Difference Between Morpheme and Syllable

Main Difference – Morpheme vs Syllable

Morpheme and syllable represent the smallest units in a word. A morpheme is the smallest morphological unit in a word whereas syllable is the smallest speech sound in a word. Morpheme is related to the meaning and structure of a word while syllable is mainly related to the pronunciation of a word. This is the main difference between morpheme and syllable. Lets’ first look at morphemes and syllables separately before discussing the difference between them.Difference Between Morpheme and Syllable- infographic

What is a Morpheme

A morpheme is the smallest, meaningful, grammatical unit in a language. A morpheme cannot be further divided or analyzed. A morpheme is not identical to a word although some morphemes can act as words.

Morphemes can be classified into two main categories: free morphemes and bound morphemes. A free morpheme is a meaningful unit that can stand alone as a word. Given below are some examples of free morphemes.

bat, trust, talk, cat, old, dog, bring, law

Although all free morphemes are words, not all words are morphemes.

In contrast to free morphemes, bound morphemes cannot stand alone; they are always bound to another morpheme. They have no meaning on their own. The underlined parts in the following words are bound morphemes.






Bound Morphemes are further divided into two categories called derivational and inflectional morphemes. A derivational morpheme is a morpheme that is added to the root or base form of the word to create a new word. Adding a derivational morpheme will change the meaning or the class of the word.

Example 1:

Clear ⇒ Clearance

(verb)  → (noun)

Logic ⇒ Logical

(noun)→ (adjective)

Example 2:

Trust  Distrust

Pure  Impure

(Meaning is totally changed.)

Inflectional morphemes, on the other hand, do not cause a change in the meaning or word class, they merely serve as grammatical markers and indicate some grammatical information about a word.

Talked –Past Tense

dogs  – Plural

Reading  ProgressiveMain Difference - Morpheme vs Syllable

What is a Syllable

A syllable is a single unit of speech. It can be either a whole word or a part of a word. A syllable usually contains a vowel. This vowel is usually called the syllable nucleus. Syllables are phonological building blocks of words. Words can be divided into several categories based on the number of syllables they contain.  Given below are some examples:

Monosyllabic: Words that have only one syllable.

Ex: cat, hat, sky, me, he

Disyllabic: Words that have two syllables.

Ex: water, hotel, poem

Trisyllabic: Words that have three syllables.

Ex: Beautiful, poetry

Polysyllabic: Words that have more than three syllables.

Ex: hippopotamus, misunderstanding

A syllable has two main components: the Onset (O) and Rhyme (R). Onset contains any consonants that precede the nuclear (the vowel), and the Rhyme contains the nuclear (the vowel) as well as any marginal elements (consonants) that might follow it. The Rhyme, therefore, is classified into Nucleus (N), and Coda (Co). The Nucleus represents the “nuclear” or most sonorous element in a syllable. The Coda includes all consonants that follow the nucleus in a syllable.Difference Between Morpheme and Syllable

Difference Between Morpheme and Syllable


Morpheme is a meaningful morphological unit of a language that cannot be further divided.

Syllable is a unit of pronunciation having one vowel sound, with or without surrounding consonants, forming the whole or a part of a word.


Morpheme is related to the meaning and structure of words.

Syllable is related to the pronunciation of words.


Morphemes can be basically divided into two types: free morphemes and bound morphemes.

Syllables can be divided into two parts: onset and rhythm.


A morpheme can sometimes act as a word.

A single syllable can make a word.

 Image Courtesy: 

“Syllable illustration 1″ By Gringer (talk) – w:File:Syllable_illustrations_1.JPG, (Public Domain) via

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.

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