Base, root, stem

Discussion in 'English Only' started by irene.acler, Jan 17, 2007.

  1. irene.acler Senior Member

    Trento - Italy
    Could you please explain me the difference, if there is, between the terms base, root and stem in linguistics?

    My teacher told me that you use the word root when referring to phrasal verbs, and stem when referring to nouns. Is it correct?

    Thank you in advance for your help.
  2. GregLee Member

    Waimanalo, HI
    English USA
    The terms are used rather fluidly. A word's innermost level of structure is a root, with a base derived from that, a stem derived from a base, and an inflected word form derived from a stem by addition of an inflectional ending. But for a word with a simple structure, a single morpheme remaining after removing an inflection could be called alternatively a base, a root, or a stem. You distinguish as many of these three levels of structure as you need to, depending on the complexity of the word forms you're dealing with.

  3. irene.acler Senior Member

    Trento - Italy
    Ok, thank you for the explanation, GregLee. But could you give me an example, please? Because it's a rather complex topic.
  4. MissFit

    MissFit Senior Member

    Not only is it a complex topic, but the words are used differently by different teachers and students of linguistics. Use them however your teacher instructs you to use them. In a different class or a different situation, you may find that some other teacher uses these words differently.
  5. irene.acler Senior Member

    Trento - Italy
    Ah, that's why GregLee said that my teacher was wrong. So can I use those terms in different ways according to the context as well?
  6. GregLee Member

    Waimanalo, HI
    English USA
    The Yawelmani (California Indian language) verb c'umc'umhun "repeatedly destroyed (it)" is by addition of the inflectional suffix -hin "aorist" to the stem c'umc'um- "repeatedly destroy". This in turn is by reduplication of the base c'um, the reduced base form of the root c'o:m "destroy".

  7. irene.acler Senior Member

    Trento - Italy
    Mmm, quite complex! By the way, many thanks!!
  8. GregLee Member

    Waimanalo, HI
    English USA
    Sure you can. Using the terms is the fastest way to learn how to apply them, provided you're willing to risk criticism. I can't think of any reason to make the distinctions you ask about in discussing English, though.

  9. irene.acler Senior Member

    Trento - Italy
    Well, I asked about that distinction because my book about compounds mentions it, and my teacher as well used those different terms in her lessons about the field of compounding and phrasal verbs.
  10. dreamy76 Senior Member


    I am asking about the definitions of root, base, and stem and are they synonyms?, because some books say they while others say they are not!!

    so it is sort of confusing.

    Many Thanks in advance.

    please correct anything you may find in my thread, I mean if I am writing incorrect English .
  11. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Hi Dreamy. :)

    This really depends on how you are planning to use these words. Does it have to do with sociology? Mathematics? Gardening? Please give us the context.
  12. dreamy76 Senior Member

    Many Thanks for your quick reply. I am studying linguistics. So I am looking for the definitions of these three words in linguistic terms and are they synonyms or not?

    Hope that information help.
  13. Aerio Member

    English, Polish
  14. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Good work, Aerio! :thumbsup:

    I am merging this thread with that one.

  15. dreamy76 Senior Member

    concerning the other thread, the answer is not very accurate!!.
  16. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    The element of word structure without any inflections is known as the stem. Therefore, the stem of singing is sing; the stem of stronger is strong; the stem of abandoned is abandon; the stem of donkeys is donkey.

    The root, on the other hand, is the base form of a word which cannot be further analysed without loss of the word’s identity. This does not relate to inflections but to word formation. For example, characterisation is derived from the verb characterise, which itself is derived from a noun character. Therefore the root of characterisation is character.

    The root and base I see as interchangeable terms and relate to word formation. The stem relates to inflections. (I assume you understand the difference between derivational and inflectional affixes.)
  17. dreamy76 Senior Member

    Thanks for your clarification natkretep, but I found an essay saying that roots are often stems

    "Stems are often roots, i.e. atomic (unanalyzable) lexical morphemes, but a stem can also be morphologically complex, as seen with compound words (cf. the compound nouns meat ball or bottle opener) or words with derivational morphemes (cf. the derived verbs black-en or standard-ize). Thus, the stem of the complex English noun [[photo-graph]-er] is photographer and its only other inflected form is the plural photographers."
  18. Transatlantic Member

    srpskohrvatski; English
    I wouldn't equate roots and bases though. All roots can be bases, but not all bases are roots.

    For instance, in the word "playful", you can both say that {PLAY} is the root of the word and that "play" is its base.

    In the word "playfulness", the root is still {PLAY}, but the base is "playful".

    The word "fair play" has two roots, {FAIR} and {PLAY}. The word "bus stop" also has two roots, {BUS} and {STOP}.


    ROOT: The morpheme which lies at the core of a complex word form. Words may have multiple roots.

    BASE: Any form (morpheme or word) which enters a word-formation process which yields a more complex form.


    The term "stem" is reserved for inflectional processes (as mentioned above).

    STEM: A form without any inflectional endings.

    Thus, in the word form "winners", "winner" is the stem. Also, {WIN} is the root.

    If you look at the uninflected form "winner", you might say that {WIN} is the root and (also) that "win" is the base.


    Note: As per linguistic convention, I use curly brackets to indicate that a form is a morpheme.
  19. dreamy76 Senior Member

    So we can not consider them as synonms except for root and base!

    Thanks Transatlantic
  20. Transatlantic Member

    srpskohrvatski; English
    They are often confused, but these are definitely not synonymous terms. The term "root" is a subset of "base". Stems are forms which enter inflectional processes.


    You're welcome. :)
  21. Aardvark01

    Aardvark01 Senior Member

    Midlands, England
    British English (Midlands)
    I thought the base equated to the basic form of a word in use, while the root related to the etymological base, which may or may not still be in use in a given language.

    As a base is the visible part of the tree which meets the ground, so the root is out of sight, below ground, but still providing part of the structure of words in current use in any given language.

    Thus the bases of 'bus stop' are bus and stop, while the roots are 'omnibus' and O.E. -'stoppian' .

    The roots of Hippopatamus are Hippus (horse) and potam-us (of-river) although, in English, we do not use either root word on its own, only in combination with other root words: Meso-potam-ia (between-river-land) Anti-pod-ia (opposite-feet-land)
  22. Transatlantic Member

    srpskohrvatski; English
    I was referring to how these terms are used in synchronic (not diachronic) morphological analysis.

    In historical linguistics, "root" does have the meaning you mention, but historical linguistics is an altogether different field.
  23. dreamy76 Senior Member


    Stem: consists of at least a root.
    It can contain (an) derivational affix(es).
    In inflectional morphology, stem is generally defined as the root+ thematic vowel.

    I have found this definition for stem but with no examples. May anyone provide me with examples for each one to understand them well please?.

    Many Thanks for your help.
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2009
  24. dreamy76 Senior Member


    Another try can we say that those three terms differ according to the views of different teachers of linguistcs and different context.

    Hope this time someone will reply.

    Many Thanks.
  25. crackshell13 New Member

    I've been looking for this kind of a website that focuses on the interaction between linguists and non-linguists.
    Although my reply is a bit late (I saw that the latest post was in January of this year), I'm going to try to help clarify this issue.

    The things that get us confused as to how to tell which is which in the matter of the difference between stem, root, and base is that these terms almost always refer to the same entities, i.e those that are thought to be stems are at the same time bases and roots.

    Let me give an analogy. A person may have different identities, so to speak, in different places. A fellow bar-frequenter will refer to a Michael as "the heavy drinker", his son will refer to the him as "the cool-est dad in the whole world", and his fellow church-goer will call him "A devout man". My point in saying this is that we can refer to the same person using different terms or definitions based on the context from which our analysis depart.
    In my opinion, this is the important thing we must consider when we try to distinguish the three terms. The context.

    That being settled (at least, in my opinion), we can move on to see the context in which each of these terms is used (and I'm afraid I'm just making a repetition here).

    We use stem when we talk of an inflection. In other words, that thing that was there alone before any inflectional affixes are attached to it is called stem. So "work" is the stem of "works" because the formation of works is an example of inflection.
    We use stem when we discuss an affixation, i.e the attaching of any affixes to a unit. In other words, that thing that was there alone before any affixes are attached is called a base.
    So "work" is the base of "worker" just as "work" is the base of "works" because both are examples of affixation.
    A root is the irreducible part of a word, that part that cannot be divided into smaller form. The use of the term root does not have any relation with any context whatsoever. So in the examples above, the root of works, worker, and any other representation of the lexeme WORK is work.

    I think that would be enough for the time being. Sorry for confusion caused by my misusing the words in my explanation. I'm not a native speaker of English.
  26. Tonio_spain Member

    I think stem is not related only with inflection.

    In fact, the Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English says “stem: the core morpheme of a word to which affixes can be added. Saintliness = stem saint + affix –ly + affix –ness”.
    On the other hand, in the Cambridge Grammar of English “stem: refers to the form of a word to which prefixes and suffixes are attached (reduce, untraceable, snowy, captive)”.

    All those examples have derivational affixes.
    So the stem of a word is the core morpheme of a word after every affix has been removed, whether inflectional or derivational.

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