Word Formation in English Language

Word Formation in English Language Техника

Most English words
are made up of smaller elements: roots, prefixes and suffixes. When you know
the common ones and how to combine them, you can understand hundreds of different

The majority of academic vocabulary uses Latin
roots and affixes. (Affixes are prefixes and suffixes.) They are especially useful for English university study or professional work.

Teachers frequently debate this question: What’s the difference between a root, base word, and stem? The reason teachers are forced to debate this question is that their textbooks present a model that quickly falls apart in the real world.

If teachers are confused, their students will also be confused. By the end of this page, you won’t be confused. To end this confusion, we will look at two systems:

The Traditional Root and Base-Word System for Kids
A Modern System of Morphemes, Roots, Bases, and Stems from Linguistics

The Traditional Root and Base-Word System for Kids

Here is a problem-filled system that, unfortunately, some students still learn.

Students learn that are Greek and Latin roots. Most of these roots cannot stand alone as words when we remove the prefixes and suffixes.

justify      : jus (law)

Students also learn that can stand alone as words when we remove all of the prefixes and suffixes. Students learn that if it cannot stand alone when we remove all of the prefixes and suffixes, then it is not a base word.

kindness      kind

The problem comes later in the day when the teacher is teaching verb tenses.

Look at these two verbs: responded and responding. What’s the base word?

Isn’t re- a prefix? If re- is a prefix, then respond can’t be a base word. I suspect that spond is a Latin root. Is it?

I’m not sure. Let me research this. Yes, the word respond has the prefix re- attached to the Latin root spond. The Latin root spond comes from sponder, which means to pledge.

Although the teacher was looking for the answer “respond,” Student #2’s answer was the correct answer according to this Traditional System. That’s how easily the Traditional System falls apart. And the problems get worse from here.

Are you an elementary or middle school teacher? Have you taken a look at Pattern Based Writing: Quick & Easy Essay on the homepage?

Modern Linguistics

I looked at a few current student textbooks from major publishers, and most of them don’t mention the terms base or base word. They only use the term root in their basic word studies. I suspect that this is because modern linguistics has created a new meaning for the term base.

In case you are not aware, modern linguistics and modern grammar fix many of the broken models from centuries past—i.e., models and definitions that quickly fall apart when you question them. These days, most books on linguistics and morphology present a somewhat standardized model. In English Word-Formation (1983), Laurie Bauer explains this model succinctly and definitively. Let’s take a look.

English Word-Formation (1983) by Laurie Bauer

As you can see below, Bauer acknowledges the root/stem/base problem and then explains a model that removes the ambiguity.

“‘Root’, ‘stem’ and ‘base’ are all terms used in the literature to designate that part of a word that remains when all affixes have been removed. Of more recent years, however, there has been some attempt to distinguish consistently between these three terms.”

This model holds up across the curriculum. This model is the foundation of what I teach my students.

Roots, Stems, and Bases

I always like to have a complete model in mind that holds up across the curriculum. This lets me find teaching moments and ensures that I can answer my students’ questions clearly and consistently. Although I may not teach my students the entire model, at least the concepts are straight in my mind.

For this reason, I created this “Perfect Model of Roots, Stems, and Bases.” To be clear, this model is an interpretation and fuller explanation of what you might find in a linguistics book. Let me explain it to you. It all begins with morphemes.

Keep in mind that teachers don’t need to teach their students this entire model. In fact, most teachers will want to keep their morphology lessons simple and focus on roots, prefixes, and suffixes. But all teachers will want to understand this entire model.


The term morpheme unifies the concepts of roots, prefixes, and suffixes, and therefore, it is an extremely valuable word. In short, words are composed of parts called morphemes, and each morpheme contributes meaning to the word. Morphemes are the smallest unit of language that contains meaning. Roots, prefixes, and suffixes all have one thing in common—they are all single morphemes. In contrast, stems and bases can be composed of one or many morphemes.

Root / Root Morpheme

When I use the term root, I always mean the root morpheme. The root is always the main morpheme that carries the main meaning of a word. Since a morpheme is the smallest unit of language that contains meaning, we can’t divide or analyze the root morpheme any further. Although a root can be a stand-alone word, to avoid confusion, I never use the term “root word.” I use the term root, and I use the term root morpheme to reinforce what a root is.

We have two types of root morphemes

1. Dependent (bound) Roots: These roots cannot stand alone as words. These roots are usually Greek and Latin roots. Here are a few examples:

2. Independent (free) Roots: These roots are stand-alone words. Practically speaking, these roots are almost always single-syllable words. You know the ones. It seems to me that most multi-syllable words can be further divided and further analyzed. With a little research, one finds that an ancient prefix or suffix has merged with a root. In short, most multi-syllable words are not root morphemes.

Here is what they thought 150 years ago. Although modern linguistics does not agree with these statements, it’s still food for thought. My point is that most of the independent roots that we deal with inside of the classroom are single-syllable words.

“All languages are formed from roots of one syllable.” – New Englander Magazine (1862)

“All words of all languages can be reduced to one-syllable roots.” – New Jerusalem Magazine (1853)

Dependent Root and Independent Root

Modern linguistics use the term bound (for dependent) and free (for independent) to classify morphemes. Since teachers spend so much time teaching students about dependent clauses and independent clauses, I transfer this knowledge and terminology over to morphemes. Put simply: independent morphemes CAN stand alone; dependent morphemes CAN’T stand alone.

PREFIXES and SUFFIXES are almost always dependent morphemes—i.e., they can’t stand alone as words.

ROOTS are either dependent or independent morphemes.

Now, we will examine words that contain one root and words that contain two roots. As you examine these words, pay special attention to the dependent root and independent root aspect.

Many words have just one root. That one root may be a Dependent Root or an Independent Root. Remember, the root carries the main meaning of the word.

justify              jus

kindness            kind

Some words have two roots. The roots may be Dependent Roots or Independent Roots. With two roots, each root contributes near equal meaning to the word.

Two Dependent Roots

geography        geo (earth)    graph (write)

carnivore    carn (flesh)    vor (swallow)

cardiovascular    cardi (heart)    vas (vessel)

Two Independent Roots

bathroom    bath    room

downfall    down    fall

popcorn    pop    corn

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I use the term stem just as Bauer does. To find the stem, simply remove the inflectional suffixes. It’s that simple.

When to Use the Term Stem: The term stem is quite unnecessary in many classrooms, as all stems are bases. For this reason, teachers can always use the term base instead of stem. However, the concept of stems is helpful in teaching students about inflectional suffixes. Inflectional suffixes are different from derivational affixes (derivational prefixes and derivational suffixes).

reddest    red

girls’    girl

boats    boat

preapproved    preapprove

justifying    justify

responded    respond

unjustifiable    no stem

kindness    no stem

Base / Base Word

Bauer says, “A base is any form to which affixes of any kind can be added. This means that any root or any stem can be termed a base.”

In the table below, I use two labels to show how base and root relate to each other. Sometimes a base is a root (marked   ), and sometimes it is not a root (marked   ).

To be clear, we can add a prefix or suffix to every base even if it already has a prefix or suffix. Furthermore, if we can add a prefix or suffix to something, we can call it a base.

reread    read

unhelpful    helpful    help

justifying    justify    jus

unreliable    reliable    rely

preponderance    ponderance (uncommon)    ponder

responded    respond    spond

preapproved    preapprove    approve    approved    proved    prove

Base vs. Base Word: To keep things simple, teachers should probably strike the term “base word” from their vocabulary. However, if the base is a complete word that can stand alone, teachers may choose to (or through force of habit) refer to it as a base word. If the base can’t stand alone, be sure not to call it a base word.

When to Use the Term Base: The term base is somewhat of a generic term for when we are not interested in or concerned with the root morpheme. As an example, we may choose to use the term base when we are ADDING prefixes and suffixes. When we are adding prefixes and suffixes, we often are unconcerned with finding or discussing the root morpheme. (Remember, we often add prefixes and suffixes to words that already contain prefixes and suffixes.) We may also choose to use the term base when removing a single, specific prefix or suffix, as the word may still contain other prefixes or suffixes.

Putting It All Together

Here is a table to help get you started in your word analysis studies related to root, stem, and base.

The asterisks may be the most important part of this table. They help illustrate that every word has a unique history that often makes analysis and classification complicated and debatable.

* act and graph are also Latin roots

** deny is from Latin denegare = de (away) + negare (to refuse; to say no); since deny technically
has a Latin prefix (de-), you may choose to classify the word differently.

*** forest is from Latin foris meaning outdoors, and unlike the word deny, cannot be analyzed as
having a prefix or suffix attached.

Words in English public website

Ling 216
Rice University
Prof. S. Kemmer Types of Word Formation Processes

Compounding forms a word out of two or more root morphemes. The words
are called compounds or compound words.

In Linguistics, compounds can be either native or borrowed.

Native English roots are
typically free morphemes, so that means native compounds are made out of
independent words that can occur by themselves. Examples:

mailman (composed of free root mail and free root man)
mail carrier
dog house
fireplug (a regional word for ‘fire hydrant’)
fire hydrant
dry run
cup holder
pick-up truck

Some compounds have a preposition as one of the component words as in the
last 2 examples.

In Greek and Latin, in contrast to English, roots do not typically stand
alone. So compounds are composed of bound roots. Compounds formed in
English from borrowed Latin and Greek morphemes preserve this
characteristic. Examples include photograph,
iatrogenic, and many thousands of other classical words.

Another thing to note about compounds is that they can combine words
of different parts of speech. The list above shows mostly noun-noun
compounds, which is probably the most common part of speech
combination, but there are others, such as adjective-noun (dry
run, blackbird, hard drive), verb-noun (pick-pocket,
cut-purse, lick-spittle) and even verb-particle (where
‘particle’ means a word basically designating spatial expression that
functions to complete a literal or metaphorical path), as in
run-through, hold-over. Sometimes these compounds are
different in the part of speech of the whole compound vs. the part of
speech of its components. Note that the last two are actually nouns,
despite their components.

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Some compounds have more than two component words. These are formed
by successively combining words into compounds, e.g. pick-up truck,
formed from pick-up and truck , where the first component,
pick-up is itself a compound formed from
pick and up. Other examples are ice-cream
cone, no-fault insurance and even more complex compounds like
top-rack dishwasher safe.

There are a number of subtypes of compounds that do not have to do
with part of speech, but rather the sound characteristics of the
words. These subtypes are not mutually exclusive.

Rhyming compounds (subtype of compounds)
These words are compounded from two rhyming words. Examples:


There are words that are formally very similar to rhyming compounds,
but are not quite compounds in English because the second element is
not really a word—it is just a nonsense item added to a root word to
form a rhyme. Examples:


This formation
process is associated in English with child talk (and talk addressed
to children), technically called hypocoristic language. Examples:

Henny Penny
Georgie Porgie

Another word type that looks a bit like rhyming compounds
comprises words that are formed of
two elements that almost match, but differ in their vowels.
Again, the second element is typically a nonsense form:


Derivation is the creation of words by modification of a root without
the addition of other roots. Often the effect is a change in part of

Affixation (Subtype of Derivation)
The most common type of derivation is the addition of one or more affixes to a
root, as in the word derivation itself. This process is called
affixation, a term which covers both prefixation and suffixation.

Blending is one of the most beloved of word formation processes in
English. It is especially creative in that speakers take two words
and merge them based not on morpheme structure but on sound structure.
The resulting words are called blends.

But in
blending, part of one word is stitched onto another word, without any
regard for where one morpheme ends and another begins. For example,
the word swooshtika ‘Nike swoosh as a logo symbolizing
corporate power and hegemony’
was formed from swoosh and swastika. The swoosh
part remains whole and recognizable in the blend, but the tika part is
not a morpheme, either in the word swastika or
in the blend. The blend is a perfect merger of form, and also of
content. The meaning contains an implicit analogy between the
swastika and the swoosh, and thus conceptually blends them into one
new kind of thing having properties of both, but also combined
properties of neither source. Other examples include glitterati (blending
glitter and literati) ‘Hollywood social set’, mockumentary (mock and
documentary) ‘spoof documentary’.

The earliest blends in English only go back to the 19th century, with
wordplay coinages by Lewis Carroll in Jabberwocky. For example, he
introduced to the language slithy, formed from lithe and
slimy, and galumph, (from gallop and
triumph. Interestingly galumph has survived as a word in
English, but it now seems to mean ‘walk in a stomping, ungainly way’.

Some blends that have been around for quite a while include brunch
(breakfast and lunch), motel (motor hotel), electrocute (electric and
execute), smog (smoke and
fog) and cheeseburger (cheese and hamburger).
These go back to the first half of the twentieth
century. Others, such as stagflation (stagnation and inflation),
spork (spoon and fork), and carjacking (car and hijacking) arose
since the 1970s.

Here are some more recent blends I have run across:

Clipping is a type of abbreviation of a word in which one part is
‘clipped’ off the rest, and the remaining word now means essentially the same
thing as what the whole word means or meant. For example, the word
rifle is a fairly modern clipping of an earlier compound
rifle gun, meaning a gun with a rifled barrel. (Rifled means
having a spiral groove causing the bullet to spin, and thus making it
more accurate.) Another clipping is burger, formed by clipping
off the beginning of the word hamburger. (This clipping could
only come about once hamburg+er was reanalyzed as ham+burger.)


Acronyms are formed by taking the initial letters of a phrase
and making a word out of it. Acronyms provide a way of turning a phrase into a word. The classical acronym is also
pronounced as a word. Scuba was formed
from self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. The
word snafu was originally WW2 army slang for Situation
Normal All Fucked Up. Acronyms were being used more and more by
military bureaucrats, and soldiers coined snafu in an
apparent parody of this overused device. Sometimes an acronym uses not just the first letter, but the first syllable of a component word, for example radar, RAdio Detection And Ranging and sonar, SOund Navigation and Ranging. Radar forms an analogical model for both sonar and lidar, a technology that measures distance to a target and and maps its surface by
bouncing a laser off it. There is some evidence that lidar was not coined as an acronym, but instead as a blend of light and radar. Based on the word itself, either etymology appears to work, so many speakers assume that lidar is an acronym rather than a blend.

A German example that strings together the initial syllables of the
words in the phrase, is Gestapo , from GEheime STAats POlizei
‘Sectret State Police’. Another is Stasi, from STAats
SIcherheit ‘State Security’.

Acronyms are a subtype of initialism. Initialisms also include words made from the initial letters of a Phrase but NOT pronounced as a normal word — it is instead pronounced as a string of letters. Organzation names aroften initialisms of his type. Examples:

NOW (National Organization of Women)
US or U.S., USA or U.S.A. (United States)
UN or U.N. (United Nations)
IMF (International Monetary Fund)

Some organizations ARE pronounced as a word:
MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving)

The last example incorporates a meaning into the word that fits the nature of the organization. Sometimes this type is called a Reverse Acronym or a Backronym.

These can be thought of as a special case of acronyms.

Memos, email, and text messaging (text-speak) are modes of communication
that give rise to both clippings and acronyms, since these
word formation methods are designed to abbreviate.
Some acronyms:

NB — Nota bene, literally ‘note well’. Used by scholars making notes
on texts. (A large number of other scholarly acronyms from Latin are
used, probably most invented in the medieval period or Renaissance,
not originally in Latin)
BRB — be right back (from 1980s, 90s)
FYI — for your information (from mid 20th century)
LOL — laughing
out loud (early 21st century) — now pronounced either /lol/ or /el o
el/; has spawned compounds like Lolcats).
ROFL — rolling on the floor laughing
ROFLMAO — rolling on the floor laughing my ass off

Sometimes speakers unconsciously change the morphological boundaries of a word, creating a new morph or making an old one unrecognizable. This happened in hamburger, which was originally Hamburger steak ‘chopped and formed steak in the Hamburg style, then hamburger (hamburg + er), then ham + burger

Folk etymology
A popular idea of a word’s origin that is not in accordance with its real origin.

Many folk etymologies are cases of reanalysis in which the word is not only reanalysis but it changes under the influence of the new understanding of its morphemes. The result is that speakers think it has a different origin than it does.

Sometimes speakers take an existing word as a model and form other words using some of its morphemes as a fixed part, and changing one of them to something new, with an analogically similar meaning. Cheeseburger was formed on the analogy of hamburger, replacing a perceived morpheme ham with cheese.
carjack and skyjack were also formed by analogy.

Novel creation
In novel creation, a speaker or writer forms a word without starting
from other morphemes. It is as if the word if formed out of ‘whole
cloth’, without reusing any parts.

Some examples of now-conventionalized words that were novel creations
include blimp, googol (the mathematical term),
bling, and possibly slang, which emerged in the last 200
years with no obvious etymology. Some novel creations seem to display
‘sound symbolism’, in which a word’s phonological form suggests its
meaning in some way. For example, the sound of the word bling
seems to evoke heavy jewelry making noise. Another novel creation whose sound seems
to relate to its meaning is badonkadonk, ‘female rear end’, a
reduplicated word which can remind English speakers of the repetitive
movement of the rear end while walking.

Creative respelling
Sometimes words are formed by simply changing the spelling of a word
that the speaker wants to relate to the new word. Product names
often involve creative respelling, such as Mr. Kleen.

Word Formation in English Language

It is not merely by borrowing words from abroad that the English vocabulary has been increased. New words can easily be created in English and are being created almost every day and a large part of the English vocabulary consists of words and terms which the English have formed for themselves out of old and familiar material. There are several ways in which a new word can be made.

Derivation which means the formation of a new word out of an existing one by the addition of some prefix or suffix is one of the commonest resources for word formation. During the old English period a host of new words were formed by adding native affixes to existing words. Many of these affixes, such as –ness, -less, -ful, -y etc. are still extensively used to form new words darkness, hopeless, beautiful, windy, greedy etc. We can still prefix the OE. negative prefix un- to almost any descriptive adjective- uncommon, unbending etc. There is another prefix un- which is added to verbs to express the reversal of action, as in undo, untie, uncover etc.

A much more brilliant destiny was reserved for the Old English ending -ise (now -ish). It was chiefly added to names of places or nations to form adjectives, as in Englisc (now English), Scyttisc (now Scottish). Lundenise (now Londonish). In some instances it was added to common nouns to derive adjectives, as in folcisc, cildisc (childish). About 1400 A.D. it began to be used o form adjectives denoting colour, as in greenish, whitish, bluish etc.

Other extensively used endings are -ing, and -en. -ing can be added to any verb to form participles, gerunds and verbal nouns walking, seeing, doing etc. -En is added to adjectives to form verbs harden, weaken, sweeten, lessen.

In English a verb might be formed without any derivative ending from the corresponding noun. Among the innumerable nouns from which verbs have been formed without adding anything to them we may mention ape, awe, cook, husband, silence, time, worship etc. “Nearly every word for the different parts of the body has given rise to a homonym verb, though true it is that some of them are rarely used”. (Jespersen) :- hand, fist, elbow, finger, thumb, breast (oppose), eye, lip (kiss), beard, tongue, jaw (scold), arm, shoulder etc.

A still more characteristic peculiarity of the English language is the freedom with which a form which was originally a verb is used unchanged as a noun, e.g. glance, bend, cut, gaze, reach, drain, burn, dislike, dismay, embrace, dress, build etc.

Word composition is one of the fruitful resources for forming new words. Compounds are of two types- fixed and free. Fixed compounds tend to be felt as independent units, isolated from the component parts in sound and (or) in meaning”. (Jespersen). Daisy is a typical example of the fixed compound. It was originally dayes eye. But no one nowadays connects daisy with either day or eye. Woman is another good example. It was formed of wif+man; but nowadays it is taken to be an independent word, isolated from the component parts. Other typical instances of fixed compounds are Christmas < Christ+mass; nostril< OE nosu-p(th)yrel; husband < hus (house)+bonda (dweller) etc.

Free compounds are such that when the need arises we can form new compounds after the pattern of already existing combinations. Table-lamp is a free compound. After this compound we can form many new compounds, such as table-salt, table clock, table cloth etc. In a free compound each component part is felt as independent of and of equal weight with the other e.g. rail-way, snuff-box, gold coin, headmaster etc. With free compounds we may have even long strings, like railway refreshment room, New Year Eve fancy dress ball etc.

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So far as the logical relation of the parts of a compound is concerned very few compounds are of the same type. But in the majority of com pounds the second part expresses a general meaning which is modified and limited to some extent, by the first part. Thus a garden flower is a kind of flower growing in a garden; a flower garden is a kind of garden full of flowers.

There is a special type of compounds in which the first element is a verb and the second an object of the verb. This type seems to have originated in Romanic languages, but has in modern times proved very fertile in English: breakfast, pickpocket, cut-purse, know-nothing, stop-gap, kill-joy, makeshift, break-neck, toss-pot, tell-tale, scare-crow, lack-lustre. These compounds are used as nouns and adjectives- he is a pick-pocket (n); he had his breakfast (n); she has a very rell-tale face: (adj): we had a make-shift dinner (adj).

Backformations are the method of forming new words by subtracting something from old ones. They owe their origin to one part of a word being mistaken for some derivative suffix (or rarely prefix). The adverbs sideling, groveling, darkling were formed by adding the suffix -ling. But in such sentences he walks sideling, he lies groveling, I listen darkling etc. the suffix -ling looked exactly like the ending -ing, with the happy result that the verbs to sidle, to grovel, to darkle, were formed from the adverbs by the subtraction of-ing.

But the ending which is often subtracted is -y. The noun greed, the verbs laze, cose and jeopard are derived respectively from greedy, lazy, cosy and jeopardy by the subtraction of -y. By the subtraction of-y the words difficult, pup, cad are obtained respectively from difficulty puppy and cady. Many new words have also been formed by subtracting -er (-ar, or) from several agent-denoting nouns. Thus harbinger, rover, pedlar, burglar, hawker and beggar have called into existence the verbs to harbinge, rove, peddle, burgle, hawk and beg. Such compound verbs as to housekeep, dressmake, merrymake etc. have come to us through the process of backformations from housekeeper, dressmaker, merrymaker (by the subtraction of-y). The verbs to henpeck and to sunburn are backformations from participles henpecked, sunburnt.

Many new words have been formed from the existing ones by shortening long foreign words. In some cases the beginning and the end of a word are clipped and only the middle is retained e.g. teck< detective. Sometimes the beginning of a word is clipped and the end is retained, e.g. bus< omnibus, phone< telephone. But more often the beginning is retained, and the rest is cut off e.g. cab<cabriolet, photo< photograph. Some of the shortened words have never passed beyond slang, such as sov (<sovereign), pub (<publichouse), vet (veterinary surgeon), guv (governor) etc. Some of the shortened words have passed into ordinary speech, such as exam (<examination), bike (<bicycle), fad (<fadaise), mob (mobile vulgus), cab (<cabriolet).

There are many words in English which have no etymology. The origin of such words is and will always remain unknown to us Such words are neither inherited from Old English, nor adopted from any foreign languages, nor formed out of any older English or foreign words by any process of composition or derivation. It is to instances of this kind that the name of ‘Root-creation’ may be fitly applied

In many cases, the so-called ‘imitative’ word represents an inarticulate noise and produces a mental effect similar to that produced by the sound. In a similar way, the sound of a word may symbolically suggest a particular kind of movement or a particular shape of an object. A word having long vowels which are usually uttered slowly indicates a slow movement whereas the repetition of the same consonant conveys the idea of repetition of movement.

Squarson= squire + parson

Bakerloo = Baker + Waterloo

Tilk = tea + milk

Brunch = breakfast + lunch

Encyclopedestrin = Encyclopaedia on legs

Flaunt = fly + flout + vaunt.

Galumph = gallop + triumph

Out of these, it must have been clear that in this curious class of new words two or more terms are combined, or, as it were, telescoped into one. This is an old process in language, and verbs like to ‘don’ (do on) or to ‘doff’ (do off) are examples of it in its simplest form. Vulgarisms like ‘need-cessity’ and ‘insinuendo’ are also its examples.

There is another rather modern kind of word-formation, which is known as ‘acoustic’. In this method the first letters of the words create a new word. It is often the result of abbreviating words and grouping them into one in order to be able to speak them simply and hurriedly. Instances are ‘Dora’ (Defence of the Realm Act) and Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation): Unicef, Nato’, Seato’, etc. can be cited as further examples of ‘acoustic’ words.

#8 Ghost Words

Another class of words is known as ‘ghost’ words. We are not sure about the origin of such words. “In a large number of our new words, however, it is difficult to define the definite associations or analyse the elements that give them their expressive meaning.” The old words like ‘bluff’, ‘queer’ and ‘lounge’ are examples of this process, which, in the 18th century, gave us ‘cantankerous’ and ‘humbug’, and other similar words. Sometimes a word has a vague, undefined expressiveness, which seems capable of embodying various meanings and which connotes now differently from that of its original sense, e.g. ‘conundrum’ (originally the appellation of an odd person, to Ben Jonson a whim, then a pun, then its present meaning since the 18th C.); ‘roly-poly’ (a rascal, a game, a dance, a pudding, and finally a plump infant); ‘blizzard’ (the U.S. a ‘poser until the great winter storm of 1880 claimed it as its own).

Another method of forming new words is ‘Re-Duplication’, either with variation of the vowel, e.g. ‘see-saw’ (from the sawyer’s movement), ‘shilly-shally’ (from ‘shall I’?) ‘ding-dong’ (from the oscillating noise like that of a bell), or of the consonant, e.g. ‘roly-poly’ (from ‘roll’), ‘namby-pamby’ (from “Namby’, the nick-name of Ambrose Phillips, an early eighteenth-century poetaster). Some of these combinations, such as ‘jim-jams’, ‘helter-skelter’. “hurly-burly’, ‘hugger-mugger’, are of very obscure origin.

Many words owe their modern form to ‘Folk-Etymology’, i.e. the popular tendency to give a more familiar form or sound to an unfamiliar word. Everyone has his own particular game garnered from uneducated speech, such as ‘Bartholomew’, for ‘Bath Oliver’ or ‘ever-fizzing drinks’, but a great number of such corruptions are now current English, e.g. ‘gilly-flower’ from French, ‘giroflee’, ‘touchy’ for ‘tetchy’, ‘shame-faced’, for ‘shame-faced’, ‘livelihood’ for Middle English ‘lifelode’, the leading of one’s life.

Apart from the methods mentioned above, English is rich with monosyllabic words, the origin of which remains untraced. Mention may be made of ‘bad’, ‘lad’, ‘lass’, ‘fit’. (adj.) and ‘fit’ (noun), dad’ (i.e. father), ‘jump’, ‘case’. ‘boy’, ‘girl’, ‘bet’, ‘gloat’, ‘big’, ‘fuss’, ‘hoax’, ‘slum’, ‘job’, ‘chum’, ‘hump’ “blight’, ‘pun’, ‘fun’, etc. A few of them might have originated from children’s playfulness, while others might have sprung from the corresponding linguistic playfulness of grown-up people, forming the fundamental essence of the phenomenon called ‘slang. Slang is now frequently used in our language.

#12 Name of Place

Finally, names of places are also a fruitful source of new words, for the Genius of the Language, when it has a gap in its vocabulary to fill in, is apt to seize on any material ready to its hand. Thus ‘worsted’ (woollen yarn) is from Worstead, a village near Norwich, and ‘canter’, is, of course, an abbreviation of Canterbury. ‘Calico’ is from Calicut.

Telescoping is the method of forming new words by combining two or more terms into one. It is an old process of word-making in the English language, and the verbs like to don (from do +on) and to doff (from do + off) are instances of telescoping in its simplest form. Other examples of telescoping are flurry flaw+hurry: lunch<lumpthunch, flaunt flout vaunt. “Lewis Carrol amused himself by creating words of this kind and has thus added at least two words to the English language chortle, probably formed by suggestions of chuckle and short, and galumph out of gallop and triumphant.

Words in English public website
LING 216
Rice University
Prof. S. Kemmer Terms and Definitions

LING 216 is about the systematic study of words in English. Such
systematic study relies on a body of knowledge and concepts that are
well established in the field of Linguistics. Although the course is
not designed to teach the field of Linguistics, we need to rely on the
terminology and associated concepts established in Linguistics to a
certain extent, especially in the parts of the course dealing with
word structure and analysis.

There is a glossary in our textbook that starts on page 277. I decided
to give my own definitions for many of the concepts because some of
the book’s definitions are a little overly technical in my opinion,
and there is more space out here on the web to explain and to give
examples. You can use both glossaries, or whichever you find most
helpful. Mine is less complete than the book’s. I am gradually adding
more definitions.

So, the definitions below are designed to help with the acquisition of
the concepts that the course introduces. I will not ask you to define
the technical concepts yourself in the exams; but I may ask you to
recognize the correct definition in a multiple choice type
question. The most important thing is to understand the concept:
recognize examples of it, reason about how concepts relate
(e.g. morpheme and allomorph; root and affix), and recognize true
vs. false statements about the concepts.

initialism. A word formation process in which the first
letters of a phrase, often a title, are strung together and formed
into a new word. Initialisms may be pronounced as a sequence of
letters, as in FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) or BYOB (Bring
Your Own Booze); or they may be pronounced as an ordinary word by the
rules of English spelling, in which case they are acronyms (as in
radar; see under acronym). Initialisms are the result of a
shortening process turning phrases into words. Unlike abbreviations,
they are not just shortenings of a written form that still has its
full pronunciation (like cont. for ‘continued’). The
pronunciation is actually shorter than the phrase.

acronym. A word formation process in which the first
letters (sometimes the first few letters) of the words in a phrase are extracted and put together to
form a word, pronounced as a word by the
usual rules of English spelling, with the same meaning as the original
phrase. Acronyms provide a way of shortening phrases into words.
Our book classifies acronyms as a subtype of initialism. Examples:
radar (RAdio Detection And Ranging), snafu (Situation
Normal All Fucked Up, and sonar (SOund Navigation And

blend. A new word formed by joining the start of one word with
the end of another. Example: Dunkretaries ‘Duncan secretaries’,
formed from Duncan and secretaries.

clipping. Another word formation process that shortens
words. In this case, a longer word is made into a shorter one by
dropping off part of the original word. Info, exam are
examples. Sometimes people’s names are clipped to form nicknames,
e.g. Jen from Jennifer. (Nicknames like Bill in
which a different sound is substituted for one of the consonants are
not technically clippings; but
they are often historically old clippings based on baby talk/sound
simplifications and/or
old pronunciations, e.g. Bill; Dick for Richard)

novel creation. A word formation process in which a new word is
creating ‘from scratch’, that is, without using other words to create
it via other word formation processes. Occasionally slang words are
formed this way (bling, krunk) and sometimes even words
for new objects (blimp). Sometimes sound symbolism seems to
play a role. The words either imitate sounds associated with the
thing, or else they sound in part like some other word or words in the
same concept family.

conversion. A type of derivation in which a word usually
used in one part of speech is converted to a word having another part
of speech. The company name Google underwent conversion when it
began to be used as a verb to mean ‘to search via Google’. Conversion
is often called zero-derivation. The idea here is that it is a
type of derivation in which no morphemes are added.

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A meaningful element in a word that cannot be broken down
further into meaningful subparts.
Morphemes are thus minimal units of meaning in a word. They are units
that link a form, which is a distinctive string of sounds, with a
meaning or a function. A morpheme is uniquely identified by its form
and meaning together, e.g. bi ‘two’, or pol ‘community,
city’, or bi ‘life’. So we can’t just say «the morpheme bi,»
because that does not fully identify the morpheme. We need the meaning
too. As it happens there are two morphemes that sound the same,
bi ‘life’ and bi- ‘two’. (Because the second one is an
affix, not a root, we write it with a hyphen showing its point of
attachment to the roots it appears with.)

Two different morphemes can have the same form, as in the case of
bi and bi- above and libr ‘weigh, balance’ and
libr ‘book’. Or, two morphemes can happen to have the same
meaning, for example, the Latin morpheme uni ‘one’ and Green
mono ‘one’. So similarity or identity of form does not mean
that two items are the same morpheme, nor does similarity or identity
of meaning (if meanings can ever be identical) indicate that two items
are the same morpheme.

The book distinguishes between morphs («simple (minimal) meaningful
components») and morphemes («simple (minimal) meaningful components
that speakers understand as the same unit»). This means that a
morpheme is a cognitive or psychological unit, and such a unit may
have variants in pronunciation that speakers pretty much ignore, or
are even unaware of. Morphs, on the
other hand, are simple meaningful components without regard to whether
or not they are grouped together as a single unit.

We won’t focus on the difference between morphs and
morphemes. The important concept for our purposes
is the concept of morphemes. They are linguistic units
and sometimes these units get expressed in different ways.
The result is variant forms, called allomorphs. For example,
the morpheme an- ‘not’ appears in two forms: a- and
an-. These forms are allomorphs of the same morpheme.

A word containing more than one root. In English, roots are typically
free morphemes so compounds are composed of free morphemes:
sandbox is composed of two free morphemes, sand and
In Latin and Greek, most roots were bound: they could not appear by
themselves, but had to have affixes of various kinds (inflectional or
derivational) to form a whole word. So in many English words from Latin and
Greek, two roots combine to form a compound, and these roots do not
generally occur by themselves.

Occasionally we find cases in which it appears as though a Latinate
root occurs as a free morpheme. Generally in these cases
some other process has occurred
such as clipping, in which case the clipped item is no longer
the same as the original bound morpheme.

For example, the English loanword photograph is a compound
formed of two bound roots from Greek, phot/phos and
graph, with a linking morpheme -o- between them. The
allomorph phot- meaning ‘light’ is a bound root. However, the
English word photo ‘a snapshot or image taken by means
of photography’ is an independent word formed from a clipping of
photograph. Neither phot nor photo occured as
independent words in Greek. English photo has only become an
independent root by acquiring a different meaning, and thus status as
a different morpheme from phot/phos.
A similar process has happened with
auto ‘car’, and hyper ‘hyperactive’, both the result of
clipping. With photo and auto, the linking morpheme was
reanalyzed along with the prefix as a new root; in the case of
hyper, the prefix hyper- and the new root hyper
sound exactly the same. Nevertheless they are two morphemes, with
different meaning and different function in a word (prefix vs. root).

compounding. the word formation device that creates compounds
(see under compound): it puts two (or more) roots together. In
some languages a linking morpheme is required between the roots.

root. The most meaningful part of a word. It is the least
dispensible part and also has a meaning more concrete than that of
most affixes. See
the page Roots and
Roots can in some languages stand alone as a word, like
the root giraffe in English. But in some languages roots need
inflectional affixes to form whole words.

affix. A morpheme that cannot stand alone as a separate word and
must be attached to a root. Because an affix is dependent on a root,
it must be a bound morpheme by definition.
Another important feature is that affixes do not have the kind of specific and
concrete meanings that roots have. The meanings of affixes are
generally grammatical meanings, like a part of speech (-y ADJ
suffix), or noun grammatical categories like plural, or person and
number categories on verbs. Such meanings depend semantically on the
meaning of the root, so affixes are not only formally dependent, but
also semantically dependent on roots. See Roots and
affixes for a more complete characterization.

free. Able to occur
alone as a word. Term is used of morphemes. In English, and some
other Germanic languages, many roots are free morphemes. In Latin and
Greek, on the other hand, roots do not generally stand alone; they
have to have some inflectional suffixes to make a complete word.

bound. Requiring another element to form a complete word. Bound
elements are unable to stand alone. Roots in some languages, like
English, are free morphemes characteristic of some roots and all affixes and

Sometimes elements that start out as bound can LOOK free, for example,
words like hyper ‘hyperactive’,
auto’automobile’, and photo ‘picture taken by
photographic methods’.
However, these cases come from larger words that have undergone clipping.
The clipped form as the same meaning as the older, larger word, and
that meaning is different from the meaning of the clipping. (Contrast
the root phot ‘light’ in the word photograph, with the word
photo, which not only was clipped with the linker morpheme from
photograph, but actually now has the meaning ‘photograph’ and
not ‘light’. In these clipped words, the
free morpheme has become independent of the bound form and is no
longer the same morpheme as the bound one.

A lexical process that does not create another word, but merely
another form of a word. Inflection is usually done by affixation
(e.g. shoe vs. shoes, walk vs. walks vs. walking. ), but
there are also cases of inflection where the new form of the word is
created via vowel changing (ride vs. rode). Sometimes
the word inflection can be used to mean inflectional affix
, see next.

inflectional affix A bound morpheme used to signal some
grammatical meaning such as plural or 3rd person singular.

derivation A word formation process that involves turning
one word into another. Most derivation is done by the addition of
affixes (affixation), but other derivation processes include
making no formal change at all (this is called zero-derivation
or conversion, as in run (v.) becoming run (n.)) and changing the
stress of a word (e.g. contract (n.), stressed on first syllable,
vs. contract (v.), stressed on second syllable).

derivational affix
An affix that changes the meaning or the part of speech of a
word. Example: Penury ‘poverty’ vs. penurious
‘impoverished’. -ous is the derivational affix added to penury
to produce the derived word.

parsing Division of a word into its component morphemes. A
good parsing indicates all morpheme boundaries, has
each morpheme defined, and contains a definition of the whole
word. See the examples on the page Parsing.

The study of the history of words. Also, the particular history
associated with a word. A full etymology is an attempt to trace a word
back as far as we can get in history. The parsing of a word has some
things in common with an etymology, namely an attempt to identify
original meanings of its word parts; but a parsing does not give a
full word history. It just focuses on how the word is constructed from

linker or linking morpheme.
A morpheme whose only function is to stand between other
morphemes. There is no particular meaning to a linker, making it very unusual as
morphemes go. The book uses the terms empty morph.

stem the part of a word that an inflectional
affix attaches to. Stems
include minimally a root, but
they often have additional morphology such as derivational affixes; or
they can include more than one root, as in a compound.

zero derivation Another name for conversion. See also derivation.

Prefixes and Suffixes

Practice prefixes of location and relationship (anti-, com-, ex-, in-, sub-, sym-, and trans- +) on 7+ Common Prefixes that Dominate Academic Vocabulary. The Prefix ‘Re-‘ has its own page, with examples and practice.

The Negative
Prefix List gives prefixes that make words negative. It has examples of each prefix and explains the
differences in their meanings and use. Check your understanding on the Practice Negative Prefixes page.

Useful Word Endings

Suffixes sometimes change the meanings of words. More often they change their positions in a sentence. It’s very helpful to know the different endings that belong to different parts of speech. Adding an ending can change a word from one part of speech into another.

For example, adding ‘-ive’ to ‘act’ (a noun or verb) makes the adjective ‘active.’ If you add’ -ly’ to ‘active’ you get the adverb ‘actively.’ You could add ‘-ate’ instead to get the verb ‘activate.’

Each suffix means something different and fills a different place in a sentence.

If you recognize more suffixes, you’ll understand more of what you read. You’ll also be able to use the words correctly when you write.

See also Word Families, Word Family Practice, and Word Formation Examples and Exercises.

Would you like a simpler, more organized way to learn the essentials for using roots and affixes?

The most efficient way to learn common roots and affixes is with a step-by-step course. This inexpensive course will teach you the most common prefixes, suffixes, and roots. You’ll get the background you need to continue learning them as you keep reading in English.

Whether you take a course or study a few at a time, learning common roots, prefixes, and suffixes is worth the effort. Knowing how they combine can help you recognize hundreds of new English words!

Didn’t find what you
needed? Explain what you want in the search box below.
(For example, cognates, past tense practice, or ‘get along with.’) Click to see the related pages on EnglishHints.

Word Formation in English Language

Word Formation in English Language

Word Formation in English Language

Look at Word Parts to Learn New Words

Word Formation in English Language

If you already speak a Latin-based language like French, Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese, you have a huge advantage in reading academic English.

If not, you can still increase your vocabulary faster by studying roots and affixes.

As you study them you see will notice common patterns and recognize new words.

It’s easier to learn words in groups. Studying related words together helps you see the connections between them. That’s why I include so much information on the words made from each root.

The sections below on roots, prefixes and suffixes link to pages with details or practice.

To study roots, see:

To practice words from a particular root, use the root words table above to find the right page or pages.

Word Formation in English Language

As you read new words, analyze them. Are parts familiar? Can you see a pattern?

For example, if you read about a retractable blade, you can guess its meaning before you look it up.

(Even better: guess instead of looking it up if its meaning isn’t essential.

Don’t break your concentration unless you need the word to understand what you’re reading. If not, write it down to check later.)

For retractable, you may know that the prefix ‘re’ means ‘again’ or ‘back.’  ‘Able’ means that something is possible. So you can guess ‘retractable’ is about the possibility of ‘tracting’ something back, or again.

‘Tract’ is also the base of ‘attract,’ ‘distract,’ and ‘traction,’ so it seems related to a pulling movement. Good guess! In fact, retractable wheels on an airplane can be pulled back into the body of the plane. Retractable hose is easy to rewind (pull back into storage.) Retractable awnings can be pulled back easily.

Here’s another example of how prefixes and suffixes can change the meaning and use of a root. These words come from ‘form’:

form, form, form, form, form, form, form, form, form, form, form, conform, form, form form, form

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