The Process of Word Formation in English


 The Process of Word Formation in English

The Process of Word Formation in English

The Process of Word Formation in English

The Process of Word Formation in English

Besides its own native sources, English vocabulary has not only been enlarged by foreign and borrowed words but it can also easily create new words and terms out of its familiar words. There are many processes to form new words, such as: Composition, Derivation, Back-formation, Shortening, Names of Places and Persons, Telescoping and use of Verbs as Nouns and Nouns as Verbs. All these processes of word formation in English have been discussed below in detail. 

A.  Composition

The first simplest way to form new words in English is ‘Composition’ which means the joining together of two existing words. By such composition, the general compound words are made. This process of composition to form compound words has been continuing from the earliest period of the English language, but the regular process of making such compound words by joining together two words began in the Middle English Period, and in this respect, the English language has been inspired by Greek and German which are very flexible to form new words by joining together two familiar words. There are many ways to create new compound words by composition, such as:

(a) By joining together two Nouns,

(b) By adding an Adjective to a Noun,

(c) By adding a Noun to an Adjective,

(d) By adding an Adverb to a Noun

(e) By adding an Adjective to an Adverb and

(f) By adding a Verb to an Adverb.

Let us show examples of such compound words one by one.

New words made by adding a Noun to a Noun are –rail-way, steam-boat, mango-tree, electric-light, table-lamp, corn-field etc. This process of creating new words by adding a noun to a noun is very common in English. In this process of word formation, the last noun expresses a general meaning which is modified and limited. As for example the last part of the compound word rail-way retains a general meaning. The ‘way’ generally means a ‘road’.

Examples of compound words made by an Adjective and a Noun are- hot-bed, block-bird, white-house, green-room, long-pent etc.

Examples of compound words formed by an Adverb and a Noun are- out room, out-field, under-clothes, under-day etc.

Examples of compound words composed by an Adverb and an Adjective are- ever-fresh, down-hearted, under-ripe etc.

Examples of new words composed by an Adjective and a Verb are- white-wash, rough-hew etc.

Examples of compound words made by an Adverb and a Verb, such as: over-come, in-lay, over-turn, out-live etc.

There are a number of words that are formed by a Verb and a Noun denoting the object of action such words are: break-fast, pick-pocket, know-nothing, tell-tale etc.

There are a good many words formed by an Adjective and an Adjective, such as: long-haired, short-tailed, fine-leaved etc.

Besides these processes, there is another method of forming new words as by bringing together a verb and an adverb which are generally called Phrasal Verbs. Some examples of such words are: act for, bear-down, come about, deal out etc. Such phrasal verbs are so many in English that it is a difficult task to enumerate them in a limited research hall.

There is a great significance of such compound words in literature because such words increase the poetic quality of a language. The poets from Chaucer onwards, who gave more emphasis to feeling and imagination than to intellect and reason used such compound words at large. In Shakespeare, we get such compound words as: young-eyed-charubians, a heaven-kissing-hill, proud-pied-April etc. In Spenser, we come across such compound words as: self-consuming care, silver-dropping tears, rosy-fingered morn etc. Such words increase the literary beauty of any writing for which it may not be an exaggeration to say that compound words are independent poems in themselves.

B. Derivation

The second outstanding process of forming new words is by ‘Derivation’ which means the formation of a new word out of an old one by adding either a prefix or a suffix. This process was very rare in Old English but very common in Modern English. To create new words by derivation, English took foreign prefixes or suffixes to its native words and sometimes its native prefixes or suffixes to foreign words. As prefixes English uses such prefixes as: miss, un, multi, hyper, pseudo, meta, proto, neo etc. and as suffixes, English uses such words as: -ness, -less, -full, -ish, -tion, -dom, -er, -al, -age, -ment etc. Let us show some examples of new words formed by means of Derivation.

(a) By Using Prefix

By using the prefix ‘miss’ the English language makes such words, as: mis-done, mis-conduct, mis-behaviour, mis-applied etc.

By adding ‘un’ as prefix-we get such words as: undo, uncover, un-common, unbending etc.

By adding ‘multi’ we can create such new words, as: multi-form, multi-fold, multi- purpose, multi-millionaire etc.

By adding ‘hyper’ prefix are: hyperbole, hyper-sensitive, hyper-minded, hyper-intellect etc.

By adding ‘pseudo’ as a prefix are- pseudo-classic, pseudo-romantic, pseudo-Christian etc.

By adding the prefix ‘meta’ we get-such words, as: Meta-morposed, meta-physical, metabolism etc.

By the prefixes ‘proto’ to English words are: proto- type, proto-plasm, proto-French etc.

By using the prefix ‘neo’ English has enlarged its vocabulary by making such new words as: neo-classical, neo-platonic, neo-science, neo-humanism etc.

(b) By Using Suffix

The second outstanding process of making new words by means of derivation is the use of native or foreign suffixes to its native or foreign words, such as:

By adding the suffix ‘ness’ we get such words, as: brightness, bitterness, loveliness etc.

By adding ‘less’ we make such words as: helpless, light-less, airless, mindless etc.

By adding suffix ‘-ish’ to English native words are: foolish, boyish, girlish, bookish, littlish etc.

By adding the suffix ‘-dom’ the English vocabulary is enlarged by such words as: dukedom, kingdom, wisdom, princedom etc.

By adding ‘-tion’ we have such words as: nation, estimation, derivation, lamentation etc.

By adding ‘-er’, ‘-al’, ‘-age’, ‘-fy’ ‘-ment’, ‘-ess’ etc. we create such words as: speaker, doer, legal natural, shortage, mileage, vivify, beautify, enlargement goddess, prophetess etc.

And by adding the suffixes as: -ize, -ism, -ist, -istic, etc. either to its native words or foreign words, English has formed such words as- nationalize, jeopardize, Mohammadism, Jainism, artist, nationalist, materialistic, artistic etc.

By derivation, English has made so many words that it would be a matter of vain effort if any modern research scholar goes to collect them in a limited book within a limited space of time because such new words are being created every day.

C. Back Formation

‘Back-formation’ is another outstanding method of forming new words in English. By Back-formation we mean the formation of a word by subtracting something from old ones. Most of the words formed by back-formation are by means of subtracting suffix or prefix. For example, we can make the word darkle from the word darkling by subtracting –’ling’ which is generally called a suffix. But it is to say that most of the words formed by means of back-formation are done by subtracting suffixes than prefixes generally we can get new words with new meanings by subtracting such ending as: ling, y, er, ar, or, se etc. 

By subtracting- ‘ling’ we get such words as: grovel (from groveling), darkle (from darkling), side from sideling) etc.

By subtracting ‘-y’ English forms such words, as: greed (from greedy), laze (from lazy), cose (from cosy), jeopard (from jeopardy), difficult (from difficulty), pup (from puppy) etc.

By subtracting ‘-er’ from noun many verbs may be formed, as: peddle (from peddler), hawk (from hawker), harbing (from harbinger) etc.

By subtracting ‘-ar’ from noun many verbs are made, such as: ‘burgle’ (from burglar), beg (from beggar), peddle (from peddler) etc.

By subtracting ‘or’, such as: edit (from editor) donate (from donator) etc.

There are a good many nouns which end in ‘-se’ originally which were singular but wrongly regarded as plural but later on were made again singular by subtracting- ‘se’ such as: pea (from O.E. pease), cherry from (Old English cherise), skate (from O.E. skates) etc.

Thus many new words are going to be made by means of back-formation in English which has, likewise, been enriching the poignant vocabulary of the English language.

D. Shortening

‘Shortening’ is another method of forming new words in English. Shortening means not the abbreviated form of a word but the clipping of one or more syllables from a word that gains a special meaning. Shortening is generally used in conversation in a hurry. Many shortened words are not synonymous with their original meaning though many times they donate the same objects. They gain special meanings of the same kind, but not the exact meaning. For example, the shortened form of ‘omnibus’ is ‘bus’. But there is a slight difference in meaning because ‘bus’ means general ‘bus’, but ‘omnibus’ means a particular kind of passenger carrying bus. Other examples of the shortened form of words are- photo (for photograph), bike (for bicycle) wig (for periwig) etc.

In course of time, a word formed by shortening develops into a meaning of its own which is generally different from the original. For example, ‘cab’ is the shortened form of ‘cabriolet’ but the shortened form ‘cab’ does not mean the same kind of vehicle at all. So the shortened form of ‘Mistress’ is ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’, but they are quite different in meaning. Originally ‘gent’ was the shortened form of ‘gentleman’ which meant the same thing, but in course of time it has degenerated in meaning and now comes to mean a vain pretender of ‘gentility’. Other examples of such words which are degenerated in meaning are- ‘extra’ from ‘extraordinary’, ‘phiz’ from ‘physiognomy’, ‘chap’ from ‘chapman’, ‘trade’r from ‘tradesman’ etc.

During the Middle English and early Modern English Periods, many words initiated with vowel immediately preceded by stress syllable was generally propped in a hurry of pronunciation and such words, in course of time become independent words with independent meanings of general use, such words are: ‘size’ (from assize), ‘live’ (from alive), ‘tend’ (from attend), ‘lone’ (from alone), ‘mend’ (from amend), ‘fence’ (from defense), ‘sport’ (from disport), ‘stain’ (from distain) etc.

There are many words that do not owe their origin to shortening in pronunciation, but to the abbreviations which are generally used in writing, such as: M.P. (Member of Parliament) is spoken or written as ‘Empee’ and D.C.L. as Dee Cee  Al etc.

Thus shortening has contributed much to the creation of new words with new meanings which have enlarged the vocabulary of the English language.

E. Words of Unknown Etymology

There are a number of words the etymology of which is unknown, but such words have come to be used in our everyday vocabulary with special meanings of their own. There are many ways and causes of becoming such words as our everyday words. First of all, such words come through children who often utter some strange words which have no meaning, but in course of time, such strange words come into circulation and adopt a special meaning. Secondly, some new words come into being by means of children again because sometimes they pronounce an old word wrongly which later on gain a special meaning of its own. Thirdly, many new words come into use by sudden circumstances. The words created in such ways are generally called Words of Unknown Etymology or Root-creation.

The history of words of unknown etymology is as old as the English language. From the earliest period of the English language to the modern period such words have been going to be created. During the latter half of the Old English period and the Middle English period, English has taken many words of unknown etymology either from its native sources or by means of foreign influences. During the Old and Middle English periods, English has taken such words of unknown etymology as: boy, girl, lad, lass, pig, fog, bed, mum, job, fun, pun etc. Though the etymology of which is unknown, yet such words have occupied a special place in our everyday vocabulary.

There are many new words the investigation of the origin and history of which is unknown but said to be created by poets and writers, due to onomatopoeia. Some of such words are: bing-bong, ping-pong, ding-dong, hiss-hiss, hum-hum, bow-bow, tilter- -twilter.

There are some such words that have been created in recent times and have given a place in literature also. Examples of such words are: vodai (for a fool), bohu (for vain pedantry), hoil (for discomfiture) etc.

F. Words Formed From Place Names and Proper Names

Names of places and persons are also fruitful sources of new words in English. As for example- the adjective ‘Indian’ has come from the noun ‘India’. Thus many words as Canter have come from Canterbury (name of a province in England) and ‘worsted’ from ‘worstead’ (name of a village).

The word that comes from the name of a person is ‘tawdry’ from saint Adry’s splendid dress. Thus the word ‘boycott’ has come from captain ‘Boycott’ (an Irish landlord). From the names of fictitious characters, such words have come into being, as: quixotic, hector, pander, malapropism, Shakespearean, Keatsian, Miltonic etc.

G. Telescoping

Another method of forming new words in English is Telescoping. In philology, the term ‘Telescoping’ means the combination of two or more words into one. It was an old process of word-maxing in English. The Old English language formed the word ‘don’ by combining two independent words ‘do’ and ‘on’; ‘chortle’ from ‘chuckl’e and ‘snort’; ‘galumph’ from ‘gallop’ and ‘triumphant’ etc.

Thus by means of Telescoping, many new words have been going to be created in English as independent words.

H. Words Used as Verb and Noun 

In English, there are many nouns, which are also used as verbs and many verbs which are also used as nouns, and such words have enriched the vocabulary of English considerably. For example, we can take the following sentence:

(a) Ram kills a tiger.

(b) Corbett leaves the kill behind the hill.

In the first sentence, the word ‘kill’ is used as a verb, but in the second sentence, the word ‘kill’ is used as a noun. Other examples of such words which are used both as a verb and as a noun on different occasions are: smoke, talk, dress, embrace, harass etc. But it is to say that the number of such words is so much in English that it would prove a vain effort, for anybody, to give a complete list of such words. 0 0 0


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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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