Linguistics textbooks on Chinese morphology identify the morpheme (词素/语素) and word (词) as linguistic entities. In addition, they propose a classification system for morphemes (词素/语素) as:

  • 自由 eg. 地 牛 走
  • 不自由 eg. 丰 伟 习

And for words (词) based on their morphological structure as:

  • 单纯词 eg. 地 牛 走
  • 合成词 > 复合 > 联合 eg. 国家 价值
  • 合成词 > 复合 > 偏正 eg. 体验
  • 合成词 > 复合 > 动宾 eg. 管家
  • 合成词 > 复合 > 补充 eg. 熊猫 提高
  • 合成词 > 复合 > 主谓 eg. 口红
  • 合成词 > 附加 > 前 eg. 老虎
  • 合成词 > 附加 > 后 eg. 刀子
  • 合成词 > 重叠 eg. 妈妈

I reference the following linguistics textbook when writing the above classification: 现代汉语 4th edition 上册 by 黄伯荣、廖序东. This title can be accessed on: https://www.scribd.com/document/525117465/现代汉语-增订四版-上册-黄伯荣-廖序东-扫描版-pdf-by-现代汉语-增订四版-上册-黄伯荣-廖序东-扫描版-pdf-Z-lib-org Particularly, please look at Chapter 4.1.2 (pg 216) and 4.1.3 (pg 222): enter image description here

I am also providing screenshots for convenience: on morphological structure of 词 on morphological structure of 词 on 语素

But I cannot seem to find a morphological dictionary or database which lists morphemes and words and provide morphological information on them.

For example, I'd like to look up "国家", and see that it is a "合成词 > 复合 > 联合" I'd also wish to look up a single 字, like 丰, and see that is is a 不自由语素 And even 字 that are not even morphemes, like 葡, and be informed that it is so.

Is there one that does this?

2 Answers 2


I haven't seen any Chinese dictionaries on the market that are ordered by morphemes yet. I think this needs to be seen in the context of the Foreign Chinese Dictionary, as there are many words in modern Chinese that are not formed by the original fixed morpheme rules (e.g. some phonetic words)


The ABC Chinese-English dictionary gives parts of speech and makes the distinction between "free" and "bound" characters. I think this at least partly answers the question.

I have ABC dictionary on my phone as an add-on that I bought in the (free) Pleco dictionary app.

It seems that some characters are "free" in some usages but "bound" in others.

Here's how these categorisations are presented in the ABC dictionary:

As an integral part of our labeling of parts of speech we make a distinction between those which are "free" and those which are "bound" and we further recognize two levels of "boundness". First there are those characters that individually have no meaning of their own (at least in modern Chinese) but require one or more companion characters to form a meaningful word. The characters xī 蟋 and shuài 蟀 separately have no more meaning than English 'cric' and 'ket', but together they represent a word, xīshuai, meaning 'cricket'. In our single-character entries, such characters are neither labeled nor defined but simply followed by a word (occasionally more than one word) in which the given character occurs.

Exhibiting a second level of boundness are those characters which do have meaning of their own, and often carry this meaning into many different compound words, but which do not occur independently as free words in standard modern Chinese (though they may be free words in classical Chinese or in very formal written styles of the language). Examples are nǚ 女 'female' in nǚrén 'woman', nǚháizi 'girl', nǚde 'woman, female', and fùnǚ 'woman, women'; and ²shēng 生 'student' in xuéshēng 'student', nánshēng 'male student', nǚshēng 'female student', and zhàoshēng 'recruit students'. Many characters are bound in some meanings but free in others. For example, ²shēng 生, in addition to being bound in the meaning of 'student', is also bound in its meaning of 'life', as in shēnghuó 'life, livelihood' and shēngsǐ 'life and death'. But in the meaning 'to give birth' or 'to be born' it is a free word, a verb. We label such characters B.F., for 'bound form', when they occur only in compound words; and those that are bound in some meanings and free in others are labeled accordingly in the several sub-definitions within their entries.

(I've put ²shēng rather than 2shēng here, unlike the referenced web page, because I believe that's how ABC dictionary does things, and the referenced web page is missing the correct raised/superscript for the numeral. The explanation for the raised numeral is: "… arrangement is by order of frequency, indicated by a raised number before the transcription, a device adapted from Western lexicographic practice to distinguish homonyms.")

As a student of Chinese I find ABC dictionary to be a very valuable reference work. (I do however have a slight reservation; sometimes they give readings (pronunciations) that aren't given by other dictionaries and that I believe may be slightly doubtful. But I can't give any examples of this at the moment.)

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