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Word forms in english

Types of Word Formation Processes

Compounding
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
fireplace
fireplug (a regional word for ‘fire hydrant’)
fire hydrant
dry run
cupcake
cup holder
email
e-ticket
pick-up truck
talking-to

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.

Note that compounds are written in various ways in English: with a space between the elements; with a hyphen between the elements; or simply with the two roots run together with no separation. The way the word is written does not affect its status as a compound. Over time, the convention for writing compounds can change, usually in the direction from separate words (e.g. email used to be written with a hyphen. In the 19th century, today and tomorrow were sometimes still written to-day and to-morrow. The to originally was the preposition to with an older meaning ‘at [a particular period of time]’. Clock work changed to clock-work and finally to one word with no break (clockwork). If you read older literature you might see some compound words that are now written as one word appearing with unfamiliar spaces or hyphens between the components.

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.

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:

bunnie-wunnie
Henny Penny
snuggly-wuggly
Georgie Porgie
Piggie-Wiggie

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 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 speech.

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
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.

Usually in word formation we combine roots or affixes along their edges: one morpheme comes to an end before the next one starts. For example, we form derivation out of the sequence of morphemes de+riv+at(e)+ion. One morpheme follows the next and each one has identifiable boundaries. The morphemes do not overlap.

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’.

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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:

mocktail (mock and cocktail) ‘cocktail with no alcohol’
splog (spam and blog) ‘fake blog designed to attract hits and raise Google-ranking’
Britpoperati (Britpop and literati) ‘those knowledgable about current British pop music’

Clipping 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
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: UNICEF
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

Reanalysis
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.

Analogy
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.

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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. © Suzanne Kemmer

Word Forms

Recognize meanings of noun, verb, adjective and adverb forms

Multiple Word Forms vs. Limited Word Forms

Imagination is an example of a noun with verb, adjective and adverb word forms. All share the meaning «the forming of images in the mind that are not actually present». Additional word definitions vary slightly and keep close to the central meaning.

His writing was

MULTIPLE WORD FORMS, SHARED MEANING
CONTEXTWORD FORM
NOUN
ADJECTIVE
ADVERB

Revolution is an example of a word that has some but not all four word forms. Notice that the adjective and adverb forms have meanings that depart from «rebellion to authority» and take on a meaning closer to «rebellion of mind or feeling».

The singer sang about social

revolted. revolt (V) «rebelled «

revolutionary. (innovative, rebellious)

revolting¹. (disgusting or rebellious)

—none— «in a revolutionary manner»

imagination (N) — the natural ability of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses; the word can be both a count noun (He had quite an imagination! ) when speaking specifically and a noncount noun (He had imagination.) when speaking in general.

rebel (N) — go against or take action against a social convention (the usual way of doing things) or a government or institution

revolt (V) — (1) rebel or break away from authority; (2) turn away in mental rebellion, disgust; (3) rebel in feeling; (4) feel horror. (at) He revolted at seeing their brutality.

¹revolting (Adj) — (1) disgusting, repulsive, distasteful, awful; (2) rebellious They are revolting. (unclear meaning)

revolution (N) — (1) an overthrow of a government, a rebellion; (2) a radical change in society and the social structure; (3) a sudden, complete or marked change in something; (4) completion of a circular movement, one turn.

revolutionary (Adj) — (1) a sudden complete change; (2) radically new or innovative; outside or beyond established procedure, principles; (3) related to a country’s revolution (period); (3) revolving, turning around like a record

«John Lennon» by Charles LeBlanc licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 (size changed and «poster» filter applied)

Word Form Entry into English

Source of word and the addition of other forms

Word Forms

Historically, a word entered the English language, or was borrowed, primarily as one form—a noun, a verb or an adjective. In time, additional forms were added to the original word so that it could function in other ways. The table below includes words and their approximate entry dates as well as additional word forms and their appearance dates.

There is no formal or exact way of knowing which suffix to add when changing a word from one form to another. The methods of adding suffix forms vary. Some patterns exist, depending on whether the origin of the word is M >uninterested, disinterested and not interested.

A word may not have all four word forms. For example, the noun fun is w >fun (1675-85) and funny (1750-60). But usage of fun as a verb is rare and as an adverb is non-existent.

A word may have two similar forms that co-exist. For example, a word may enter English or be borrowed more than once. The noun chief (leader) entered into usage in M >chef (head cook) from French in 1835-45.

A word may be newly coined (made up) and not yet have other forms. For example, the word selfie is w >twerk can be used as a verb, but can one say a twerk (noun), twerky (adjective) or twerkily (adverb)?

Bright Hub Education

Word Formation

Word formation occurs when compounding, clipping or blending existing words to create new words. Below we will cover the definition of these terms and give you several examples of each.

Compounding Words

Compounding words are formed when two or more lexemes combine into a single new word. Compound words may be written as one word or as two words joined with a hyphen. For example:

  • noun-noun compound: note + book → notebook
  • adjective-noun compound: blue + berry → blueberry
  • verb-noun compound: work + room → workroom
  • noun-verb compound: breast + feed → breastfeed
  • verb-verb compound: stir + fry → stir-fry
  • adjective-verb compound: high + light → highlight
  • verb-preposition compound: break + up → breakup
  • preposition-verb compound: out + run → outrun
  • adjective-adjective compound: bitter + sweet → bittersweet
  • preposition-preposition compound: in + to → into

Compounds may be compositional, meaning that the meaning of the new word is determined by combining the meanings of the parts, or non-compositional, meaning that the meaning of the new word cannot be determined by combining the meanings of the parts. For example, a blueberry is a berry that is blue. However, a breakup is not a relationship that was severed into pieces in an upward direction.

Compound nouns should not be confused with nouns modified by adjectives, verbs, and other nouns. For example, the adjective black of the noun phrase black bird is different from the adjective black of the compound noun blackbird in that black of black bird functions as a noun phrase modifier while the black of blackbird is an inseparable part of the noun: a black bird also refers to any bird that is black in color while a blackbird is a specific type of bird.

Clipping Words

Clipping is the word formation process in which a word is reduced or shortened without changing the meaning of the word. Clipping differs from back-formation in that the new word retains the meaning of the original word. For example:

  • advertisement – ad
  • alligator – gator
  • examination – exam
  • gasoline – gas
  • gymnasium – gym
  • influenza – flu

The four types of clipping are back clipping, fore-clipping, m >gas from gasoline. Fore-clipping is removing the beginning of a word as in gator from alligator. M >flu from influenza. Complex clipping is removing multiple parts from multiple words as in sitcom from situation comedy.

Blending Words

Blending is the word formation process in which parts of two or more words combine to create a new word whose meaning is often a combination of the original words. Below are examples of blending words.

  • advertisement + entertainment → advertainment
  • biographical + picture → biopic
  • breakfast + lunch → brunch
  • chuckle + snort → chortle
  • cybernetic + organism → cyborg
  • guess + estimate → guesstimate
  • hazardous + material → hazmat
  • motor + hotel → motel
  • prim + sissy → prissy
  • simultaneous + broadcast → simulcast
  • smoke + fog → smog
  • Spanish + English → Spanglish
  • spoon + fork → spork
  • telephone + marathon → telethon
  • web + seminar → webinar

Blended words are also referred to as portmanteaus.

Word Formation Sample Downloads

For more complete lists of English words formed through compounding, clipping, and blending, please download the following free printable vocabulary lists:

Learning Vocabulary With Word Forms

How to Use Word Forms to Improve and Broaden Your English Vocabulary

  • TESOL Diploma, Trinity College London
  • M.A., Music Performance, Cologne University of Music
  • B.A., Vocal Performance, Eastman School of Music

There are a wide variety of techniques used to learn vocabulary in English. This learning vocabulary technique focuses on using word forms as a way to broaden your English vocabulary. The great thing about word forms is that you can learn a number of words with just one basic definition. In other words, word forms relate to a specific meaning. Of course, not all of the definitions are the same. However, the definitions are often closely related.

Start off by quickly reviewing the eight parts of speech in English:

Examples

Not all eight parts of speech will have a form of each word. Sometimes, there are only noun and verb forms. Other times, a word will have related adjectives and adverbs. Here are some examples:

Noun: student
Verb: to study
Adjective: studious, studied, studying
Adverb: studiously

Some words will have more variations. Take the word care:

Noun: care, caregiver, caretaker, carefulness
Verb: to care
Adjective: careful, careless, carefree, careworn
Adverb: carefully, carelessly

Other words will be especially rich because of compounds. Compound words are words made up by taking two words and putting them together to create other words! Take a look at words derived from power:

Noun: power, brainpower, candlepower, firepower, horsepower, hydropower, powerboat, powerhouse, powerlessness, powerlifting, powerpc, powerpoint, superpower, willpower
Verb: to power, to empower, to overpower
Adjective: empowered, empowering, overpowered, overpowering, powerable, powered, powerful, powerless
Adverb: powerfully, powerlessly, overpoweringly

Not all words have so many compound word possibilities. However, there are some words that are used to construct numerous compound words. Here’s a (very) short list to get you started:

Exercises for Using Your Words in Context

Exercise 1: Write a Paragraph

Once you’ve made a list of a few words, the next step will be to give yourself the opportunity to put the words you’ve studied into context. There are a number of ways to do this, but one exercise I especially like is to write an extended paragraph. Let’s take a look at power again. Here’s a paragraph I’ve written to help me practice and remember words created with power:

Writing a paragraph is a powerful way to help you remember words. Of course, it takes plenty of brainpower. However, by writing out such a paragraph you will empower yourself to use this words. For example, you might find creating a paragraph in powerpoint on a PowerPC takes a lot of willpower. In the end, you won’t feel overpowered by all these words, you’ll feel empowered. No longer will you stand there powerlessly when confronted with words such as candlepower, firepower, horsepower, hydropower, because you’ll know that they are all different types of power used to power our overpowering society.

I’ll be the first to admit that writing out a paragraph, or even trying to read such a paragraph from memory might seem crazy. It certainly isn’t good writing style! However, by taking the time to try to fit as many words made up with a target word you’ll be creating all sorts of related context to your word list. This exercise will help you imagine what type of uses can be found for all these related words. Best of all, the exercise will help you ‘map’ the words in your brain!

Exercise 2: Write Sentences

An easier exercise is to write out individual sentences for each word in your list. It’s not as challenging, but it’s certainly an effective way to practice the vocabulary you’ve taken the time to learn.

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LIMITED WORD FORMS, VARYING IN MEANING
CONTEXTWORD FORM
NOUN
ADJECTIVE
ADVERB