A Brief Introduction to Methods of Word Formation in English

Category: Semiotics, Vocabulary
Last Updated: 21 Mar 2023
Pages: 12 Views: 2516
Table of contents


Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context. The earliest known activities in descriptive linguistics have been attributed to Panini around 500 BCE, with his analysis of Sanskrit in Ashtadhyayi. The first subfield of linguistics is the study of language structure, or grammar. This focuses on the system of ruled followed by the users of a language.

It includes the study of morphology (the formation and composition of words), syntax (the formation and composition of phrases and sentences from these words), and phonology (sound system). Phonetics is a related branch of linguistics concerned with the actual properties of speech sounds and nonspeech sounds, and how they are produced and perceived. This paper is going to concentrate on part of morphology word formation, of the English language. Generally, in linguistics, word formation is the creation of a new word.

Order custom essay A Brief Introduction to Methods of Word Formation in English with free plagiarism report

feat icon 450+ experts on 30 subjects feat icon Starting from 3 hours delivery
Get Essay Help

Word formation is sometimes contrasted with semantic change, which is a change in a single word’s meaning. The boundary between word formation and semantic change can be difficult to define: a new use of an old word can be seen as a new word derived from an old one and identical to it in form. Word formation can also be contrasted with the formation of idiomatic expressions, although words can be formed from multi-word phrases. There are various mechanisms of word formation and this paper is going to present them in detail with necessary explanations and examples.

Methods of Word Formations


In contemporary linguistics, agglutination usually refers to the kind of morphological derivation in which there is a one-to-one correspondence between affixes and syntactical categories. Language that use agglutination widely are called agglutinative languages. Agglutinative languages are often contrasted both with language in which syntactic structure is expressed solely by means of word order and auxiliary words (isolating language) and with languages in which a single affix typically express several syntactic categories and a single category may be expressed by several different affixes (as is the case in the inflectional or fusional anguage). However, both fusional and isolating language may use agglutinative in the most-often-used constructs, and use agglutination heavily in certain contexts, such as word derivation. This is the case in English, which has an agglutinated plural maker – (e)s and derived words such as shame·less·ness.


In etymology, back-formation is the process of creating a new lexeme, usually by removing actual or supposed affixes. The resulting neologism is called a back-formation, a term coined by James Murray in 1889.

Back-formation is different from clipping – back-formation may change the part of speech or the word’s meaning, whereas clipping creates shortened words from longer words, but does not change the part of speech or the meaning of the word. For example, the noun resurrection was borrowed from Latin, and the verb resurrect was the back-formed hundreds of years later from it by removing the ion suffix. This segmentation of resurrection into resurrect + ion was possible because English had examples of Latinate words in the form of verb and verb + -ion pairs, such as opine/opinion.

These became the pattern for many more such pairs, where a verb derived from a Latin supine stem and a noun ending in ion entered the language together, such as insert/insertion, project/projection, etc. Back-formation may be similar to the reanalyzes of folk etymologies when it rests on an erroneous understanding of the morphology of the longer word. For example, the singular noun asset is a back-formation from the plural assets. However, assets is originally not a plural: it is a loan-word from Anglo-Norman asetz (modern French assez).

The –s was reanalyzed as a plural suffix. Many words came into English by this route: Pease was once a mass noun but was reinterpreted as a plural, leading to the back-formation pea. The noun statistic was likewise a back-formation from the field of study statistics. In Britain, the verb burgle came into use in the 19th century as a back-formation from burglar (which can be compared to the North American verb burglarize formed by suffixation). Even though many English words are formed this way, new coinages may sound strange, and are often used for humorous effect.

For example, gruntled (from disgruntled) would be considered a barbarism, and used only in humorous contexts, such as by P. G. Wodehouse, who wrote “I wouldn’t say he was disgruntled, but by no stretch of the imagination could be described as gruntled”. He comedian George Gobel regularly used original back-formations in his humorous monologues. Bill Bryson mused that the English language would be richer if we could call a tidy-haired person shevelled – as an opposite to dishevelled. In the American sitcom Scrubs, the character Turk once said when replying to Dr. Cox, “I don’t disdain you!

It’s quite the opposite – I dain you. ” Back-formations frequently begin in colloquial use and only gradually become accepted. For example, enthuse (from enthusiasm) is gaining popularity, though it is still considered substandard by some today. The immense celebrations in Britain at the news of the relief of the Siege of Marketing briefly created the verb to maffick, meaning to celebrate both extravagantly and publicly. “Maffick” is a back-formation from Mafeking, a place-name that was treated humorously as a gerund or participle. There are many other examples of back-formation in the English language. . Acronym An acronym is an abbreviation formed from the initial components in a phrase or a word. These components may be individual letters (as in CEO) or parts of words (as in Benelux and Ameslan). There is no universal agreement on the precise definition of various names for such abbreviations nor on written usage. In English and most other languages, such abbreviations historically had limited use, but they became much more common in the 20th century. Acronyms are a type of word formation process, and they are viewed as a subtype of blending.

There are many different types of the word-formation process acronym. Here are several pairs of them.  Pronounced as a word, containing only initial letters, like the followings. AIDS: acquired immune deficiency syndrome NATO: North Atlantic Treaty Organization Scuba: self-contained underwater breathing apparatus Laser: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation  Pronounced as a word, containing non-initial letters Amphetamine: alpha-mehyl-phenethylamine Interpol: International Criminal Police Organization Nabisco: National Biscuit Company Pronounced as a word, containing a mixture of initial and non-initial letters Necco: New England Confectionery Company Radar: radio detection and ranging  Clipping In linguistics, clipping is the word formation process which consists in the reduction of a word to one of its parts. Clipping is also known as “truncation” or “shortening”. According to Marchand, clippings are not coined as words belonging to the standard vocabulary of a language. They originate as terms off a special group like schools, army, police, the medical profession, etc. in the intimacy of a milieu where a hint is sufficient to indicate the whole. For example, exam(ination), math(ematics), and lab(oratory) originated in school lang. while clipping terms of some influential groups can pass into common usage, becoming part of Standard English, clipping of a society unimportant class or group will remain group slang. Also, clipping mainly consists of the following types: back clipping, fore-clipping, middle clipping and complex clipping.

Back clipping

Back clipping is the most common type, in which the beginning is retained.

The unclipped original may be either a simple or a composite. Examples are: ad (advertisement), cable (cablegram), doc (doctor), exam (examination), fax (facsimile), gas (gasoline), gym(gymnastics, gymnasium), memo (memorandum), mutt(muttonhead), pub (public house), pop (popular music).


Fore-clipping retains the final part. Examples are: chute (parachute), coon (raccoon), gator (alligator), phone (telephone), pike (turnpike), varsity (university).


In middle clipping, the middle of the word is retained.

Examples are: flu (influenza), jams or jammies (pajamas/pyjamas), polly (Apollinairs), shrink (head-shrinker), tec (detective). (4) Complex clipping Clipped dorms are also used in compounds. One part of the original compound most often remains intact. Examples are: cablegram (cable telegram), opart (optical art), org-man (organization man), and linocut (linoleum cut). Sometimes both halves of a compound are clipped as in navicert (navigation certification). In these cases it is difficult to know whether the resultant formation should be treated as a clipping or as a blend, for the border between the two types is not always clear.

According to Bauer, the easiest way to draw the distinction is to say that those forms which retain compound stress are clipped compound, whereas those that take simple word stress are not. By this criterion bodbiz, Chicom, Comsymp, Intelsat, midcult, pro-am, photo op, sci-fi, and sitcom are all compounds made of clippings. 5. Semantic loan A semantic loan is a process of borrowing semantic meaning (rather than lexical items) from another language, very similar to the formation of calques.

In this case, however, the complete word in the borrowing language already exists; the change is that its meaning is extended to include another meaning its existing translation has in the leading language. Calques, loanwords and semantic loans are often grouped roughly under the phrase “borrowing”. Semantic loans often occur when two language are in close contact.


In linguistics, a compound is a lexeme that consists of more than one stem, compounding or composition is the word formation that creates compound lexemes.

Compounding or word-compounding refers to the faculty and device of a language to form new words by combing or putting together old words. In other words, compound, compounding or word-compounding occurs when a person attaches two or more words together to make them one word. The meanings of the words interrelate from the meanings of the words in isolation. Also, there is incorporation formation. Incorporation is a phenomenon by which a word, usually a verb, forms a kind of compound with, for instance, its direct object or adverbial modifier, while retaining its original syntactic function.

Incorporation is central to many polysynthetic languages such as those found in North America, but polysynthetic does not necessary imply incorporation. Neither does the presence of incorporation in a language imply that that language is polysynthetic. Though not regularly. English shows some instrument incorporation, as in breastfeed, and direct object incorporation, as in babysit. Etymologically, such verbs in English are usually back-formations: the verbs breastfeed and babysit are formed from the adjective breast-fed and the noun babysitter respectively.

Incorporation and pain compounding many be fuzzy categories: consider backstabbing, name-calling, and axe-murder. In many cases, a phrase with an incorporated noun carries a different meaning with respect to the equivalent phrase where the noun is not incorporated into the verb. The difference seems to hang around the generality and definiteness of the statement. The incorporated phrase is usually generic and indefinite, while the non-incorporated one is more specific.


In linguistics, conversion, also called zero derivation, is a kind of word transformation: specifically, it is the creation of a word (of a new word class) from an existing word (of a different word class) without any change in form. For example, the noun green in golf (referring to a putting-green) is derived ultimately from the adjective green. Conversions from adjectives to nouns and vice versa are both very common and unnotable in English: much more remarked upon is the creation of a verb by converting a noun or other word (e. g. , the adjective clean becomes the verb to clean).


A loanword (or loan word) is a word borrowed from a donor language and incorporated into a recipient language. By contrast, a calque or loan translation is a related concept where the meaning or idiom is borrowed rather than the lexical item itself. The word loanword is itself a calque of the German Lehnwort, while calque is a loanword from French. The terms borrow and loanword, although traditional, conflict with the ordinary meaning of those words because nothing is returned to the donor languages. However, note that this metaphor is not isolated to the concept of loanwords, but also found in the idiom “to borrow an idea. An additional issue with the term loanword is that it implies that the loaning is limited to one single word as opposed to deja vu, an English loanword from French. While this phrase may be used as one lexical item by English speakers, that is to say, an English speaker would not say only deja to convey the meaning associated with the full term deja vu, in the donor language (French), speakers would be aware of the phrase consisting of two words. For simplicity, adopt/adoption or adapt/adaption are used by many linguists, either in parallel to, or in preference to, these words.

Some researchers also use the term lexical borrowing. Some English loanwords remain relatively faithful to the donor language’s phonology, even though a particular phoneme might not exist or have contrastive status in English. The majority of English affixes, such as -un, –ing, and –ly, were present in older forms in Old English. However, a few English affixes are borrowed. For example, the agentive suffix –er, which is very prolific, is borrowed unlimitedly from Latin- arius. The English verbal suffix –ize comes from Greek –izein via Latin –izare.


Onomatopoeia (common term is sound word) refers to the property of such words. Common occurrences of onomatopoeia include animal noises, such as “oink” or “meow” or “roar” or “chirp”. Some other very common English-language examples include hiccup, zoom, bang, beep, moo, and splash. Machines and their sounds are also often described with onomatopoeia, as in honk or beep-beep for the horn of an automobile, and vroom or brum for the engine. When someone speaks of a mishap involving an audible arcing of electricity, the word “zap” is often used.

For animal sounds, words like quack (duck), moo (cow), bark or woof (dog), roar (lion), meow or purr (cat) and baa (sheep) are typically used in English. Some of these words are used both as nouns and as verbs. Sometimes things are named from the sounds they make. In English, for example, there is the universal fastener which is named for the onomatopoeia of the sound it makes: the zip (in the UK) or zipper (in the U. S. ). many birds are named after their calls, such as the Bobwhite quail, the Weero, the Morepork, the killdeer, chickadee, the cuckoo, the chiffchaff, the whooping crane and the whip-poor-will.

Phono-semantic matching

Phono-semantic matching (PSM) is a linguistic term referring to camouflaged borrowing in which a foreign word is matched with a phonetically and semantically similar pre-existent native word/root. It may alternatively be defined as the entry of a multisourced neologism that preserves both the meaning and the proximate sound of the parallel expression in the source language, using pre-existent words/roots of the target language. Phono-semantic matching is distinct from calquing. While calquing includes (semantic) translation, it does not consist of phonetic matching (i. . retaining the proximate sound of the borrowed word through matching it with a similar-sounding pre-existent word/morpheme in the target language). Phone-semantic matching is also distinct from homophonic translation, which retains only the sound, and not the semantics.


An eponym is a person or thing, whether real or fictional, after which a particular place, tribe, era, discovery. Or other item is named or thought to be named. Eponyms are aspects of etymology. There are different types of eponym which come from various area.

Places and towns can also be given an eponymous name through a relationship (real or imagined) to an important figure. Peloponnesus, for instance, was said to derive its name from the Greek god Pelops. In historical times, new towns have often been named (and older communities renamed) after their founders, discoverers, or after notable individuals. Examples include Vancouver, British Columbia, named after the explorer George Vancouver; and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, originally called Isbister’s Settlement but renamed after Queen Victoria’s husband and consort in 1866.

Also, in science and technology, discoveries and innovations are often named after the discoverer (or supposed discoverer) to honor some other influential workers. Examples are Avogadro’s number, he Diesel engine, Alzheimer’s disease, and the Apgar score. Because proper nouns are capitalized in English, the usual default for eponyms is to capitalize the eponymous part of a term. The common-noun part is not capitalized (unless it is part of a title or it is the first word in a sentence). For example, in Parkinson disease (named after James Parkinson), Parkinson is capitalized, but disease is not.

However, some eponymous adjectives are nowadays entered in many dictionaries as lowercases when they have evolved a common status, no longer deriving their meaning from the proper-noun origin. For example, Herculean when referring to Hercules himself, but often herculean when referring to the figurative generalized extension sense. For any given term, one dictionary may enter only lowercase or only cap, whereas other dictionaries may recognize the capitalized version as a variant, either equally common as, or less common than, the first-listed styling (marked with labels such as “or”, “also”, “often” or “sometimes”).

English can use either genitive case or attributive position to indicate the adjectival nature of the eponymous part of the term. (In other words, that part may be either possessive or nonpossessive. ) Thus Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson disease are both acceptable. Medical dictionaries have been shifting toward nonpossessive styling in recent decades, thus Parkinson disease is more likely to be used in the latest medical literature (especially in post prints) than is Parkinson’s disease. American and British English spelling differences can occasionally apply to eponyms.

For example, American style would typically be cesarean section whereas British style would typically be caesarean section. .


In a word, there are several ways of word-formation in the English language. However, not all these ways are isolated from each other. In fact, some of them all overlapped which means that a new word may be considered as a result of different ways of formation. Also, understanding these various methods of forming a new word, as an integrated component of linguistics, enables us to dig out the hidden rules behind thousands of new emerging words.

Therefore, although many new words would appear as the world move on and new technologies are developed, people are able to grasp these new words with ease because of these word-formation rules. Meanwhile, people are exposed to different accesses of forming new words with already existing ones to express the unexpected phenomenon or tectonics in the future.

Works cited:

  • Crystal, David. A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, Sixth Edition, Blackwell Publishers, 2008.
  • Fischer, Roswitha.Lexical change in present-day English: A corpus-based study of the motivation, institutionalization, and productivity of creative neologisms. 1998
  • Marchand, Hans. The Categories and Types of Present-Day English Word-formation. Munchen: C. H. Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung,1969
  • Ghil'ad Zuckermann, Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003
  • Baker, Mark C. The Polysynthesis Parameter. Oxford: Oxford University Press,1998
  • Mithun, Marianne. The evolution of noun incorporation. Language, 1984

Related Questions

on A Brief Introduction to Methods of Word Formation in English

What is the method of word formation?
Word formation is the process of creating new words from existing words or roots. This can be done through a variety of methods, such as affixation, compounding, conversion, and clipping. Each of these methods involves adding, removing, or changing elements of existing words to create new words.
What is word formation introduction in English?
Word formation in English is the process of creating new words from existing words or roots. This can be done through processes such as affixation, compounding, conversion, and clipping. Word formation is an important part of the English language, as it allows for the creation of new words to express new ideas and concepts.
What are the 4 types of word formation?
The four types of word formation are compounding, derivation, conversion, and borrowing. Compounding involves combining two or more words to create a new word, while derivation involves adding a prefix or suffix to a word to create a new word. Conversion involves changing the form of a word without changing its meaning, and borrowing involves taking a word from another language and using it in the native language.
What are the process of word formation in English language?
Word formation in English language involves the use of prefixes, suffixes, compounding, and conversion. Prefixes and suffixes are added to existing words to create new words, while compounding involves combining two or more words to create a new word. Conversion involves changing the form of a word without changing its meaning, such as changing a noun to a verb.

Cite this Page

A Brief Introduction to Methods of Word Formation in English. (2017, May 28). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/a-brief-introduction-to-methods-of-word-formation-in-english/

Don't let plagiarism ruin your grade

Run a free check or have your essay done for you

plagiarism ruin image

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Save time and let our verified experts help you.

Hire writer