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Understanding the Meaning of Words: Understand Morphemes to Learn More Words Faster

Updated on February 14, 2014
there is seemingly a limitless amount of words in English- some sources say around 600,000 distinct words
there is seemingly a limitless amount of words in English- some sources say around 600,000 distinct words | Source

Introduction

Some people are very adept at learning narrow skills, understanding a few areas in depth; Others seek a breadth of skills, immersing themselves in a broad range of areas. I am definitely the latter. My interest vary wildly from growing my own garlic in my back yard to boxing at a local gym on the weekends. Having to divide my attention several times a week between yard work, workouts, or whatever else catches my interest each week, I revel in anything that make my time more efficient

I realized during my studies in the Spanish language and linguistics (other hobbies of mine) that there is a very efficient shortcut to learning and understanding new words-learn morphemes.

understanding morphemes

But what is a morpheme? well, simply put, it is the way that we change words, by adding extra syllables, in order to change the words' meanings (this is not exactly the case, but for the scope of this page, it is sufficient). Don't fret, everybody knows what morphemes are, whether they are consciously aware of it. Let's look at the following examples:

(S1) I am not aware vs. I am UNaware

(S2) I play soccer vs. I am playING soccer

(S3) there is one apple vs. there are two appleS

The first two sentences in (S1) are almost identical in meaning because the prefix un- means 'not'. In the second sentence (S2) The word play is a verb that tells the reader what the person does with soccer, but when -ing is added, it tells the reader that the action is currently happening. And the third sentence (S3) shows how the 's' in apples signifies more than one apple

Using morphemes to learn new words

But of course you already knew that. What you may not be aware of is the power of morphemes to learn new words. These rules can be used to decipher newly encountered words like unquavering.

While unquavering is almost certainly a word people are not familiar with, it is safe to assume, like (S1) and (S2) above, that it can be broken down as such:

Un + quaver + ing

So Unquavering most likely means to not quaver, and the action is ongoing. This is in fact correct. Unquavering is the adjective form of the word quaver, as in the sentence, "his voice was unquavering". This knowledge allows a person to look up the word quaver, instead of the word unquavering, and learn all of its related forms at the same time. This strategy will add at least 5 now words to your mental dictionary, like:

quaver
quaverer
quaverous
quavering
unquavering

Top 10 really useful English prefixes

The following is a list of 10 common English prefixes and their meanings. Knowing these 10 prefixes will help to greatly expand your vocabulary. learn them and apply them to unfamiliar words.

Un- Not, opposite

de- take something away, the opposite

re- again, repeatedly

a- not, without

bio- life

pre- before

dis- reverse, opposite

pro- for, in favor of

phila- love of

con- with, together


Good luck expanding your vocabulary! Please comment!

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