Word Formation:
Changing one word into another

Words index
  Vivian Cook

Many words are derived from the basic store of words in the language through a limited number of processes, called in general derivation:

1. Prefixes are added at the beginning of the word to create a word with an added meaning: ‘re-’ is added to get ‘re-do’, ‘replay’, ‘refurnish’ and ‘refinance’; we are no longer conscious of the prefix in earlier creations ‘relate’, ‘redemption’, ‘refrain’ etc. Other prefixes include: ‘post-’ (‘postnatal’, ‘postpone’); ‘in-’ (‘input’, ‘insure’); ‘ex-’ (‘expatriate’, ‘ex-Prime Minister’), and many others. In some cases, the original form is now lost or extremely rare:‘disgruntled’ (‘gruntled’?), ‘uncouth’ (‘couth’?), except in jokes by for example P.G. Wodehouse: 'he was far from being gruntled’. Popular recent prefixes are ‘e‑ as in ‘email’ and ‘i‑’ as in ‘i-pod’.

2. Suffixes are added at the end of words with similar effects. ‘-ness’ (‘happiness’, ‘blackness’); ‘-al’‘arrival’, ‘partial’], ‘-ite’ (‘Blairite’, ‘socialite’). However in English suffixes are also used grammatically, sometimes as grammatical inflections such as ‘-s’ (‘books’) or ‘-ed’ (‘liked’, ‘waited’), at other times to show the grammatical class of a word; ‘sad’ is an adjective: add a ‘-ly’ and you get an adjective ‘sadly’.

3.  Compounds are made by adding two words together to get a new word with a distinctive meaning: ‘tea’ + ‘time’ gives ‘teatime’, ‘back’ + ‘scrub’ gives ‘backscrub’, ‘coal’ + ‘black’ gives ‘coalblack’ etc. The meaning links between the two words are not always the same: a ‘goldfish’ is coloured gold but a ‘goldsmith’ isn’t; ‘uphold’ is to ‘hold up’ but ‘upbeat’ is not to ‘beat up’; and so on

4.  Conversion is when a word is converted to a new grammatical class, for example the preposition ‘up’ is used as a noun in ‘he upped the stakes’, the verb ‘read’ is used as a noun in ‘He had a good read’, the adjective ‘green’ is a noun in ‘The Greens’. Again some of these conversions are so old we are no longer aware of them and we only notice modern inventions like teenagers’ ‘big up’ (to praise).

5. Infixes occur in the middle of words, which is extremely rare in English: the only convincing example being ‘absobloominglutely’ and ‘kangabloomingroo’ (substitute your favourite swear-word for ‘blooming’. The rapper Snoop Dogg is famous for putting ‘izz’ or ‘izzle’ into words: ‘hizzouse’ (house), ‘ahizzead’ (‘ahead’)

Derivation will obviously attract writers who like to play with words. See if you can guess the creators of the following:



Douglas Coupland

Terry Pratchett

P.G. Wodehouse

Anthony Burgess


1. Omnianism






2. gorgeosity






3. soup-platey






4. teleparablizing






5. ultra-violence






6. ambi-sinister






7. kick-boots






8. downnesting






9. black-on-black eyes






10. upping with the lark






11. emallgration





 Answers: Coupland (4, 8, 11), Pratchett (1, 6), Wodehouse (3, 10), Burgess (2, 5, 7, 9)

Infixes  Blends  Reduplicatives

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