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In different books, I've encountered different examples:

LEAVE - leave, leaves, left, and leaving

TAKE - take, takes, took, taken and taking

BANK- the shore of a river and a particular kind of financial institution

What would we call a lexeme then? Leave, take and bank - thinking about a lexeme in terms of a 'set of grammatical words'?

Or perhaps both the 'base' words and the inflicted forms (or the meanings), which are derived from them?

  • I'm fairly sure that Professor David Crystal coined the term 'lexeme', and included multi-word single-concept signifiers (such as 'ship of the desert' = 'camel', 'put on' = 'don', 'fire engine'). – Edwin Ashworth Sep 26 '16 at 19:44
  • The OED's first citation is from Benjamin Lee Whorf: 1940 Lang., Thought, & Reality (1956) p.160: C. F. Voegelin has accomplished the difficult and signal work of analyzing an immense number of baffling stem compounds of Shawnee into their component lexemes (stems) and other morphemes (formatives). Here's a visual comparison of Lexeme, Phonological Word, and Word-Form, 3 different categories that are often merged in popular speech under the term Word. – John Lawler Sep 26 '16 at 19:55
  • Thank You for your help. Having this information in mind... Will the inflicted forms of a lexeme grammatical words? – user365869 Sep 27 '16 at 11:38
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A lexeme is a lemma (what you called a “'base' word”) plus its inflected forms. In linguistic articles, you often find lexemes displayed as the lemma in small capital letters.

It's also useful to say what a lexeme is not:

  • not derived words that aren't inflections. For example, the lexeme BANK (noun) consists of bank and banks, but not banker. BANKER is a lexeme of its own, consisting of banker and bankers.
  • not necessarily related words. For example, the lexeme GOOD consists of good, better and best. The last two are not derived from good.
  • not a semantic concept. Therefore, “the shore of a river” plus “a particular kind of financial institution” do not comprise the lexeme BANK.
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  • I'm writing a blog post that touches on lexemes and just wanted to say that this is one of the best explanations I've found. Short and to the point. Thanks! – tmthyjames Nov 25 '18 at 19:35
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In a comment, John Lawler wrote:

The OED's first citation is from Benjamin Lee Whorf: 1940 Lang., Thought, & Reality (1956) p.160: C. F. Voegelin has accomplished the difficult and signal work of analyzing an immense number of baffling stem compounds of Shawnee into their component lexemes (stems) and other morphemes (formatives). Here's a visual comparison of Lexeme, Phonological Word, and Word-Form, 3 different categories that are often merged in popular speech under the term Word.

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