What is the difference in meaning between "morphology" and "structure"?

Coming from a physics background and being a native German speaker, I tend to use "structure" when describing an internal configuration, and to use "morphology" when describing an overall outer appearance.

I wonder if this distinction is correct? I would like to learn about the difference between the two terms in general, in order to decide when to use which.

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    Are you referring to the terms as they are used in linguistics/grammar, or more generally? Jun 18, 2015 at 8:28
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    I assume you mean linguistics-domain senses. What definitions do you find specifying this domain? Jun 18, 2015 at 8:28
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    What references have you consulted? The nuances of the different usages of the two words should be available in most any dictionary.
    – brasshat
    Jun 18, 2015 at 8:31
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    'I'm looking for a general definition, to decide for one or the other term in different contexts' is self-contradictory. A general definition will rarely be helpful in helping one to decide on individual senses, and certainly not in helping work out idiomatic collocations. A good dictionary will give examples showing which term to use in specific contexts, though I've yet to find one that says " 'contented cows' but not 'satisfied cows' ". Jun 18, 2015 at 14:21
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    Interpreting this as a question for ELU, morphology refers to the internal economy of words (syntax refers to the external economy of words_. Structure, on the other hand, refers to any recognizable regularity or pattern in a system that may be relevant to the functioning of the system; in language, this can be morphological structure, phonetic structure, syntactic structure, semantic structure, or anything else. Jun 18, 2015 at 15:37

1 Answer 1


Morphology in the most general sense means the "study of shape". In most fields and in most situations it's basically the same as studying the structure of something, but occasionally there will be something which has a shape but no apparent structure. For example, here are two galaxies. You can talk about the morphology of both, but only the second has much structure to talk about:

An elliptical galaxy A spiral galaxy

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