Morphology and Math

Many students struggle to master basic math terminology. Morphology, however, will reduce confusion and aid students in understanding the meaning of the terms.

Today we will look at a few common math terms that students commonly confuse and discover how knowing the morphemes quickly resolves the problem.


numer- means number as in numeral.

The numerator tells the number of pieces.


de- means down or under as in depress. This will help students remember that the denominator is the number that is under the line.

nomin- refers to the name as in nominate. The denominator tells the name or type of the fraction.

Compare this to denomination - a subset of money determined by the value of the bills, or a subset of a religious group that defines their beliefs.

Associative property

associate- refers to the relationship.

Compare to how people associate with different groups of people. Therefore the associative property refers to the grouping of numbers.


Commutative property

commute- means to move from one place to another.

Compare to how people commute to work. Therefore the commutative property refers to the fact that numbers can move from one location to another when adding and multiplying.


Distributive property

distribute- means to divide or to give out shares.

Compare to how you can distribute a bag of candy to the students in the classroom. Therefore, the distributive property refers to the fact that a number that is being multiplied can be distributed to the terms within the parenthesis.


Composite Number

compose- to put parts together to build a whole.

Compare to how musicians assemble notes and instruments to compose a piece of music. Therefore a composite number is one that is composed of more than one number.

12 can be factored into 3x2x2; and therefore is a composite number.

Prime Number

prime- original

Compare to primal which means first or original. Also compare to prime meaning of first or most importance. Therefore a prime number is one that cannot be factored, such as 3.


factor- one of the parts

Compare to factor as, "One factor in my decision to attend the University of Maine is how close it is to my home." Therefore factors are the parts a number can be broken into through division.

The factors of 12 are 6, 4, 3 and 2.