Derivative structure of words

The nature, type and arrangement of the IC of the word is known as its derivational structure.

The basic elementary units of the derivative structure of words are: derivational bases, derivational affixesand derivational patterns.

Derivational analysis is aimed at establishing the derivative types of words, the interrelation between them and at finding out how different types of derivatives are constructed.

According to their derivational structure all words fall into two classes: simplexesor simple, non-derived words, and complexesor derivatives.

Simplexesare words which derivationally cannot be segmented into ICs.

Complexes are secondary motivated words, made up of two or more ICs.

According to the type of the underlying derivational pattern complexes are classified into affixal words, compound words, conversions and shortenings or abbreviations.

Lecture 7. Word-formation

Definition and types

Word-formation is the system of derivative types of words and the process of creating new words from the material available in the language after certain structural and semantic formulas and patterns.

The basic types of word-formation are affixation, composition, conversion and abbreviation or shortening.


Affixation is defined as the formation of words by adding derivational affixes to different types of bases. According to the division of derivational affixes into suffixes and prefixes affixation is subdivided into suffixation and prefixation.


Prefixation is the formation of words with the help of prefixes.

There are two main types of prefixes: (1) bound morphemes – those prefixes that cannot function in speech as independent words, e.g. un- uneasy, dis- dislike; (2) semibound morphemes – those prefixes that can function in speech both derivational affixes and as independent words, e.g. out- outline, over- overlap.

7.2.2. Suffixation

Suffixation is the formation of words with the help of suffixes. Suffixes usually modify the lexical meaning of the base and transfer words to a different part of speech.

According to the part of speech formed suffixes are classified into (1) noun-suffixes that is those forming nouns, e.g. -er: teacher, -dom: freedom; (2) adjective-suffixes that is those forming adjectives, e.g. -less: careless, -ful: careful; (3) verb-suffixes that is those forming verbs, e.g. –en: darken, -fy: satisfy; (4) adverb-suffixes that is those forming adverbs, e.g. –ly: quickly.

According to the sense expressed by e set of suffixes they are subdivided into (1) suffixes denoting the agent of an action, e.g. –er: baker, -ant: defendant; (2) suffixes denoting collectivity, e.g. –dom: officialdom, -ry: peasantry; (3) suffixes denoting diminutiveness, e.g. –ie: birdie, -ling: duckling.

These classifications can be continued further and there are o lot of other classifications.

Composition or compounding

Compounding or word-composition is linking together at least two stems which occur in the language as free forms, e.g. oak-tree, blackbird, fancy-dress-maker.

Compound words may be classified according to different principles: (1) according to the relationship and degree of semantic independence of components; (2) according to the parts of speech compound words represent; (3) according to the means of composition used to link the Immediate Constituents together; (4) according to the type of Immediate Constituents that are brought together to form o compound; (5) according to the correlative relations with the system of free word-groups.


Conversion is the process of coining a new word in a different part of speech with a different paradigm and distribution, but without adding any derivative element and without changing the form of the derivative word, so that the original base-word and the derivative word are homonymous. E.g. ape (n.) ® to ape (v.). The second word in the conversion pair is semantically derived from the first one.

According to the type of semantic relations in this pair we may distinguish the following basic conversion patterns:

1) N®V: verbs converted from nouns or denominal verbs: bag® to bag; this process is called verbalization;

2) V ®N: nouns converted from verbs or deverbal substantives: to move ® move; this process is called substantivation;

3) N ®A: adjectives converted from nouns or denominal adjectives: suspect (n.) ® suspect (a.); this process is called adjectivization;

4) A ®N: adjectives converted into nouns or deadjectival nouns: intellectual (a.) ® intellectual (n.); this process is called substantivation;

5) A ®Adv: adjectives converted into adverbs or deadjectival adverbs: dear (a.) ® dear (adv.); this process is called adverbialization.

Shortening and abbreviation

Shortening or abbreviation is the process of subtraction of a part of the original word.

Shortening or contraction

Shortening may be also called clipping, curtailment or contracting of words.

The generally accepted classification of shortened words is based on the position of the clipped part. According to the part of the word that is cut off – final, initial or middle we distinguish:

1) final clipping (or apocope) in which the beginning of the prototype is retained; e.g. lab < laboratory;

2) initial clipping (or apheresis [{'fi@risis], or aphesis['{fisis]) in which the final part of the prototype is retained; e.g. chute< parachute;

3) medial clipping (or syncope) ['siÎk@pi] in which the middle part of the prototype is left out; e.g. specs< spectacles;

4) final clipping may be combined with initial clipping and result in curtailed words with the middle part of the prototype retained; e.g. flu < influenza.

There are cases when curtailment is combined with affixation; e.g. nightie < nightdress + -ie.

There are also cases when curtailment is combined with composition that result in compound shortening; e.g. satcom< satellite communication.

Among such formations there is a special group of derivatives named blends, blendings, fusions or portmanteau [pþt'm{nt@u] words; they are formed by clipping combined with blending; e.g. smog < smoke + fog.

There are cases when the words slide or inserted into one another without any clipping; this process is called telescoping; e.g. alcoholiday < alcohol + holiday “a drinking spree”.

There is a special type of curtailed forms base on clipped phrases; they result from a combined effect of curtailment, ellipsis and substantivation. Ellipsis is defined as the omission of a word or words in a word-combination or phrase; e.g. finals< final examinations.


Abbreviations are formed from the initial letters of the prototype word or word-combination. Here we distinguish two main types of abbreviations:

1) initial-letterabbreviations retaining the alphabetical reading of each constituent letter; e.g. B.B.C.['bÖ'bÖ'sÖ] < British Broadcasting Corporation;

2) initial-soundabbreviations or acronyms when the abbreviated written form can be read as an ordinary English word; e.g. Nato['neit@u] < North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The term abbreviation can also be applied for a shortened form of a written word or phrase used in a text in place of the whole, for economy of space and effort. Such abbreviations are called graphic as they are not separate words but only graphic signs or symbols representing them pronounced like full words; e.g. bldg < building.

A special type of graphic abbreviationsis represented by Latinabbreviations which sometimes are not read as Latin words but substituted by there English equivalents;e.g. (< exempli gratia) “for example”.

Back-formation or reversion

Back-formation or reversion is a diachronic process denoting the derivation og new words by subtracting a real or supposed affix from existing words through misinterpretation of there structure. The process is based on analogy.

E.g. the words burglar, butler look very much like agent nouns with the suffix –er/-or such as actor or painter. The last syllable is therefore taken for a suffix and is subtracted from the word leaving what is understood as a verbal stem. In this way the verbs to burgle and to butle are formed.

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