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Concourse 2

Word formation


If you are here for the first time, you can work through this guide sequentially but if you are returning to check something, here's a list of the contents to take you to its various sections.
Clicking on -top- at the end of each section will bring you back to this menu.

Introduction Affixation Combining forms Prefixation False separation
Apophony / Mutation Suffixation Spelling rules Back formations Conversion
Frequentatives Acronyms Borrowings and Calques Blending and Clipping Coinages / Neologisms


Forming new words

How does English make new words?
Here are some examples:

drive (verb) drive (noun) conversion
writer co-writer prefixation
tick tick-tock reduplication
cup + board cupboard compounding
perambulator pram clipping
motor + hotel motel blending
happy happily suffixation

English makes a good deal of use of affixation (either suffix or prefix attachment), compounding and conversion but less of the other means of word formation.  (Other languages may include, e.g., infixing in the middle of a word, circumfixing to both beginning and ends of words and so on.)  Affixation and Conversion form the main focus of this guide.  Compounding deserves a section to itself and a link to that guide is in the list at the end.

Other ways in words are made are also considered below.


Stems and base forms

A word stem is the section of a word responsible for its meaning.
In English, for example, the stem of the word comfortable is comfort which can stand alone as a meaningful lexeme.
The term stem is used with different meanings when analysing languages which are heavily inflected.  For example, in many Romance languages, the stem of a verb cannot stand alone and always appears in combinations with various suffixes denoting number, gender, person and social relationships.
In the case of English, and other less inflecting languages such as Mandarin, however, the stem is often indistinguishable from the base form so we have, for example, the verb put which has no past forms and only occurs with a suffix in two forms (puts and putting).
In Spanish, the stem of the same verb is pon- which cannot stand alone but always appears in combination with suffixes so we get:
    pongo (I put)
    pones (you put)
    pone (she puts)
    ponemos (we put)
    ponen (they put)
this makes the stem a bound morpheme (see below) which cannot stand alone.  The stem of an adjective is sometimes referred to as the positive form to distinguish it from the comparative and superlative forms.




building new words

The most important way by far that English forms new words is by deriving them from the forms currently in the language.  Affixation is the general terms applied to this in English and affects both word class and meaning.

Here are some examples of affixation with the affixes in black.

  • unhappy
  • happiness
  • dislike
  • likeable
  • friendly
  • unfriendly
  • overdone
  • undone
  • redone
  • doable
  • popularize
  • amazement

Figure out what the affixes are doing, their function, and then complete these sentences.  Click here when you have.

Inserting a prefix usually changes the __________ but not the __________.
Inserting a suffix usually changes the __________ but not the basic __________.

There are exceptions to this general rule:

  1. The prefixes be- and en- make verbs as in, e.g., bejewel, become, besiege, befriend, enliven, enforce, encourage etc. but the prefixes used in this way are not productive for new coinages.
  2. The prefix a- makes adjectives from nouns and verbs as in, e.g., asleep, afoot, aground etc.
  3. The suffixes -less and -ful affect the meaning rather than the word class producing gradable adjective antonym pairs such as hopeful-hopeless, useful-useless, painful-painless etc. but this is not a consistent arrangement because, e.g., helpful and helpless are not antonyms and there are no equivalent antonyms for friendless, boastful and many other adjectives so *friendful and *boastless do not exist.

Morphology is the term given to the study of this area of language and that comes from the term morpheme which is applied to the smallest meaningful units of the language.  Morphemes can vary just as phonemes do and have allomorphs so, for example, the suffix denoting ability can be spelled as -able or -ible with no difference in meaning just as a past tense can be indicated by -d, -ed or -t.



Combining forms

Most prefixes and suffixes will affect the meaning of a word or alter its word class.  Some, however, are called combining forms because they add a new layer of meaning when they combine with another word or morpheme.
They are not usually considered simple affixes and they occupy a rather grey area between affixation and compounding.  The words with which they combine are in themselves often independent, free-standing lexemes and the form adds to the sense rather than altering it.  Combining forms can combine with other combining forms or affixes as well.
Many of these affixes are used in scientific language as a way of increasing the meanings contained within an expression.  Some occur with a very narrow range of other items and are not consistently used.
Here are some examples:

prefixed forms
bio- adds the sense of organic life to a word so we can have, e.g.

and so on.
dendro- relates to trees so we can have, e.g.
neuro- relates to nerves so we can have:

glosso- relates to language so we can have:
ferro- relates to iron so we can have:

cardio- relates to the heart so we can have:
suffixed forms
-cide relates to killing so we can have:

-ology refers to a branch of knowledge so we can have

-phobe relates to fear so we can have:
-genic refers to producing so we can have:

-nym relates to names so we can have:
    eponym (see below)

Combining forms themselves may combine with affixes and other combining forms so we get, in addition to some of the previous examples:


The test for whether we are dealing with a simple affix or a combining form is to consider:

  1. Does the form alter the meaning of what it is attached to or does it add to the meaning?  If it is the latter, it is a combining form.
  2. Can the form stand alone?  If it can, it is part of a compound not a combining form.  Combining forms are bound morphemes, in other words.
    (In some analyses, a rather looser view is taken and, for example, the -winner part of breadwinner may be considered a combining form.  In this analysis, that would be an example of compounding, not affixation.)

If you would like a list of some combining forms with their meaning and a few examples, click here.



Prefixes in English

adding to the head

For this part of the guide, you need to download the worksheet.
The first exercise involves sorting the prefixes in the list into groups under the headings in the table.  Do that now and then click for the answer.


Negative prefixes

There are six negative prefixes in English but one of them, in-, has three allomorphs: im-, il- and ir-.  Their use is complicated and it is almost impossible to arrive at the conventional form by guessing.
They can be subdivided in two ways:

  1. By meaning:
    1. Contradictory meaning is the polar opposite of a concept.  For example:
      means the opposite of military and
      is the opposite of organised.
      With this meaning, there is no intermediate stage because the word itself is non-gradable.
    2. Contrary meaning allows for intermediate stages and occurs with gradable adjectives in particular so, for example:
      does not necessarily mean the opposite of happy.  It may mean less happy than before, for example.
    3. Privative meaning is the lack of something so, for example:
      mean lacking in morals or lacking in symmetry.
    4. Reversal meaning occurs with verbs and is exemplified by:
      which all signal a reversal of a process.
  2. By how they form words
    1. a- and its allomorph an- are only appended to Latin or Greek derived adjectives and only signal privative meaning.  For example:
      both signal the lack of a state.
    2. de- is prefixed to verbs and their derived nouns to signal the reversal of an action or removal.  For example:

      all signal reversal or extraction.
    3. dis- is prefixed to verbs and implies simply not the action or state so, for example:
          disagree = not agree
      It can also imply reversal as in, e.g.:

      The prefix also attaches to nouns, adjectives and verbs with a privative meaning as in:

      i.e., having no arrangement or no organisation etc. or having arrangement and organisation etc. taken away (that's the meaning of privative).
      It was also attached to adjectives such as

      etc. but is no longer used to form new adjectives.
    4. in- attaches to Latinate adjectives almost solely and is also now unproductive.  For example:

      There are four allomorphs of this prefix determined by the nature of the adjectives to which they are attached.  For example:
      Before 'l':

      Before 'p':

      Before 'm'
      Before 'r':
      One reason for its unproductive nature may be the possible confusion with its meaning of in, inward or into as in
    5. non- is prefixed to adjectives usually and has a contradictory, ungradable sense as in:

      Unlike the prefix un- this one does not imply any judgement but simply states a fact.  Compare, for example:
          It was a non-authorised action
          It was an unauthorised action
      in which the second use of the adjective implies (or can imply) a degree of criticism but the first does not carry that implication.
    6. un- is probably the most productive negative prefix and attaches to both adjectives and verbs.  When it attaches to verbs it usually signals reversal as in:

      When it is attached to an adjective it signals a contrary but usually gradable meaning as in:


Here's a very brief summary of prefixation.  See above for more examples in each category.



Suffixes in English

adding to the tail

As we noted above, these usually change word class while retaining the essential meaning of the root form.  So friend changes to friend-ly but the sense remains.
Suffixes are, generally, derivational morphemes making changes to word class.

Go back to the worksheet and try the task on suffixation before returning and clicking here.

Notice how unbalanced the list is.  The majority of suffixes make nouns or adjectives with fewer making verbs or adverbs.  The adjective formations include -d / -ed and -ing which are participle adjectives.  These may also be formed from irregular participles so we get, e.g., spelt, broken, lost etc. as adjectives formed from participles.  There are no irregular -ing endings in English so the issue only arises with past-participle adjectives.
Some of these forms may be considered combining forms rather than suffixes proper.  See the list linked above, for more.

Making nouns
Many suffixes make nouns from other nouns: slav--ery, king-dom, child-hood, book-let, gang-ster, Trotsky-ite, republic-an, elector-ate, musket-ry etc.
Only two suffixes make nouns from adjectives: happi-ness, abil-ity etc.
Some suffixes make nouns from verbs: disinfect-ant, hold-er, explor-ation, dot-age, act-or, refus-al, cook-ery, supervis-ion etc.
The suffix -ware is mostly confined to items for sale or manufactured goods as in white-ware, hard-ware, earthen-ware etc.
There is more on how nouns are formed in the guide to that word class, linked below.
Making adjectives
Many adjectives with suffixes are made from nouns: cream-y, hope-less, dolt-ish, hope-ful etc.
If the word from which it is derived ends in -l or -le some confusion can arise because the resulting adjective appears to be an adverb (as it ends in -ly).  For a list of such words, consult the guides to adjective and adverbs or click here for a list as a PDF document.
Many adjectives are also made from verbs with -ible or -able: extend-ible, enlarge-able etc.
The difference is that removing the -able suffix usually leaves a recognisable word but removing the -ible suffix does not.  Compare, for example:

etc. with

etc.  The first three examples are of what is termed a bound base or bound root (ed-, tang- and poss-).  See the guide to morphology for slightly more.
In nearly all cases, the -ible forms are more formal, less common and no longer productive so we have formal-informal pairings such as:
    credible - believable
    edible - eatable
    potable - drinkable
    risible - laughable
    illegible - unreadable
    comprehensible - understandable
    incorruptible - unbribable
    combustible - burnable
    feasible - doable

There is a wide range of other adjectival formations which differ semantically (see below)
Making adverbs
There are very limited choices but -ly is by far the most common: odd-ly, interesting-ly, work-wise, up-wards, width-ways, country-wide etc.  The suffix -wards with the -s is adverbial only.  Without the -s it can be adverbial or adjectival.
When the adjective ends in -ic, the usual choice is -ally rather than -ly: specific-ally, manic-ally etc.
The suffix -long is rare in the formation of adverbs and head-long and side-long seem the only possibilities.  Other such words are adjectival or nouns.
Making verbs
Choices are limited to 4 suffixes: divers-ify, person-ify, hard-en, soft-en, real-ize, item-ise, pontific-ate, differenti-ate etc.  (There are, however, some back formations using -ate to make verbs, such as, desiccate, abdicate etc.)
Verbs may be formed from nouns or adjectives, usually the latter.
Many verbs formed this way are causative in nature meaning that they cause the condition embodied in the adjective or noun from which they are derived.  They are called synthetic causative verbs in the trade (hunt down the guide to the causative for more).
Diminutive and feminine suffixes
Some suffixes which, while not changing the word class of the base, affect its meaning.  These include:
-let = small or trivial as in booklet, leaflet etc.
    = compact as in kitchenette, maisonette etc.
    = imitation as in leatherette, suedette etc.
    = feminine as in usherette, suffragette etc.  (This use is rare and becoming rarer.)
- ie or -y = affectionate diminutive as in daddy, mummy, auntie, doggie etc.
-ess = feminine as in actress, manageress etc.  (This form, too, is becoming rarer but is maintained for marking certain nouns such as lioness, duchess, princess etc.  See the guides to markedness and gender, linked below, for more.)

Here's a very brief summary of suffixation.  See above for more examples in each category.
summary suffixes


Suffixes: semantic functions and formation qualities

It is not easy to assign semantic rather than grammatical functions to suffixes in the way that prefixes can be handled but there are some general rules concerning some of the most common ones.


-ify, -ise-/ize-, -en
all signify causative meanings, making verbs from adjectives, as in socialise, intensify, humidify, broaden, deafen, strengthen, straighten etc.
The suffix -ate is also causative as in hydrate, fumigate, validate etc.  See also the notes on the suffix -ate, below.
This is an adjective forming suffix (see below) but also a causative verb ending as in, e.g., lengthen, shorten, blacken etc.
is unusual in that it forms both verbs and adjectives (from verbs and nouns).
When it forms verbs, it is often a combining form rather than a suffix proper because the stem is a bound base which does not appear alone so we get, e.g.:



etc. and implies making something of the quality of the base which is a Latin derived form and none of the bases in this list has an independent existence.  There is a strong argument that these sorts of words are not formations in English but derived directly from Latin cognates.
Rarely, the base form is a recognisable English word as in, e.g.:
and in these cases the suffix is properly derivational rather than a combining form.
When it is adjective forming, is has the same sense of the quality of something so we get, e.g.:

etc. and, again, some of the forms come with a bound base which has no independent existence in the language and can, therefore, be analysed as combining forms or as forms derived without affixation directly from French or Latin.


-ness, -ity, -dom, -hood, -ship,-ry, -ery
imply the state or quality of being something and is often the way nouns are formed from adjectives: a kind person exhibits kindness; a brutal person exhibits brutality.  We also have freedom, wisdom, statehood, brotherhood, fellowship, hardship etc.
Rarer examples of noun-forming suffixes include -th (growth, stealth), -ery (hostelry), and -red (hatred, kindred).
The -ery suffix, often reduced to -ry or simply -y, sometimes forms nouns concerning the area of work from the worker or person involved (grocery, citizenry, dentistry, bakery, colliery, cutlery, masonry, refinery, cookery, fishery, artistry, banditry, chemistry, forestry, freemasonry, mimicry, peasantry, pottery, puppetry, rivalry, toiletries etc.)
This suffix also makes nouns which refer to a collection of things (cutlery, crockery, drapery, gallery, jewelry, piggery etc.).  Additionally, it is used to denote a behaviour pattern (snobbery, trickery, harlotry, gallantry, cajolery, mockery, mimicry etc.)
Latin- and French-derived equivalent suffixes include:
    -age (breakage, marriage)
    -ance (abundance, brilliance)
    -cy (accuracy, lunacy)
    -ion (action, decision)
    -ice (service, cowardice)
    -ment (improvement, judgment, punishment)
    -ty (cruelty, frailty)
    -ure (pleasure, architecture, pressure).
The suffix -ity often requires the stress to be shifted to the last syllable of the stem so we get, e.g., similar and similarity (/ˈsɪ.mə.lə/ vs. /ˌsɪ.mə.ˈlæ.rɪ.ti/).  There is also a shortening of the vowel in many cases so, e.g., chaste (/tʃeɪst/) changes the vowel in chastity (ˈtʃæ.stɪ.ti/).
is usually an adjective-forming suffix (see below) but is also also used to mean the amount which a noun contains as in handful, armful, bucketful etc.
is confined to manufactured goods or articles for sale as in homeware, menswear, underwear, kitchenware, software etc.  (The suffix is derived from the old word ware meaning an article for sale now almost only seen in the plural.)
usually implies the passive recipient of an action as in employee, deportee, interviewee etc. but, confusingly, the suffix may also denote the active doer of the verb as in escapee, attendee, absentee etc.
-er, -or, -ster, -goer
signify the noun doer of an action so we get, e.g., baker, painter, doctor, emperor, surveyor, punster, songster etc.
Rarer versions are -ar (beggar) and -yer (lawyer).
There are numerous Latin- or French-derived suffixes which also signify the doer of an action (often when the verb or noun from which they derive is obscure or outmoded) and they include:
    -ain (chieftain, captain)
    -ar (scholar)
    -en (citizen)
    -on (surgeon)
    -eer (engineer, musketeer)
    -ier (financier, sommelier)
    -ary (missionary, expeditionary)
    -y (deputy)
    -eur (amateur, restaurateur, provocateur)
The suffix -goer also implies the doer of an action but in this case the resulting noun refers to an attendee so we get, e.g., cinemagoer, theatergoer, operagoer etc.  Hyphenation is optional but normal on rarer combinations.
-ite, -ist, -eer, -(i)an, -ese, -aire
all refer in some way to people as:
members of communities: socialite, Trotskyite, Keynesian, communist, Maoist, terrorist etc.  (The -ite ending is often used disparagingly.)
nationalities: Japanese, Madagascan, Egyptian etc.
occupations (especially artistic with -ist): pianist, violinist, timpanist etc. and those derived from the nouns they deal with: engineer, puppeteer, musketeer, mountaineer etc.
-aire is rare in this regard forming, e.g., millionaire, billionaire, concessionaire and a few more.  It also makes a few rare adjectives but such words are derived directly from French and may not be considered examples of word formation in English.
The suffix -(i)an to denote a resident of a location, an occupation or refer to an historical / literary period often requires a stress movement to the final syllable of the stem: Elizabeth to Elizabethan, magic to magician, Paris to Parisian for example.
-phobe, -phile / -phobia, -philia
These are often seen as combining forms rather than examples of simple suffixation.  The former refers to disliking and the second to liking.  We get therefore:
    technophile, video-phile, bibliophile, haemophilia
    computer-phobe, homo-phobe
, agoraphobia, claustrophobia
The terms ending in -ia refer to the condition rather than the person.
Hyphenation is optional on many of these forms but conventional on the rarer combinations.
-ism, -ology, -graphy, -ics
these noun-forming suffixes refer to areas of knowledge or activity, the first usually to ideologies, the latter three to academic domains: republicanism, monarchism, geology, cosmology, economics, paleogeography etc.
-ocracy, -crat
appear in the list above but are probably more accurately described as combining forms.  The first part of a word so formed is unlikely to be a free morpheme in English so, while, e.g., democrat and democracy derive from the Greek demos [people], the first morpheme is a bound root at best.
See below for the pronunciation issue with these two noun-forming affixes.
-ette, -let, -ling, -ly, -y/-ie, -ess, -man, -woman
imply a diminutive noun or a term of endearment: starlet, duckling, beastie, birdie, creepy-crawly, doggy, leaflet, launderette.
Rarer non-productive examples include -en (maiden, chicken) and -ock (hillock, bullock).
Marking for sex usually falls on the stem to denote female with the non-affixed form used for the male.  This is not always the case so while we have, e.g.:
    tiger-tigress, count-countess
and more which are falling out of fashion, we also see:
    widow-widower, bride-bridegroom
See the guide to gender for more in a complex and controversial area.

Adjectives and Adverbs

-less and -ful
sometimes make antonym pairs in an inconsistent and unpredictable manner such as we saw above but are both derivational (making adjectives from nouns) and semantic, altering the meaning so -less means without and -ful means having as in clueless and useful.
The suffix -less is, incidentally, the only negative-forming suffix in English and is very productive.  It occurs in helpless, friendless, moneyless and hundreds more word formations.
-some and -ous
The suffix -some implies with the quality of the noun it is formed from and occurs in, e.g., wholesome, quarrelsome, troublesome, bothersome, venturesome etc.
There are no antonyms of these with the suffix -less.
Adjectives formed with -ous operate similarly to suggest the quality inherent in the noun from which they are formed as in, e.g.:
joyous, dangerous, envious etc. and some rare ones may form antonyms with -less as in, e.g., joyless.
All words ending in -ous are, in fact adjectives and that is a small fact worth relaying to learners.
Works as an adjective forming suffix to signify made of as in, e.g., wooden, golden, earthen etc.
-ic, -ical
Indicate an adjective formed from a noun and are productive suffixes as in, e.g., heroic, basic, despotic, acidic etc.
-ary and -ory
These are mostly now unproductive but were used to make both adjectives and nouns (usually the former) as in voluntary, disciplinary, contributory, seminary, introductory etc.
-ive / -ative / -itive
work in much the way that the suffix -ing on participle adjectives works, that is, it is the state of something formed from (almost always) the verb.  Just as we have, e.g.:

which all describe what something or someone does, we have parallel adjectives doing much the same as in:
Adjectives with -ative or -itive are often formed from verbs ending in -ate (see above).
-ish, -ly, -y, -ally, -wise, -ways
-ish forms adjectives which signify somewhat like or akin as in, e.g., childish, bluish, mannish etc.  Often the suffix may be added to coin a new word (or nonce word) which can be adjectival or adverbial such as in
    It's getting latish
    He's angryish

and so on.
The suffix -y also implies with the quality of and is often applied to weather conditions to form adjectives so we get, e.g., windy, snowy, rainy etc. in addition to wealthy, healthy, slimy, greedy etc.
The suffixes -ly, -ally and -wise form adverbs frequently and mean in the manner of so we get, e.g. manly, godly, friendly, comically, drastically etc. as well as thousands of adverbs derived from adjectives.  Less productively, -wise and -ways are used as in, e.g., lengthwise, crabwise, likewise, otherwise, edgeways, sideways etc. and some of these can also be adjectives.
The suffix -aire makes a rare adjective form as in doctrinaire, debonaire but such words are derived directly from French and may not be considered examples of word formation in English.
The suffix -ly usually implies in the form or manner of when the derivation is from a noun to an adjective as in ghostly, hilly, manly, motherly etc.  See above for the possible confusion with adverb forms.
This suffix was once the preferred way to form adjectives from nouns and hence there are many adjectives which end in -ly (fatherly, cowardly, earthly and a hundred or so more).  The suffix is now reserved for adverb formation and is unproductive in the formation of new adjectives.
-ible, -able
both form adjectives to imply ability to be as in, e.g., regrettable, removable, serviceable, noticeable, credible, fallible, legible, susceptible etc.  The first of these is unproductive in Modern English but is still common enough in established words.  As was noted above, however, the removal of the -ible suffix does not always leave a recognisable Modern English word.  There are, for example, no verbs in English cred, fall (in this sense), leg (in this sense) or suscept.  We have examples of bound bases.
The pronunciation of the two is indistinguishable (usually /əb.l̩/) and this causes spelling problems for native and non-native speakers alike.
With some words, ending in a -mit, we make an extra change to the morphology by replacing the 't' with 'ss' so, for example, we form the following:
    admit → admissible
    permit → permissible
    omit → omissible
    transmit → transmissible
and all such words are formed with the unproductive -ible rather than -able suffix.
The change arises from the way in which Latin forms the words.
Unusually, the adjectives so formed are frequently postpositioned so we get, for example:
    the money available now
    the houses visible from here
    the towns accessible from the motorway
-long, -ward(s)
imply in the direction of as in, e.g., homewards, upwards, leftwards, outward etc.
In these cases, the suffix with the -s ending is adverbial:
    travelling homewards
    moving rightwards

but we do not (usually) allow:
    *a homewards journey
    *a rightwards movement

Without the -s ending, the word so formed can be adjectival or adverbial
    travelling homeward
    moving rightward
    a homeward journey
    a rightward movement

The suffix -long is rarer but occurs in, e.g., headlong and sidelong and can be both adverbial and adjectival so we allow both:
    She fell headlong
    They went in sidelong

    a headlong fall
    a sidelong glance

The suffix -long also implies for a period of so we find yearlong, daylong, month-long, weeklong etc.  In this case the product is adjectival, never adverbial and often hyphenated.
is reserved for encompassing and occurs in words such as nationwide, countrywide, worldwide etc.
The suffix is usually hyphenated when used with nations or other geographical expressions such as Europe-wide, planet-wide, Japan-wide etc. and in these cases can be appended to almost any geographical or political entity so we allow, government-wide, Whitehall-wide, Pacific-wide, school-wide, site-wide, USA-wide, senate-wide and so on.
Words so formed can be adjectival and adverbial.
implies nearest to and occurs, e.g., in topmost, nethermost, uppermost, innermost, outermost etc. and always forms adjectives.
When adjectives are formed by suffixation, the inflected forms for the comparative and superlative are forbidden and the periphrastic forms with more and most are invariably preferred.  See the guide to adjectives for more.

Spelling rules

There are a number of spelling rules which apply to the addition of suffixes in English and the conventions may vary slightly between BrE and AmE.

  1. ending in 'e'
    words ending in a consonant + 'e' drop the 'e' when adding anything beginning with a vowel:

    However, if there is a need to protect the long vowel, most writers will opt to retain the 'e' as in:

    The soft 'c' (/s/) and 'g' (/dʒ/) sounds also mean that the 'e' is retained to protect the pronunciation:

    Some adjectives ending in -able can have alternative spellings, with and without the retention of the 'e'.  For example:
        likeable / likable
        loveable / lovable
        saleable / salable
        sizeable / sizable
        useable / usable
  2. words ending in 'ue'
    drop the 'e':
  3. when the suffixes -ous, -ious, -ary, -ize /-ise, -ation and -ific are added to the end of a word ending in -our, the 'u' is dropped so we get, e.g.:
        glamour-glamorise / glamorize

    When other suffixes (such as -ful, -ite, -less, -able) are used to change word class, this rule does not apply so we get, e.g.:
  4. Usually, when adding any suffix to a word ending in 'll' we do not retain the doubled letter so we get, e.g.:

    (American spelling often retains the doubled 'l' on many of these.)
    However, this rule does not apply to the suffix -ness so we allow:


There are some interesting constraints concerning which affixes can be used with which base words.  Constraints include meaning (we can't say *unugly), etymology (we prefer metallic and wooden and can't have *metalen or *woolic) and phonology (we can have widen and deepen but not *smallen or *tallen).
For much more on this area, see the section in the guide to morphology (new tab).



Some derivational suffixes are no longer used to make new words (or very rarely so) while some are much more productive.  For example:

  1. If you were asked to make an adjective from the verb stroll, changing
        You can stroll there easily
        It is easily _______________
    it is very unlikely that you would produce strollible and much more likely that strollable would be your choice.  The suffix -ible is nowadays unproductive and confined to established words.
  2. By the same token, if you were asked to make a noun for a person from the verb rock, changing
        She is rocking the boat
        She is the _______________ of the boat
    it is very unlikely that you would produce rockant or rockist and much more likely that you would opt for rocker.  The suffixes -ant and -ist certainly do form doer-nouns from verbs (claimant, inhabitant, accountant, conformist, apologist, tourist etc.) but they are no longer very productive.  The suffix -ite is often preferred to -ist in political contexts.
    The suffix -ist is productive insofar as many notable politicians have followers or adherents to their causes who are described as Name-ists.
  3. If you were asked to make the noun from sorrowful it is quite likely that you would opt for sorrowfulness rather than sorrowfulity because the -ness noun-making suffix continues to be productive.
  4. Finally, if you were asked to make an adverb from the adjective foldable (or almost any adjective), it is almost certain that you would select the -ly ending (foldably) over the other alternatives: foldablewise, foldableways etc.  None of these three possible alternatives is listed in most dictionaries and most people would have considerably more trouble decoding the last two possibilities than the first choice.

Constraints and productiveness are covered in a bit more detail in the guide to morphology, linked in the list at the end.




As is the case with prefixes, suffixes in English are, as a rule , not stressed.  There are some exceptions to this.

For more on word stress, see the guide, linked below.

Other changes when making verbs and nouns



Back formations

This is a process akin to affixation but in which the new word is not formed by adding to the existing word but by analogy with an assumed but non-existent root.  It often involves the removal of a supposed affix.  It always involves a change of word class so lies within the realm of suffixation.  When words are formed in this way, it is not always a simple matter to recognise the process and sometimes only research into the words' origins and first appearances in the language confirm that this has been the process.
For example, it might be assumed that the word donation is formed by adding the noun-forming -tion suffix to the verb donate and dropping the final 'e' in the conventional way just as relation has been formed from the verb relate.  That is, in fact, not the case.  The word donation is attested from the mid-15th century and derives from the Latin word donationem.  The verb was formed by analogy and is not attested until 1819.
There are many hundreds of words in English derived by back formations from existing words.  Here are a few examples:

Word back-derived from ... ... by analogy with ...
addict addiction depict-depiction etc.
aggress aggression progress-progression etc.
automate automation decimate-decimation etc.
burgle burglar other doer nouns ending in /lər/: sprinkle-sprinkler etc.
crank cranky salt-salty etc.
craze crazy laze-lazy etc.
edit editor audit-auditor etc.
enthuse enthusiasm *no obvious parallel
extradite extradition expedite-expedition etc.
gamble gambler other doer nouns ending in /ər/: tell-teller etc.
invite invitation explain-explanation (this is uncertain but probable)
isolate isolated participle adjectives: educate-educated etc.
liaise liaison an assumed verb root adding -ion (erroneously)
peddle peddler an assumption that the -r ending denoted the doer
prodigal prodigality sentimental-sentimentality etc.
sulk sulky bulk-bulky etc.
televise television revise-revision etc.
* This formation is odd because it has no obvious derivational parallel.  The verb has been formed presumably on the basis that there ought to be a verb as the root of the noun.  It is first attested from 1827 but the noun goes back until at least the 16th century.

† Normally, nouns for doers of actions are derived from the verb so we get, speak-speaker, hate-hater and thousands more.  Many other verbs, however, have been back-formed from doer nouns and they include:
babysit, bookkeep, bushwhack, cadge, commentate, curate, eavesdrop, edit, kidnap, loaf, peddle, shoplift, spectate, swindle and more.


Most of this guide is concerned with derivation, the affixation of morphemes to alter word class and meaning in consistent and, generally, predictable ways.
This is not the only way in which new words are formed and the rest of the guide is concerned with the alternatives.



In this guide, the word conversion is used for the shifting of a word from one class to another.  It is also known as functional shifting, for obvious reasons.
Because there are no morphological changes when a word is converted from one class to another, the process is sometimes called zero affixation or null affixation.

Go back to the worksheet and try the final exercise on this area and then click when you have done it.

By far the most common form of conversion in English is the process of verbification in which a noun is made a verb.  It has happened through most of the history of the language and continues to be active.
Recent or common examples are
    I looked it up on Google → I googled it
    I wrote it in ink → I inked it in
    She put a coat of varnish on it → She varnished it
    We had a talk → We talked
    They sent it by ship → They shipped it

    They covered it with tiles → They tiled it
and thousands more.
By some estimates, around 20% of all verbs in English are conversions from nouns.
(The process does not, incidentally occur when the verb is intended to mean cause something to become.  For that we reserve the causative endings, ise/ize, ify, -ate and -en, as in, for example, verbify.  See above.)

Also by a process of conversion, adjectives may be converted to nouns and vice versa.
In the former case, for example, and adjective such as green may be used to refer to part of golf course and the colour of a team's playing strip may be used with reference to the team itself (the reds, the blues etc.)
The example above of the young is another case of what are known as nominal adjectives and that is a frequent occurrence so we also see
    the old
    the ill
    the poor
    the interested
    the disqualified
    the unmarried

and so on.
When the reverse happens, the result is called a denominal adjective which is formed by conversion from a noun.  This reverse process results in, for example:
    a law practice
    wire fences
    the emergency services
    a silk shirt

and so on.
However, it is not clear that the resulting word is really an adjective at all or that any conversion has happened because it is common in English for nouns to classify other nouns without any magical change in word class so, for example:
    the village pump
    a glass jug
    a garden wall
    a spring shower

are all simply cases of nouns acting to classify other nouns which, if common enough, may even become part of compound nouns.

Conversion may, occasionally, with phrasal verbs and other verb + modifying adverb constructions be combined with compounding so, for example, we get:
    We don't want anyone to come back to us on this → We don't want any comebacks
    She told everyone how to log on to the site → She gave everyone their logons
    We need to turn this around quickly → We need a quick turnaround time


Nonce words

Occasionally, it is possible to create new coinages by simple conversion.  For example, the word ask was a verb and nothing else for centuries but an expression such as a big ask is only attested from 1987 (in Australian English).  It is now possible to hear the word used as a noun, especially in sporting and management jargon in expressions such as the ask is that ... .
Nonce words, if they fulfil a need, may become accepted in the language.  For example, the verb push meaning to promote an idea or product is attested from the early 18th century but the noun derived by conversion, as in, e.g.:
    The product needs a push
was probably originally a nonce word which filled gap in the lexicon.
This process is often called suppletion, incidentally, and the result is known as suppletive form.


Shifts in meaning

Some words, when converted from a verb to a noun or vice versa, shift their meaning, sometimes greatly, sometimes slightly.  For example:
is a verb meaning suggest whereas
is an adjective meaning closely connected to and there is a minor change to the length of the vowels.
The word
as a verb means focus attention but as a noun it refers to a substance which has been made more powerful and derives from a different meaning of the verb.
The noun
refers to the material but the verb only means to fix paper to the wall of a room.
On the other hand
functions as a verb and a noun with no meaning change.



It is very rare indeed for a language to acquire new words in closed word classes so we do not, normally, convert words from a lexical class into a functional class.  Verbs do not become prepositions and nouns do not become conjunctions and so on.
There is, however, a recognisable historical process at work in many languages, including English, where instances of this do occur.

Because this is an historical process, it is covered in more depth in the guide to the roots of English, linked below, so only one example will be used here, that of going.
The word going is, in many cases, a verb form from the verb go and it carries its usual meaning in, e.g.:
    She is going to the shops
which can mean
    She is currently on her way to the shops
In Modern English, the verb has been grammaticalised and now functions as an auxiliary verb denoting currently planned actions as in, e.g.:
    I'm going to talk to the boss tomorrow
The two uses of going can be distinguished because the function word use to signal a prospective event may be pronounced weakly (often spelled as gonna).  For example,
    I'm going to go
may be transcribed
but the lexical form is not weakened, retaining the full pronunciation so, e.g.:
    It's going to London
is transcribed as
This is a case of a normal intransitive lexical or main verb being converted to a modal auxiliary verb and similar histories lie behind some other modal auxiliary verbs such as will.


Stress movement

Some words function both as verbs and nouns.  Which way the conversion goes is slightly arguable.  What do you notice when you read this list aloud?
    The export business.  Whisky is one Scotland's exports.
    He's a convict who was difficult to convict.
    Can you give me a discount?  Can you discount that?
    Don't insult him.  That's a nasty insult.
Right.  The stress moves.  First syllable for the noun, second for the verb.  There are lots of verb-noun pairs that work like this.  The process may be referred to as phonetic alternation.
For more, see the guide to word stress, linked below.  If you would like a list of the common words which work this way, you can download it here.



In addition to the movement of the stress, other changes to the pronunciation occur.  For example:
The verb combat is pronounced as /kəm.ˈbæt/ but the noun is /ˈkɒm.bæt/ with the first vowel unweakened
record: /’rɛkɔːd/ goes to /rɪˈkɔːd/ (with a change to the first vowel from /ɛ/ to /ɪ/)
abuse: /əˈbjuːs/ goes to /əˈbjuːz/ (with a final consonant change from /s/ to /z/).
combine: /ˈkɒmbaɪn/ to /kəmˈbaɪn/ (with a vowel change from /ɒ/ to /ə/ [the first is a piece of farm machinery]).

There is often change in pronunciation of the final consonant in pairs such as house (noun: /haʊs/) and house (verb: /haʊz/), mouth (noun: /maʊθ/) and mouth (verb: /maʊð/), thief (noun: /θi:f/) and thieve (verb: /θi:v/).
Usually, but not always, the spelling changes to reflect the pronunciation.
The general rule is that the consonants /s/, /f/ and /θ/ are converted to /z/, /v/ and /ð/ respectively:

noun verb
teeth /tiːθ/ teethe /tiːð/
abuse /ə.ˈbjuːs/ abuse /ə.ˈbjuːz/
sheath /ʃiːθ/ sheathe /ʃiːð/

For more, go to the guide to word stress, linked below.



False separation and misdivision

A lesser-known or addressed type of word formation occasionally occurs in English by a process known as coalescence which is also heavily influenced by pronunciation, in this case the phenomenon of catenation.
Catenation usually occurs when the consonant sound at the end of one word joins the vowel at the beginning of the next so we get, for example, an orange pronounced as a norange (/ə nˈɒ.rɪndʒ/) and right arm becomes something like rye tarm (/raɪ.tɑːm/).

Occasionally, this leads to a change in the way the word is formed, a process called false separation, misdivision or false splitting.
For example:

More rarely, the phenomenon works in reverse, so, for example:



Apophony or mutation

You may see apophony called ablaut, vowel mutation, internal modification, stem modification or mutation, internal inflexion and a number of other more or less hideous names.
Simply, it means an internal alteration to a word to show number, case, person or tense.  Modern English makes more use of external alteration in the form of prefixes and suffixes but many irregular verbs, pronouns, determiners and plural forms are still modified for tense, case and number through internal changes.
Old English, in common with many other Germanic languages, ancient and modern, made a good deal of use of internal mutation or apophony to signal types of marked meanings.  Many of these remain in the language but few new ones are formed.  (An exception is the slow transformation of the past tense of sneak which is correctly formed by suffixation as sneaked but is increasingly formed by internal vowel mutation as snuck.  An allied phenomenon is the slow disappearance of shrank as the past tense of shrink in favour of shrunk.)
Here are some examples of forms of words made by apophony:

verb forms
bind, bound
lie, lay
rise, rose, risen
sing, sang, sung
weave, wove
A list of irregular verb forms, many formed by apophony is available here.
noun to verb formations and vice versa
advice, advise
belief, believe
blood, bleed
breath, breathe
brood, breed
food, feed
gift, give
life, live
practice, practise
sing, song
wreath, wreathe
With stress movements:
contrast, contrast
export, export
object, object
permit, permit
foot, feet
goose, geese
louse, lice
mouse, mice
tooth, teeth
wolf, wolves
wife, wives
Two determiners
that, those
this, these
case formations
me, my, mine
he, him, his
they, their
us, our
who, whose

There are three allied phenomena which should be mentioned in this context because they all contribute, albeit it historically and rather peripherally, to word formation in English.

  1. Metathesis
    This usually involves the switching of consonants (although there are a number of patterns).  Examples of words formed in Modern English from older forms are:
        bird (originally bridd)
        third (originally thrid)
        ask (originally ax)
  2. Apocope
    This involves the loss of a sound at the end of words so, for example, father is pronounced in BrE as /ˈfɑːð.ə/ but, in AmE, retains its fuller pronunciation as /ˈfɑːð.r̩/ with a syllabic /r/.
    While the word is unlikely to be spelled as fatha any time soon to reflect its pronunciation in British English, the same cannot be said for other examples and the word cuppa is frequently encountered in informal writing and the verb diss, an apocope of disrespect, has gained a certain currency.
    Clipping the ends of words (as in photograph to photo) is common and the results usually begin as informal terms but may slowly gain wider use (see below for more examples of clipping and apocope).
    All languages, too, exhibit the phenomenon with pet names for people so, e.g., Alexander is often reduced to Alex and Gwendolyn to Gwen etc.
  3. Aphesis
    This involves the opposite and refers to the loss of an initial, usually unstressed vowel, sound from the beginning of a word so, e.g.,
        till, round and spy
    are formed from
        until, around and espy respectively.
    More examples are given below where the phenomenon is revisited under clipping and blending.

Incidentally, the formation of a form which comes from a different root and does not resemble a base form at all is the process known as suppletion which we encountered with conversions, so we get, e.g.:
    go, went, gone (in which the past form is derived from wend not the Old English gan as the other forms are)
    be, is, am, was, were (in which the forms are derived from a variety of Old English dialects)
and so on.
This is not a case of word formation per se so won't be discussed here.  The link below to morphology will take you to a guide with more on suppletion.



Frequentatives or doublings

Many words in English which are now considered simple verbs (mostly) have been formed by a process of doubling another word and then reducing it with the addition of one of two suffixes: -er and -le.
The process is no longer productive in English although people occasionally will produce nonce words by the same process.  It is probably not a category of much concern to learners and teachers in practical terms but is included here in a search for completeness.  It is also of some interest to many.
A full list is probably not available anywhere but here are some examples of this process:

with -er
batter (bat + bat)
blabber (blab + blab)
clamber (climb + climb)
flutter (float + float)
glimmer (gleam + gleam)
slither (slide + slide)
spatter (spit + spit)
with -le
crackle (crack + crack)
crumble (crumb + crumb)
dribble (drip + drip)
muddle (mud + mud)
nuzzle (nose + nose)
prattle (prate + prate)
snuggle (snug + snug)
waddle (wade + wade)

Other languages, notably Slavic ones, Finnish, Greek and Hungarian also make use of this word-formation process, incidentally.

An odd phenomenon in English is that the resulting words may themselves be doubled (or, to use a small misnomer, reduplicated) to produce words such as

and so on.
For obvious reasons, such formations are sometimes called ricochet words.
There is more on this in the guide to idiomaticity which also explains why we say flitter-flutter and not flutter-flitter, by the way.



Acronyms and initialisms

An acronym is a word formed from the initials of other words in a phrase and some are of ancient origin.  Most, though, are quite new.  (You may see the phenomenon also referred to as a protogram.)
A distinction can be made between acronyms proper (which can be pronounced, such as NATO) and those which are initialisms in which each letter is separately pronounced (such as CIA).  Some of these terms may combine letter pronunciation and word pronunciation and in some cases speakers differ in how the terms are pronounced.
A debatable case is the abbreviation ASAP (As Soon As Possible) which is often pronounced as one word and just as often pronounced as four separate letters.
Quite commonly, acronyms are formed not just from the first letter of each word in a phrase (such as ASH: Action on Smoking and Health) but from the first two or three letters in some or all of the words (such as RADAR: RAdio Detecting And Ranging).  Additionally, whether functional words (such as and, by, of etc.) are included in the formation depends on the whether they make the outcome more easily pronounced or recognisable.  From laser, the function word by is excluded but it is retained in, e.g., DOB (date of birth).
The convention is to write acronyms in upper case to denote that the letters stand for words.  That is a convention often ignored, however.
Many acronyms are neologisms (see below).
This is not the place to set out a long list of such formations (you can hunt the web for those) so we'll confine ourselves to a few examples of the different sorts which usually are distinguished by how they are said.  Some of these are formed from letters which many would have difficulty tracing to the source.

Acronym Formed from Pronounced as
laser Light Amplification by Simulated Emission of Radiation One word /ˈleɪ.zə/
NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organisation One word /ˈneɪ.təʊ/
ASAP As Soon As Possible One word or the initials /ˌeɪ.es.eɪ.ˈpiː/ or /ˈeɪ.sæp/
scuba Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus One word /ˈskuː.bə/
quango QUasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisation One word /ˈkwæŋ.ɡəʊ/
START STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty One word /stɑːt/
gif Graphics Interchange Format One word /ɡɪf/
wysiwyg What You See Is What You Get One word /ˈwɪz.iː.wɪɡ/
UFO Unidentified Flying Object One word or the initials /ˈju.fəʊ/ or /juː.ef.ˈəʊ/
FAQ Frequently Asked Questions One word or the initials /fæk/ or /ef.eɪ.ˈkjuː/
CD-ROM Compact Disc Read-Only Memory As two initials plus one word /siː.diː.ˈrɒm/
jpeg Joint Photographic Experts Group As one initial plus one word /ˈdʒeɪ.peɡ/
BBC British Broadcasting Authority As initials /ˌbiː.biː.ˈsiː/
FRG Federal Republic of Germany As initials /ef.ɑː.ˈdʒiː/
AAA Anti-Aircraft Artillery Triple plus initial /ˈtrɪp.l̩.eɪ/
W3C World-wide web Consortium Initial plus number plus initial /ˈdʌb.ljuː.θriː.siː/
IOU I Owe You I owe you /ˈaɪ.əʊ.ju/
PIN Personal Identification Number Pin (number) /pɪn.ˈnʌm.bə/

Acronyms may be subject to inflexion so we allow, for example, plural forms, VIPs, FAQs, IOUs, lasers and so on and, rarely, verbal uses such as OD for overdose which is sometimes inflected as OD'd for its past tense and participle use.
Conversion of acronyms is also rare but occurs with, e.g., scubaing from scuba diving.



Borrowing and calquing

Words are borrowed from other languages in two ways:

  1. In the original language.  These are called loan words.
    For example:
        ersatz [from German]
        moccasin and tomahawk [both from Powhatan]
        kangaroo [from Guugu Yimidhirr]
        bungalow [from Gujarati]
        veranda [from Hindi]
        blighty [from Urdu]
        coup d'état [from French]
        paparazzi [from Italian]
        robot, howitzer [from Czech]
        siesta, guerrilla, macho [from Spanish]
        karaoke, tsunami, origami [from Japanese]
    etc.  For a fuller list, see the guide to the roots of English.
    Loan words may, in the process of borrowing, be converted in terms of class so, for example, an adjective such as bosh in Turkish, meaning empty, is converted to a noun in English to mean empty or nonsensical talk.
    A subset of borrowing is the importation from a dialect of the language into mainstream usage or from one variety of the same language into others.  The most obvious cases in English are the loan words which originally existed only in dialects but which have become standard (if colloquial) use and those which have been imported from Australian or American English.  For example:
        loaf [to mean head or brain, originally from rhyming slang, loaf of bread]
        yob [originally back-slang for boy]
        selfie [originally Australian slang]
        rustbucket [originally Australian]
        truck [originally AmE for lorry, now common in BrE]
        train station [originally AmE for railway station]
  2. In translation.  This is called calquing and the word or phrase is a calque or loan translation.
    For example:
        blue ribbon [from the French cordon blue]
        loan word [from the German Lehnwort]
        it goes without saying [from the French ça va sans dire]
        masterpiece [from the Dutch meesterstuk]
        devil's advocate [from the Latin advocātus diabolī]
        blue-blood [from the Spanish sangre azul]



Clipping and blending

There are two related processes.

  1. Clipping
    A word may be cut, either from the beginning or the end, sometimes both and rarely by removing a syllable internally.  For example:
        pram [clipped in three ways from perambulator]
        zoo [clipped from zoological gardens]
        uni [clipped from university]
        bus [clipped from omnibus]
        plane [clipped from aeroplane or airplane]
        hi-fi [clipped and then blended from high fidelity]
        mobile [clipped from mobile (tele)phone]
    When a word is clipped only at the end, the process (and the product) may be referred to as apocope (see above).  Further example are:
        hippopotamus → hippo
        rhinoceros → rhino
        chimpanzee → chimp
        public house → pub

        advertisement → ad
        barbeque → barbie
        credibility → cred
        disrespect → diss
        magazine → mag

        cinematograph → cinema
        picture → pic
        gymnasium → gym
        examination → exam
    Often, but certainly not exclusively, the apocope is less formal, sometimes slang.
    Additionally the resulting clipped word may be confined to certain uses.  For example the clipped form exam is used both formally and informally in educational registers but not in others so while we can have:
        a medical exam
        a medical examination
    the former will be a test of a student while the latter will be either a test of a student or an investigation by a medical professional.  It is not possible to have, for example:
        *The doctor gave her a thorough exam
  2. Blending
    Two words may be blended (and often clipped as well) to make a third.  The result is often referred to as a portmanteau word.  For example:
        Amerind [a blend of American and Indian]
        biopic [a blend of biography and picture]
        brunch [a blend of breakfast and lunch]
        docudrama [a blend of documentary and drama]
        edutainment [a blend of education and entertainment]
        Eurasia [a blend of Europe and Asia]
        genome [a blend of gene and chromosome]
        Oxbridge [a blend of Oxford and Cambridge]
        permafrost [a blend of permanent and frost]
        simulcast [a blend of simultaneous and broadcast]
        sitcom [a blend of situation and comedy]
        smog [a blend of smoke and fog]
        telethon [a blend of television and marathon]
        webinar [a blend of web (itself a clipping of world wide web) and seminar]
    Portmanteau words are often new coinages.  Journalists are particularly fond of them, hence Brexit, a blend of Britain and exit, for example.
    There is usually enough information in the resulting word to reconstruct its formation.
    As is explained in the guide to compounding, linked below, English is a generally right-headed language (so a doorman is a kind of man, not a kind of door, for example), so the right-hand part of the blend is usually the head and determines both meaning and word class.  Therefore, sitcom is a kind of comedy not a kind of situation and telethon a kind of marathon, not a kind of television.
    (In the literature, two main forms of blending are recognised:
    1. total blending, in which both words are altered in some way as in brunch in which breakfast is reduced to the two letters 'br' and lunch loses its initial letter
    2. partial blending, in which one word maintains its form unchanged and the other is changed as in, e.g., webinar in which only the word seminar is clipped.)

A third related process which works over time in many languages is the loss of a sound as a word comes into frequent use.  The process results in what are called aphetic forms (the process itself is called aphaeresis or aphesis).  Most usually in English, the loss is of an unstressed initial vowel so we get formations such as
    alone → lone
    espy → spy
    acute → cute
    until → till
    especially → specially
    amend → mend

    abate → bate
and so on.
This sometimes results in synonyms (such as till / until) but more often the meanings of the words slowly drift apart (as in acute / cute) and become separate lexemes.  Sometimes the non-aphetic form is lost entirely from the language (as has happened for example with withdrawing-room which is no longer current and even drawing room is slightly unusual these days).
In casual speech one may hear the process at work so because is often pronounced 'cos, unless as 'less and about as 'bout etc.  Were it not for the stiffening effect of the written word, the aphetic forms may well have become the accepted ones.
Over time, too, whole syllables and consonants may be lost so, although the word knee, for example, is spelled with the 'k', the letter is no longer pronounced, as it once was.


Some forms in English may be described as clitics or cliticised forms because an element is contracted and cannot stand alone.  It is clipped in that sense so, for example, the 'm and n't are clitics in the cliticised forms I'm and don't.  The full forms which many would recognise as words even though they carry no meaning are am and not respectively.
Some languages, Modern Greek, for example, uses clitics more widely and appends the possessive determiner phonemically to the noun as a clitic form as well as inserting clitic forms into verbs to show the past tense.  In Modern German the past participle of many verbs is formed with addition of the clitic ge- as a prefix.
Prefixes and suffixes are not usually considered clitic forms in English although they are in some analyses.



Coinages, toponyms and eponyms

Coinages are sometimes the result of an individual or organisation deliberately introducing a new word into a language to fill a perceived gap in the lexicon.  They are also known as neologisms.  They are related to but not the same as toponyms which are new words named after a place and eponyms, new words named after a famous person (real or fictional).
Here are some examples of the two kinds:

  1. Coinages
    1. Neologisms
      can be wholly new words, affixes attached innovatively to old words to make new ones or words used in new word classes (such as ask or high as nouns).  Some examples are:
          quark [invented by James Joyce and used as a term in particle physics]
          Catch 22 [invented by Joseph Heller in the book of that name]
          quiz [of uncertain origin but possibly invented in the 19th century by a Dublin theatre manager]
          agnostic [invented by Thomas Henry Huxley in 1869]
      New technologies are a frequent source of neologisms and IT-speak is particularly fond of coining new compounds and converting (usually noun to verb), so we now have:
          soft- hard- mal- bloat etc. + ware
          to google
          to text
          air conditioner

      coinages are sometimes blends so we also find, e.g.:

          bit (a blend of binary + unit)
      and so on.
      There are thousands.
    2. Retronyms
      are lexemes (often noun-noun compounds or classified nouns) which become needed as technology advances.  For example, most telephones do not require you to use a rotary dial to make a call but originally, all telephones did, hence, the compound rotary-dial telephone becomes necessary to describe something previously simply called a telephone.  Other examples are:
          valve radio [previously, simply radio or wireless]
          push mower [previously lawnmower]
          CRT television [previously television set]
          landline [previously telephone line]
          manual typewriter [previously typewriter]
          sailing ship [previously ship]
          vinyl record [previously record]
          hand drill [previously drill]
      The word retronym was not needed, naturally, until technology began to move more quickly and a term to describe this phenomenon had to be coined.
  2. Toponyms and eponyms
    1. Toponyms
      Technically a toponym is simply the word for a place, especially if the name is derived from a geographical feature such as The Lake District.  Many words in English are taken from place names and so qualify as toponyms (although it would be more correct to refer to them as toponym-derived words).  They are usually applied to products which come from certain places or events closely associated with them.  Some examples are:
          kashmir, jodhpur [from areas of India]
          ulster [from the province in Ireland]
          bourbon [from a county of Kentucky]
          marathon [from a location in Greece]
          bikini [from a Pacific island]
          panama hat [although probably not a hat from Panama]
          meander [from a river in Turkey]
    2. Eponyms
      may come from the names of real or fictitious people.  As time goes by , they usually lose the initial capital, no longer being recognised as proper nouns.  They generally refer to objects closely associated with a person or character or the nature of the person.  Some examples are:
          wellington boot [from the general of that name]
          scrooge [from the character in Dickens]
          boycott [from Charles Boycott, an Irish land agent]
          biro [from the inventors of the pen, László Bíró and his brother György]
  3. Autonyms and exonyms
    1. An autonym is the word (often coined) used by a group of people to describe themselves.  For example, Romany is often used by that ethnic group to describe themselves and Brit is often used by British people likewise.
    2. An exonym is a word (often coined or in another language) to describe a group of people but which is not used by that group to describe themselves.  For example the word gringo is sometimes used (disparagingly) to describe citizens of the USA but is not used by the citizens of the USA except ironically.


Here's a summary of the ways English makes words.
The first four (in green) are the most productive and important but the others should not be ignored, especially at higher levels.


There are two simple matching tests on most of the above.  Click here to go to the first of them.

If you are happy that you have understood the nature of word formation in English, you can go on to considering the teaching and learning implications in this area which also considers how other languages use word-formation processes in more depth.

Related guides
teaching word formation the obvious next step
testing vocabulary for some ideas about how words formation can be tested
prefixes and suffixes the PDF version of the lists in this guide which also has an alphabetic list of the commonest suffixes
combining forms a PDF formatted list of the most common combining forms in English
nouns for more on how these are formed
idiomaticity for more on doublings, ricochet words and the rest
word stress for a guide to heteronyms among other things
compounding for a related area of word formation which deserves its own guide
nominalisation in EAP for a consideration of how making nouns from verbs and adjectives produces a more academic style
morphology for a more general and theoretical guide
markedness for a guide that explains how some nouns are marked for size, sex etc. often through suffixation
gender for a guide to how gender is marked in English words and how it may be avoided
the initial training guide for a simpler version of this guide
the roots of English for more on borrowings and some observations about grammaticalisation
lexis index for links to other guides in the general area