Difference Between Morphology and Syntax

Main Difference – Morphology vs Syntax

Linguistics is the study of language and its structure. Morphology and syntax are two major subdisciplines in the field of linguistics. Other subdisciplines of linguistics include phonetics, phonology, semantics, and pragmatics. Syntax is the study of the formation of sentences and morphology is the study of the formation of words. The final aim of both these fields is to study how meaning is produced in language. The main difference between morphology and syntax is that morphology studies how words are formed whereas syntax studies how sentences are formed. In this article, we’ll look at these fields in more detail.

This article covers,

1. What is Morphology

2. Types of Morphemes

2. What is Syntax

3. Difference Between Morphology and SyntaxDifference Between Morphology and Syntax - infographic


What is Morphology

Morphology is another important subdiscipline of linguistics. Morphology studies the structure of words. It specifically examines how words are formed by putting together morphemes. A morpheme is the smallest grammatical and meaningful unit of a language. Different languages have different morphemes and different rules about the formation of words.

Types of Morphemes

Morphemes can be divided into two basic categories called free morphemes and bound morphemes. A free morpheme is a meaningful unit that can stand alone as a word. In other words, it is a word made up of only one morpheme. For example;

mat, trust, slow, cat, old, fast, bring, man

A bound morpheme is a morpheme that cannot stand alone; it is always bound to another morpheme.  Thus, a bound morpheme has no meaning on its own. For example;

slowly, talked, unthankful, blackish

Bound morphemes attached to the front of a word are called prefixes (distaste, untrue, etc.) and bound morphemes attached to the back of a word are called suffixes (valuable, sexual, etc.).

Bound Morphemes can be divided further into two categories called derivational and inflectional morphemes. Derivational morphemes are morphemes that are added to the base form of a word to create a new word. 

 Example 1:

Able ⇒ Ability

(adjective)  → (noun)

Send ⇒ Sender

(verb)→ (noun)

Example 2:

Use⇒ Misuse

Stable ⇒ Unstable

(Meaning is totally changed.)

As seen from these examples, adding a derivational morpheme will change either the meaning or the class of the word.

Inflectional morphemes are a type of bound morphemes that do not cause a change in the meaning or word class: they serve as grammatical markers and indicate some grammatical information about a word.

Laughed –Past Tense

cats  – Plural

Swimming  ProgressiveDifference Between Morphology and Syntax

What is Syntax?

Syntax is a discipline of linguistics that studies the structure of sentence. Syntax is the study of rules, principles, and processes that govern the structure of sentences in any language. It pays attention to components such as word order, agreement, and the hierarchical structure of language. The meaning of any sentence in any language depends on the syntax.

For example, the sentences in the English language often formed by following a subject with a verb and the direct object. It is the positions of these words that convey the subject-object relationship. Look at the following sentences.

The cat ate the mouse.

The mouse ate the cat.

These two sentences convey two different meanings although they contain the exact same words. It is the word order of the sentences that affect the meaning of these two sentences.

The parts of a language are divided into different syntactic categories. Most sentences can be divided into two sections called subject and predicate. These two parts are also made of different words. Syntactical classes of words are known as parts of speech.

Main Difference - Morphology vs Syntax

S= Sentence, NP= Noun Phrase, VP= Verb Phrase, D= Determiner, N= Noun, V= Verb


Difference Between Morphology and Syntax


Morphology: Morphology studies the structure of words.

Syntax: Syntax studies the structure of sentences.

Smallest Unit

Morphology: Morphemes are the smallest units in morphology.

Syntax: Words are the smallest unit in syntax.


Morphology: Morphology studies how words are formed.

Syntax: Syntax  studies the word order and agreement

Image Courtesy: 

“Major levels of linguistic structure” By  James J. Thomas and Kristin A. Cook (Ed.)derivative work: McSush (talk) – Major_levels_of_linguistic_structure.jpg, (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

“Basic English syntax tree” Generated using Ironcreek.net for the Generative grammar article.(Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia 

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.