Word-formation Processes

What is Word-formation?

Word-formation refers to the process of creating complex words. Complex words are made up of roots and affixes, or morphemes, the smallest meaningful units of any language, which can be segmented for study and analysis.

What are the Types of Word-formation?

Words, composed of smaller units called morphemes, are formed through numerous English word-formation processes. There are three broad types of word-formation: Affixation, Derivation (or Non-affixation), and Compounding

1. Affixation (Prefixation and Suffixation)

Affixational English word-formation processes are either prefixation or suffixation. Prefixation creates a new complex word out of existing ones by adding a prefix before a root word while in suffixation, by putting a suffix after the root word.

  • Prefixation: ambidextrous, contraceptive, mispronounce, nonstandard,
  • Suffixation: orphanage, dependence, kingdom, defendant

2. Derivation (Conversion, Truncation, Blending)

Derivation refers to the type of word formation involving modification of the internal structure of the word, not through addition of affixes. 

  • Conversion: the hammer (noun) - to hammer (verb), well-fed (adjective) - the well-fed (noun), empty (adjective) - to empty (verb)
  • Truncation: condo (condominium), demo (demonstration), lab (laboratory)
  • Blending: boatel (boat + hotel), brunch (breakfast + lunch), guesstimate (guess + estimate), smog (smoke + fog)

3. Compounding 

Compounding is the most productive means of creating new words in English. Compounding (or composition) is loosely defined as the combination of two words to form a new word. 

  • Noun Compounds: astrophysics, teeth marks, self-control, film society
  • Adjective Compounds: blindfold, light-green, deaf-mute, home-brewed 


  • Word Formation in English by Ingo Plag (Cambridge University Press, 2002) 
  • A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language by Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech, and Jan Svartvik (Longman Group Ltd., 1985)
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