What are the word formation processes

Word Formation

Word formation occurs when compounding, clipping or blending existing words to create new words. Below we will cover the definition of these terms and give you several examples of each.

Compounding Words

Compounding words are formed when two or more lexemes combine into a single new word. Compound words may be written as one word or as two words joined with a hyphen. For example:

  • noun-noun compound: note + book → notebook
  • adjective-noun compound: blue + berry → blueberry
  • verb-noun compound: work + room → workroom
  • noun-verb compound: breast + feed → breastfeed
  • verb-verb compound: stir + fry → stir-fry
  • adjective-verb compound: high + light → highlight
  • verb-preposition compound: break + up → breakup
  • preposition-verb compound: out + run → outrun
  • adjective-adjective compound: bitter + sweet → bittersweet
  • preposition-preposition compound: in + to → into

Compounds may be compositional, meaning that the meaning of the new word is determined by combining the meanings of the parts, or non-compositional, meaning that the meaning of the new word cannot be determined by combining the meanings of the parts. For example, a blueberry is a berry that is blue. However, a breakup is not a relationship that was severed into pieces in an upward direction.

Compound nouns should not be confused with nouns modified by adjectives, verbs, and other nouns. For example, the adjective black of the noun phrase black bird is different from the adjective black of the compound noun blackbird in that black of black bird functions as a noun phrase modifier while the black of blackbird is an inseparable part of the noun: a black bird also refers to any bird that is black in color while a blackbird is a specific type of bird.

Clipping Words

Clipping is the word formation process in which a word is reduced or shortened without changing the meaning of the word. Clipping differs from back-formation in that the new word retains the meaning of the original word. For example:

  • advertisement – ad
  • alligator – gator
  • examination – exam
  • gasoline – gas
  • gymnasium – gym
  • influenza – flu
  • laboratory – lab
  • mathematics – math
  • memorandum – memo
  • photograph – photo
  • public house – pub
  • raccoon – coon
  • reputation – rep
  • situation comedy – sitcom
  • telephone – phone

The four types of clipping are back clipping, fore-clipping, middle clipping, and complex clipping. Back clipping is removing the end of a word as in gas from gasoline. Fore-clipping is removing the beginning of a word as in gator from alligator. Middle clipping is retaining only the middle of a word as in flu from influenza. Complex clipping is removing multiple parts from multiple words as in sitcom from situation comedy.

Blending Words

Blending is the word formation process in which parts of two or more words combine to create a new word whose meaning is often a combination of the original words. Below are examples of blending words.

  • advertisement + entertainment → advertainment
  • biographical + picture → biopic
  • breakfast + lunch → brunch
  • chuckle + snort → chortle
  • cybernetic + organism → cyborg
  • guess + estimate → guesstimate
  • hazardous + material → hazmat
  • motor + hotel → motel
  • prim + sissy → prissy
  • simultaneous + broadcast → simulcast
  • smoke + fog → smog
  • Spanish + English → Spanglish
  • spoon + fork → spork
  • telephone + marathon → telethon
  • web + seminar → webinar

Blended words are also referred to as portmanteaus.