguistic names for these categories (rather than just "state 1", "state 2", etc...).

  • 1
    I'm not aware of names for these. The trouble is that they are not natural categories, but are arbitrary and contingent. It's really not predictable that we say transportation but we don't say transportize.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 4, 2023 at 15:52
  • I've certainly seen names used for them, but not standard ones—rather, someone writing a grammar of (say) Inuktitut will come up with names to say "morphemes of this category can attach to morphemes of this category", and those names will be particular to that language (or even that author). Is this the sort of answer you're looking for?
    – Draconis
    Jan 4, 2023 at 17:33
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    Whorf invented the idea of a cryptotype, which was a group of words that had something interesting in common, generally with grammatical consequences. The example I remember was the set of verbs which can take the prefix -un-. Before computer interfaces, this was almost entirely limited to verbs of attaching, enclosing, fastening.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 5, 2023 at 14:19
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    There's the prefix un- meaning "negative", and the prefix un- meaning "do in reverse", like unpack, undo, unfasten. It's unclear whether this distinction is one of un- uses or one of verb class membership. Negatives are always tricky.
    – jlawler
    Jan 5, 2023 at 17:26

1 Answer 1


You could call -ation a deverbal nominalizer (turn a verb into a noun) and -ize a denominal verbalizer (turn a noun into a verb). Keep in mind some of these can be applied to multiple categories, or turn things into multiple categories:

un- can be deadjectival adjectivizer like happy - unhappy, but can also be deverbal verbalizer like do - undo

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