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Grapheme (g) Any sequence of written letters that is usually separated from others by a
space. Postbox is one grapheme and post box is two.
2. Morpheme (j) The smallest unit of meaning.
e.g. the word trees has 2 morphemes; the base word tree and the plural marker s.
- How many morphemes can you find in unhelpful? 3 prefix: un; base word/root/stem: help;
suffix: ful
3. Lexeme/Lexical item/ Lexical unit (b) Any word or phrase that represents an indivisible
unit of meaning.
- How many lexemes do you find in raining heavily? 2
- What about in raining cats and dogs? 1
- How many lexemes do you find in die, expire, pass away, bit the dust, kick the bucket, and
give up the ghost? 1 all of them mean to die
4. Inflection (f) A change in the form of a word (usually by adding word endings) to alter its
grammatical function. For example, the s that is added to nouns to make them plural, and
the -ed that is added to make the past tense of a verb.
- What are the inflections of agree? Agrees, agreed, agreeing
Here are the inflections in English and the grammatical functions they perform:

created, shown

plural of nouns
possessive of nouns
3rd person singular present tense
present participle
past tense
past participle

5. Derivative (a) Changes the word class of a word.

For example, stimulative (adjective) and stimulation (noun) are derivatives of the base word
stimulate (verb).
- What are the derivatives of agree? Agreeable, agreement, agreements, disagree, disagrees,
disagreed, disagreeing, disagreeable, disagreement, disagreements
- Lemma. An abstract unit underlying related word-forms, but it includes only the base word
and its inflections, e.g., bring, brings, bringing, and brought (bring is the base word whereas
brings, bringing and brought are its inflections). What words are included in the lemma
agree? Agree, agrees, agreed, agreeing

6. Word family (c )This term is used to describe a group of related word forms, including
the base word, its inflections and its common derivatives.
- The non-inflected/derived item in the group is called the base word.
- For example, the word family of agree consists of agree, agrees, agreed, agreeing,
agreeable, agreement, agreements, disagree, disagrees, disagreed, disagreeing, disagreeable,
disagreement, disagreements.
Word class. We can classify words according to the roles they play in a sentence. The
following are some common word classes. Can you add some more examples?







Ideally, back, hard, somewhere,

everywhere, hardly


I, all, each, both, anyone, everything,

nothing, myself, mine, who, which


in, on, at, after (of time), because of (of

logic) phrasal preposition

Conjunction (to link two clauses or two


And, yet, so, but, or, if, because

Determiner (a word used at the beginning

of a noun group to determine the reference
of a noun)

A, more (time), two (books), some (books),

this/that/these/those (amount/amounts), his
(face), my (flat) possessive determiner

7. Lexical word (d) Also known as content word, usually with a fairly precise meaning.
Nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs are usually considered as lexical words. See examples
of nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs in the above.
8. Grammatical word (e) Also called function word, a word which has a function rather
than a precise meaning. Conjunctions, determiners, pronouns and prepositions are examples
of grammatical words. Note that it is often difficult to state the meaning of a grammatical
word but for English language learners fortunately there is a limited number of about 300
function words in English. See examples of pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and
determiners in the above.

Multi-word lexical items

Many lexical items consist of more than one grapheme or word form. Usually the
combination has a distinct meaning that is different from its parts. Compounds, phrasal verbs
and idioms are examples of multi-word lexical items.

Examples of compound words are cyberport and restroom.

Phrasal verbs consist of a verb plus another element, usually a preposition or adverb,
to give a compound whose meaning is usually non-transparent. For example, to give
up has nothing to do with the upward direction, but means to stop or abandon an
activity. Similarly, to get dolled up or get tarted up means to dress for a party or other
occasion and to knock off means to finish work.

Examples of idioms, defined as a group of words in a fixed order having a particular

meaning, different from the meanings of each word understood on its own
(Cambridge International Dictionary, 1995) include a piece of cake, a blessing in
disguise, to beat around the bush, to cry over spilt milk, to cut to the chase

Sense and meaning

Often used interchangeably, but sometimes a distinction is made between the statable senses
of words out of context and their variable meanings in context.

Polysemy. Words with more than one sense are polysemous. The different senses of
a word can be thought of as different lexical items or as variations of the same item.
How many senses can you think of for fair (adjective)? Fair meaning reasonable as in
a fair judgment, fair meaning light in color as in a fair complexion

Sense relations. Relations between words (or often the senses of words), such as
synonymy (similarity, e.g. confused and puzzled), antonymy (opposition, e.g. cold
and hot) and hyponymy (membership of a hierarchically organised set, e.g. furniture
and sofa).

Parts of speech
Some words have more than one part of speech. E.g. fair is both an adjective and a noun.
These are often thought of as separate lexical items because they have different or unrelated
Words in general or a set of words. The vocabulary of a language consists of all of its words.
Your vocabulary consists of all the words you know. If you want to use vocabulary to refer to
single words, the term is vocabulary item(s). The term (mental) lexicon is also used to refer
to our knowledge of words and the ways in which it is organized.
We have already come across lexical unit, lexeme and lexicon and you will probably have got
the idea that lex- is the academic word for word. Here are a few more lex words. Lexis (a
Greek word) is often used to refer to words as an object of investigation. Lexicology is the
study of words. Lexicography is the practice of making dictionaries. There is also a word for
the study of dictionary-making (metalexicography) which you probably do not want to know!