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As a root word or short stem is called in the grammar (and the morphology ) a part of a word, which as a starting point for either word formation and inflection can (morphogenesis) are used. It is therefore a potentially incomplete structure that can appear as a counterpart to an affix . A stem itself can be composed, i.e. already the product of a word formation rule, or it can be an elementary, indivisible unit, i.e. H. a root .


Example: {drink} is a root that can be developed in the following way:

  • as a verbal stem in an inflected verb such as trink-e / trink-st etc., as well as in the infinitive trink-en
  • as a verbal stem for the derivation of a noun such as Trink-er
  • as a verbal stem in a compound noun such as drinking fountain.

Thus, the word composition ( composition ) can be defined as a combination of two stems. In the example of the drinking fountain , the left part, the trunk drinking, is only a trunk that is contained in the compound, not "the trunk of the compound". In the derivation of the word Trink-er, on the other hand, the drinking part is called “the stem” of the entire form, which is only expanded by an affix.

The word formation product drinking fountain can in turn be stem for the inflected form drinking fountain-s (genitive) or be used for further composition, as in drinking fountain cleaning . Likewise, the result of the derivation drinker is in turn a trunk that can be inflected (of the drinker ) or can be used for composition (as in drinker's nose ).

The infinitive (such as trink-en ) also belongs to the inflected forms . Although it is often referred to as the “base form” of a verb, this does not mean that the infinitive in the verb itself is a stem (as seen in the example above).

Definition and variant terms

Trunk and base

The stem as the starting point for the formation of inflected word forms is usually defined as an element that is itself uninflected. Typically, adding a flexion to a stem is done through affixes , but there are also processes that can intervene in its shape.

In contrast to stem , the term base is used in a more general sense to denote any type of element that serves as a counterpart to an affix or to a clitic , e.g. B. also if something is added to an already inflected form. An example is the reflexive form of verbs in Russian , where the reflexive ending -s is added to the personal form:

brejus' = bre - ju - s'
     rasieren- REFL
     „ich rasiere mich“

Here the form breju ("I shave") is the basis for adding the reflexive -s, but breju would not be called a word stem, because such an already inflected form could no longer serve as a starting point for word formation processes ( e.g. the derivation of a noun ).

On the other hand, the concept of the base is more limited in that it only plays a role in affigation and clitization, whereas stems are also used in composition .

Trunk and root

Root is usually a name for an element that cannot be broken down and used as a stem, i.e. a special case of a stem. In some theories the assumption is made that a root does not have to carry a characteristic for a certain part of speech (category characteristic), but only receives this in the course of further morphological or syntactic processing. This assumption can be found in traditional Indo-European studies as well as in modern theories such as distributed morphology . In the case of compound stems, however, the word structure is usually broken down using category features; see the example under head (grammar) #composition .

There are also conceptions according to which the root denotes a deeper level and the stem denotes a more complex level of composition (so that roots can also be composed, but are still differentiated from stems). In other works, the term stem is used sporadically in such a way that its meaning is equated with elementary units, i.e. roots, and complex stems are then referred to as “stem group”.

In the Semitic languages , most words and word derivatives are based on the same three-consonant root. See Radikal (Semitic languages) .

Stem and word

In German, as in many other languages, the form of the stem alone, without further endings, can serve as a word , e.g. B. often with nouns and adjectives: In the expression a drinker , the accusative on the article is marked by an affix -en , but the noun drinker is used unchanged.

The distinction between “stem” and “word” is retained even if both look the same, because it is also about the function of the unit in question. “Trunk” is a term that occurs in rules of word structure ( morphological rules ), whereas syntactic rules, according to the widespread view, only have access to self-contained “words”, not to stems. In the example above, drinker becomes a word because in the context of the sentence ( ... a drinker ... ) the attribute "accusative" must be ascribed to him.

The interplay between morphology and syntax is seen differently in different grammar theories. There are also concepts with more abstract syntax rules that can refer directly to parts of words; one example is distributed morphology .

Strain change and morphological rules

If a stem shows changes in a further derivation, in German for example the vowel change in ablaut and umlaut , there are different possibilities of analysis.

Assuming, for example, that a plural is marked by two operations called affixing and vowel change, the stem of the inflected word form dreams ( nominative plural ) is the same form as for the singular, namely dream ; the form dream then only arises through a morphological rule that globally intervenes in the shape of the trunk when the plural is formed.

If one does not want to accept such rules, but only want to explain word forms from a concatenation of elements (i.e. morphing ), one must in this case use two variants of the stem in the lexicon, namely [1] dream and [2] dream . Morphological rules would then dictate which of the two stem variants must be chosen; so z. B. the rule of plural formation on -e then the form: Stamm2 __- e (ie " -e requires Stamm2"). So in this case there is allomorphism of stems (not just affixes).

See also


  • Laurie Bauer: Introducing Linguistic Morphology. 2nd edition. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 2003, ISBN 0-7486-1705-1 .
  • Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics. 3rd, updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 .
  • Peter Eisenberg : Outline of the German grammar. Volume 1: The Word. 3rd revised edition. Metzler, Stuttgart a. a. 2006, ISBN 3-476-02160-2 .
  • Helmut Glück (Ed.), With the collaboration of Friederike Schmöe : Metzler-Lexikon Sprache. 3rd, revised edition. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2005, ISBN 3-476-02056-8 .
  • Joachim Mugdan: Morphological Units. In: RE Asher (Ed.): The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Volume 5: Maa to Oxf. Pergamon Press, Oxford et al. 1994, ISBN 0-08-035943-4 , pp. 2543-2553.
  • Richard Wiese: The Phonology of German . Oxford University Press, 1996. (Chapter 5: Aspects of lexical phonology and morphology )

Web links

Wiktionary: Stem  - explanations of meanings, origins of words, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Duden: The grammar. 8th edition. 2009, p. 652.
  2. trunk vs. Base directly juxtaposed in: Francis Katamba, John Stonham: Morphology . Second edition. Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2006, p. 46.
  3. See for the latter: David Embick & Rolf Noyer: Distributed Morphology. In: Gillian Ramchand & Charles Reiss (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Interfaces. Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. 289-324. See in particular p. 295.
  4. Wiese (1996), p. 129f.
  5. ^ Eisenberg (1998)