According to Wikipedia,

In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest grammatical unit in a language. In other words, it is the smallest meaningful unit of a language.

By that definition, do you think a compound word like 「外食」 should be considered as a morpheme, or should it be further divided into 「外」 and 「食」 because each of them carry their own meaning?

  • 2
    This sounds like a better question for the linguistics SE.
    – Sjiveru
    Mar 27, 2016 at 22:43
  • I think this sort of question is okay on either site. Some users on Linguistics.SE seem to want questions like this to be on Japanese.SE though, because we have more users with language-specific knowledge here.
    – user1478
    Mar 31, 2016 at 23:46

1 Answer 1


Not sure I should answer this, but it is related to Japanese after all, so I'll go ahead.

So, by definition - no. 外食 is a lexeme that consists of more than one stem. That alone is enough to say that it cannot be a morpheme. To elaborate a bit more, both 外 and 食 are actually unbound morphemes (they appear not only as part of larger words), meaning that it's impossible for a combination of the two to be a single morpheme. One might even go as far as say that there are no bound morphemes in Japanese that have a Kanji writing, though I'm not an expert in Japanese linguistics, so take that statement with a grain of salt. An example of a bound morpheme in Japanese, by the way, would be the な modifier (the one you see in 形容動詞).

  • 2
    Some bound morphemes can be written in kanji. 素{す}- as in 素手{すで}・素足{すあし}・素顔{すがお}・素肌{すはだ} is listed as an example of a bound morpheme in Tsujimura's An Introduction to Japanese Linguistics. Another example would be 飯{はん} in ご飯, which doesn't appear as a word on its own. I think that it might be true that bound inflectional morphemes are generally not written in kanji, though.
    – user1478
    Mar 31, 2016 at 19:05
  • Speaking of 形態素(morpheme), my understanding is 品詞分解(the decomposition part of speech). Though I learned a unit of 語基(base). common morphological analysis tools.metro-bb.com/api/keitaiso 外食する→外食+する ※語基 db3.ninjal.ac.jp/SJL/view.php?h_id=2080840960 外+食
    – nariuji
    Apr 2, 2016 at 21:38

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