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oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
stem - (grammar) the main part of a word that stays the same when endings are added to it:
(1) ‘Writ’ is the stem of the forms ‘writes’, ‘writing’ and ‘written’.

Based on this definition, can I say:
(2) "Writ" is the stem of "write".
(3) "D" is the stem of "die", "dies", "died" and "dying".

Also:
Is it correct the words "die" and "dying" have the same root?
If the answer is "yes", is their root the "d"?
If the answer is "no", then why not?

3 Answers 3

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You are taking an overly literal view of the word "stem", and not taking account of 1) the fact that English is a germanic language and has "strong" verbs and nouns, and 2) that English spelling is often odd.

The notion of "stem" works best in Latin and related languages. In those languages all words that change in form change at the end of the word, with the start of the word remaining the same. Check a Latin grammar for examples.

In English many words change in the middle:

Sing - Sings - Sang - Sung - Singing

This is a strong verb, and the vowel changes quality instead of changing the end of the word.

Write - Writes - Wrote - Written - Writing

That is another strong verb. The example from Oxford is particular bad. The verb "write" does not conjugate on a stem+endings rule.

The root should be identifed with the infinitive form "write". You observe that there is "write + s → writes and "write + en → written" (with a spelling change) and "write + ing → writing" again with a spelling change. But the past tense is not formed by adding an affix, instead it is formed by changing the vowel "write → wrote". Nevertheless. the root form is write.

Only with weak verbs

Play - Plays - Played - Played - Playing

Does it make sense to talk about a stem (play) and endings. In some verbs, however, there are spelling changes

Die - Dies - Died - Died - Dying

The -ed ending has merged with the last letter of the stem (which is silent), and the vowel has changed its spelling to "y" to avoid a double "i" (which is considered problematic for no logical reason)

The best analysis here would be the stem of this weak verb is "die", with the endings -s -ed -ed -ing, and some spelling changes.

The stem of such verbs can be always identified with the "bare infinitive form".

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A stem is the part of the spelling of the root that remains after adding prefixes or suffixes to it. It represents the grammatical root meaning that all the other related words are derived from. So yes, "writ" is the stem of "write".

The letter "d" is just a letter. You cannot inflect or decline it to get a family of words. "Die" is the stem of "dies", "died" and "dying". In the case of "dying", this is in irregular application of the suffix "-ing". The spelling changes only because in English, "ii" looks wrong.

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  • There is an analogy between "write" and "die": they both have the letter "e" at the end. Also, "writing" and "dying" both don't have the letter "e" at the end. Therefore, if the stem of "writing" is "writ" (without the "e"), then, by the same logic, the stem of "dying" can't be "die" (with the "e"). That is, the stem of "dying" mustn't contain the "e" either. Do you agree? Thanks.
    – Loviii
    Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 14:45
  • @Loviii There's at least two ways to look at it. You could say that the root of "die" is "di", and that "dying" is just an unconventional spelling. Another take is that "writ" is a word, and also the root of "write", but as "di" isn't a word, "write" and "die" cannot be directly compared. Any English speaker would recognize "writ" as the root of "write", but maybe none would recognize "di" as English at all. That's why I'm hesitant to agree.
    – gotube
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 1:06
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Based on the two answers I got, I also want to try to answer my own question.


Using only the vocabulary of modern English, it makes sense to talk about a root, stem and base only when a root doesn’t change its spelling.

It looks normal if we do a morphological parse of a word with an unchanging root:

  • the root and the stem of “play”, “plays”, “played”, “playing” are “play”

But it looks strange if we do a morphological parse of a word with a changing root:

  • the root of “write” and “writes” is “write
    the root of “writing” is ”writ”
    the stem of “write”, “writes” and “writing” is “writ”
    the root of “wrote” is “wrote”
    the stem of “wrote”, I think, can’t exist because we can't add any inflectional suffixes to “wrote”
    the root and the stem of “written”, I think they both may be considered:
    – either “writt”
    – or “writ”, making allowances for the irregular addition of the suffix "en" when consonants are doubled

  • the root of “die” and “dies” is “die”
    the root of “died” is “di”
    the stem of “die”, “dies”, “died” is “di”
    the root of “dying” is “dy”
    the stem of “dying”, I think, may be considered
    – either “dy”
    – or “di”, making allowances for the irregular addition of the suffix "ing" when "i" is replaced with "y" because in English, "ii" looks wrong

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  • No. The root should be identifed with the bare infinitve form. With the observation that some verbs include spelling changes, and some don't follow "stem+affix" patterns. So the root of [write writes writing written wrote"| is "write" (with spelling changes and noting that "wrote" is not formed from a root). The root of [die died dies dying] is "die" withs some spelling changes.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 22:45

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