Difference Between Morphology and Syntax (with Table)

The difference between morphology and syntax is the functionality served by each of these terms in the linguistic system. While morphology deals with the framework of rules to study meanings created by words in a linguistic system, syntax refers to the rules that govern the formation of grammatically correct sentences.

Hence, we can say that the former deals with the way words are structured and formed, while the latter is dedicated to a focused study of the structure of sentences within a given linguistic system.

Syntax relates to the rules that guide the formation of sentences in a particular linguistic order. Morphology exclusively pertains to the study of the structure of words and the related norms of word formation in a given language.

Comparison Table Between Morphology and Syntax

Parameters of ComparisonMorphologySyntax
DefinitionMorphology refers to the rules of studying the formation of words in a linguistic system.Syntax refers to the comprehensive set of rules for studying sentence formation in a linguistic system.
Area of AnalysisMorphology studies word forms.Syntax studies the formation of sentences by analyzing the constituent words.
Basic Units of StudyMorphemes are the basic units of study.Words are the basic unit of study.
Focus of AnalysisPrefixes and suffixes that alter meanings as well as the overall structure of words.The order of words in a sentence that alter meanings.
RequirementNeeded to effectively understand the meaning of words in a linguistic system.Needed to understand the language appropriately.

What is Morphology?

Morphology is an essential part of linguistic studies. Morphology is defined as the study of words in a given linguistic order. It entails the focused analysis of morphemes as the smallest units of meaning creation in a given sentence. They are responsible for the alteration of meanings of words and hence, need to be analyzed.

Usually, morphemes are of two types- free and bound morphemes. The latter include prefixes and suffixes while the former are simply words that can stand independently in a sentence. Morphology focuses on how people use words and create meanings in a linguistic system. It investigates the overall structure of words to gain this understanding.

Bound morphemes can be subdivided further as derivational and inflectional morphemes. The former changes either the class or meaning of the word upon addition, while the latter does not do either to the existing word, but provides the reader with some valuable grammatical information about the word.

An example of a derivational morpheme:

‘Receive to Receiver’, where the former is a verb and the latter is a noun.

An example of an inflectional morpheme:

Dog to Dogs, where the additional ‘s’ indicates the plurality of the word.

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What is Syntax?

Syntax is an equally significant part of linguistic systems that deals with the rules of forming grammatically correct sentences. It focuses on the order of words used in a sentence to study the structure of a sentence.

This order has an invariable impact on the meaning of any given sentence. These rules must be ardently followed to learn the language as well as frame grammatically correct sentences.

Syntax rules are formed by the interrogation of the relationship between verbs, adjectives, and nouns-i.e. the parts of speech- used in a sentence. The subject-object relationship is ascertained by the rules of syntax.

Examples of syntax rules:

The hunter killed the tiger.

The tiger killed the hunter.

In the above sentences, the subject-object relationship is clearly presented. Although both sentences use the same words, the meaning of both is significantly different. This is because of syntax rules.

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Main Differences Between Morphology and Syntax

  1. The main difference between morphology and syntax is in terms of the meaning of each of these terms and their consequent functionalities in a linguistic system. Morphology is the study of the formation of words in a linguistic system, while syntax refers to the comprehensive system of rules that govern the formation of sentences in a language.
  2. The unit of study under morphology is a morpheme, while in case of syntax the smallest unit of analysis is a word. Morphemes are the smallest units that carry definitive meaning. Hence they become the basis of analysis. As morphemes change the meaning of words, they themselves carry essential meaning.
  3. Morphology focuses on the understanding of the forms of words. Syntax is based on the understanding of the relationship between constituent words used in the sentence.
  4. Morphology analyzes the meaning and formation of words by focusing on their prefixes or suffixes. Syntax focuses on the meaning words form in the sentences that they are used in. It emphasizes upon the order and use of words in sentences.
  5. The rules of syntax need to be learned in order to understand a language appropriately. Morphology is needed to understand the meaning of words in sentences of a given language.

Conclusion

Morphology and syntax are indispensable parts of the grammatical structure of linguistic orders. Both need to be aptly understood to cognize the language appropriately.

People often confuse the two terms, using them interchangeably. However, morphology and syntax are quite different from each other. The meaning, function, focus of analysis for both these terms are different.

Morphology is defined as the study of the structure of words, while syntax is the study of the structure of sentences. The former focuses on the meanings produced by words in varied linguistic systems, while the latter focuses on the meaning of sentences by analyzing the placement and order of words in it.

The basic units of analysis of each also differ. While under morphology, morphemes are the smallest units that contribute to meaning creation in a language, syntax focuses on the constituent words of a sentence to understand the meaning of sentences and their possible alterations.

However, once we have cognized these differences, we also need to understand that in a linguist system both work in an interconnected manner to create semantics. One cannot be used without the other. Both are equally indispensable to learning a language in a grammatically correct manner.

References

  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781405166348.ch8
  2. https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/16064/07491988-MIT.pdf?sequence=2