The Morpheme 'Pay'

How a Morpheme Can Be Used In English

ESL Morpheme Word Constructions

English words are built in so many different ways and if you wish to choose a career in teaching linguistics then you must understand the fundamentals of how words are put together to foster meaning.  In order to comprehend this concept we need only to look at the smallest unit of meaning within an English word and this is called a morpheme. We will be looking at the smallest unit of meaning “pay” and see how it can take various forms.

Pay As A Prefix

A prefix adds meaning to a word by attaching an affix before a morpheme. Some examples of affixes are sub, auto, super, pre, con, ex, de, trans, retro, micro, per, ad, sur, or en. The morpheme “pay” can add multiple prefixes such as prepay, repay, or auto-pay. Those are just a few of probably more possibilities. You can see a prefix can change the meaning of a word entirely.

Pay As A Suffix

A suffix adds meaning to a word by attaching an affix after a morpheme. Some examples of suffixes are ics, ology, ment, ism, ist, ia, ic, tic, ment and probably many more. We can add “ment” to our smallest unit "pay" to make the word payment. Suffixes change the meaning of words too!

Pay As A Compound Word

Compound words do exactly what you are thinking; they compound two words together to create a different meaning. We can add the word “check” to our original morpheme and create the word “paycheck.”

Pay In An Idiom

Idioms have symbolic meaning that cannot be understood literally as they are expressions understood only by common use. For an idiom to be truly an idiom each word separated within it shouldn’t make sense in its supposed meaning. For example, the idiom “pay an arm and a leg” means to pay a lot. What makes this a true idiom is that the word arm doesn’t mean “a lot” and neither does the word leg, but the idiom “pay and arm and leg” means to pay a lot. It is estimated that there are over 25,000 of these in the English language and many ESL students struggle because there are just too many of them. A student has to be very dedicated to learn or master idioms.

Pay As A Collocation

Collocations are commonly misconstrued to be idioms, but they are not. Collocations are phrases that if separated by individual words would still reflect the meaning of what is trying to be said. For example, ‘pay attention’ is not an idiom because the word pay means to give. Pay attention reflects the literal meaning of give your attention.

If you should be teaching english grammar or teaching ESL it is fundamental to understand meaning within different vocabulary sets. Morphemes will help you get there, yet it is important to point out that morphemes cannot always be used in such broad categories. Sometimes a morpheme will only take a suffix or only take a prefix.