Difference Between Morpheme and Phoneme

Main Difference – Morpheme vs. Phoneme

Morpheme and Phoneme are both smallest units in the language. The main difference between Morpheme and Phoneme is, a morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit in a language while a phoneme is the smallest contrastive unit in the sound system of a language. In addition, morphemes are related to the meaning and structure of the language while phoneme is related to the sound and pronunciation of the language.

What is a Morpheme

A morpheme is the smallest grammatical unit of a language. It is also the smallest meaningful unit in a language. This means that a morpheme cannot be divided into further meaningful units. A word can be a morpheme, but not all morphemes are words. Morphemes can be classified into two categories  as free morphemes and bound morphemes.

Free morphemes are the morphemes that can stand alone, with a specific meaning. Therefore, free morphemes act as words. Some examples for free morphemes include dog, cow, dish, yes, ship, event, run, eat etc. However keep in mind that, not all free morphemes can be considered as words.

Bound morphemes are the morphemes that cannot stand alone. They appear only as parts of words, and when used alone, they do not have a meaning. Most bound morphemes in the English are affixes. They can be used before or after the base word.(Base or a root is a morpheme in a word that gives the word its principle meaning.) The affixes that come before a base are called prefixes. The affixes that come after a base are called suffixes.


Prefix: unhappy, postpone, disbelieve

Suffix: happily, kindness, believableMain Difference - Morpheme vs Phoneme

What is a Phoneme

A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in speech that has a meaning. Phonemes help to differentiate words from one another. Oxford Dictionary defines phoneme as “Any of the perceptually distinct units of sound in a specified language that distinguish one word from another.” For example, bat and mat are two different words because they have two different phonemes /b/ and /m/. In the English language, there are approximately 44 phonemes. Given below are some terms that are useful in studying phonemes.

Allophones:  One of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds or signs used to pronounce a single phoneme in a particular language. This implies that a phoneme can have more than one sound.

Minimal pair: Pair of words or phrases in a particular language that differ in only one phonological element such as phoneme. For example, pin and bin,

Phonemes can be further classified as vowel phonemes and consonant phonemes. Some examples of vowel phonemes include

/e/ – peg, bread

/ear/ – fear, here

/ ue/ -moon, tone

Some examples for consonant phonemes include

/ch/ – chip, watch

/p/ – pit, pin

Note that phonemes are always written inside slashes.

Difference Between Morpheme and Phoneme


Morpheme is the smallest grammatical and meaningful unit in a language.

Phoneme is the smallest contrastive unit in the sound system of a language.


Morpheme is studied in morphology.

Phoneme is studied in phonology.


Morpheme can be a word.

Phonemes make words, but one phoneme cannot make a word.


Morpheme is related to the meaning and structure of the language.

Phoneme is related to the sound and pronunciation of the language.

Difference Between Morpheme and Phoneme

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