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Concourse 2

Word formation

building words


Making new words

Now that you know a little about morphemes, it's time to see how we can use them to make new meanings in English.  Note, the 'in English' there: languages around the world make new words in a bewildering number of ways.  We focus here only on how English does this.

root and branch

Root and branch

The first thing to do is distinguish between the root or base word and the derivations that branch from it.  Here's an example of deriving words from the root word nation:
word formation

You can of course now recognise the morphemes in these words.


The three main ways to make new words

Although there are other ways to make new words in English, we'll look only at the most important three.



This is the simplest way to make a new word but it is not always obvious because there are no changes to the morphemes.  The most common way to do this is from nouns to verbs but there are also other ways.
Here are some examples:

The word ... as in ... can be converted to ... by ...
clean (adjective) It's a clean house clean (verb) by using it as a verb as in, e.g.
Please clean it carefully.
bottle (noun) It's a blue bottle bottle (verb) by using it as a verb as in, e.g.
The vineyard bottles its own wine.
pocket (noun) He put it in his pocket pocket (verb) by using it as a verb as in, e.g.
He pocketed the money.



To affix simply means to stick on and, as we saw with the example using the root nation, above, English has a variety of ways to do this with a variety of effects.
There are two primary terms:

  1. Prefixation refers adding a morpheme to the beginning of a word.  For example:
    Adding the prefix un- to many words results in the opposite meaning: unpleasant, unable, unforgiving etc.
  2. Suffixation refers to adding a morpheme to the end of a word.  For example:
    Adding the suffix -ment to the end of a word changes it into a noun: achievement, discernment, disappointment.

So what is the effect of prefixes usually and what is the effect of suffixes usually?
Click here when you have an answer.

Here's a brief task.  Fill in the last column in your head and then click on the table for an answer.




The final way to consider word building is to look at compounding.  This means adding words together to make new meanings.  For example:
Add house to keeper and you get housekeeper
Add play to mate and you get playmate
and so on.
Sometimes the words are joined together (dishwasher), sometimes they are hyphenated (notice-board) and sometimes they remain separate (cigarette lighter) but they are all treated as single ideas.

Here's a last task.  What sorts of words are being joined here?
Fill in the last column in your head and then click on the table for an answer.



Take a test

To make sure you have understood so far, try a very short test of your knowledge of word formation.
Use the 'Back' button to return when you have done that.

If you got that all right, it is safe to move on.

That is the end of this section of the course.  If you want to know more, go to the teacher training index and select the level you want.  That will take you to a contents menu from which you can select what you need.

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