Dictionary.com Word FAQs
What is a word?
A word can be described as combination of vocal sounds, or one such sound, used in a language to express an idea, thing, attribute, or relation - and constituting an ultimate minimal element of speech having a meaning. The term is derived from Proto-Germanic and entered Old English via Beowulf. Though we know what we mean by word as the basic element of language, attempts to really define the concept remain controversial. The concept can be looked at on these levels: phonetic-phonological, orthographic-graphemic, morphological, lexical-semantic, and syntactic. Though the essence is made up of three components: acoustic and semantic identity, morphological stability, and syntactic mobility, the word "word" is still subject to terminological differentiation. Some give up and use morpheme or lexeme instead. A lexeme is a minimal, basic abstract unit of the lexicon which may be realized in different grammatical forms, for example: write, writes, wrote, written. Lexeme is used synonymously for word to denote a lexical unit or element of the vocabulary. Morpheme is often described as a theoretical basic element in structural language (and analogous to phoneme), i.e., the smallest meaningful element of language that cannot be reduced into smaller elements. In particular cases, when it is a root or stem with a meaning, morphemes correspond to the grammatical category word. However, affixes are morphemes but not words.