Modern English Word-Formation
Modern English Word-Formation
C H A P T E R I
The ways in which new words are formed, and the factors which govern their
acceptance into the language, are generally taken very much for granted by
the average speaker. To understand a word, it is not necessary to know how
it is constructed, whether it is simple or complex, that is, whether or not
it can be broken down into two or more constituents. We are able to use a
word which is new to us when we find out what object or notion it denotes.
Some words, of course, are more ‘transparent’ than others. For example, in
the words unfathomable and indescribable we recognize the familiar pattern
of negative prefix + transitive word + adjective-forming suffix on which
many words of similar form are constructed. Knowing the pattern, we can
easily guess their meanings – ‘cannot be fathomed’ and ‘cannot be
described’ – although we are not surprised to find other similar-looking
words, for instance unfashionable and unfavourable for which this analysis
will not work. We recognize as ‘transparent’ the adjectives unassuming and
unheard-of, which taking for granted the fact that we cannot use assuming
and heard-of. We accept as quite natural the fact that although we can use
the verbs to pipe, to drum and to trumpet, we cannot use the verbs to piano
and to violin.
But when we meet new coinages, like tape-code, freak-out, shutup-ness and
beautician, we may not readily be able to explain our reactions to them.
Innovations in vocabulary are capable of arousing quite strong feelings in
people who may otherwise not be in the habit of thinking very much about
language. Quirk quotes some letter to the press of a familiar kind,
written to protest about ‘horrible jargon’, such as breakdown, ‘vile’ words
like transportation, and the ‘atrocity’ lay-by.
Many linguists agree over the fact that the subject of word-formation has
not until recently received very much attention from descriptive
grammarians of English, or from scholars working in the field of general
linguistics. As a collection of different processes (compounding,
affixation, conversion, backformation, etc.) about which, as a group, it is
difficult to make general statements, word-formation usually makes a brief
appearance in one or two chapters of a grammar. Valerie Adams emphasizes
two main reasons why the subject has not been attractive to linguists: its
connections with the non-linguistic world of things and ideas, for which
words provide the names, and its equivocal position as between descriptive
and historical studies. A few brief remarks, which necessarily present a
much over-simplified picture, on the course which linguistics has taken in
the last hundred years will make this easier.
The nineteenth century, the period of great advances in historical and
comparative language study, saw the first claims of linguistics to be a
science, comparable in its methods with the natural sciences which were
also enjoying a period of exciting discovery. These claims rested on the
detailed study, by comparative linguists, of formal correspondences in the
Indo-European languages, and their realization that such study depended on
the assumption of certain natural ‘laws’ of sound change. As Robins
observes in his discussion of the linguistics of the latter part of the
The history of a language is traced through recorded variations in
the forms and meanings of its words, and languages are proved to be
related by reason of their possession of worlds bearing formal and
semantic correspondences to each other such as cannot be attributed
to mere chance or to recent borrowing. If sound change were not
regular, if word-forms were subject to random, inexplicable, and
unmotivated variation in the course of time, such arguments would
lose their validity and linguistic relations could only be
established historically by extralinguistic evidence such as is
provided in the Romance field of languages descended from Latin.
The rise and development in the twentieth century of synchronic descriptive
linguistics meant a shift of emphasis from historical studies, but not from
the idea of linguistics as a science based on detailed observation and the
rigorous exclusion of all explanations depended on extralinguistic factors.
As early as 1876, Henry Sweet had written:
Before history must come a knowledge of what exists. We must learn
to observe things as they are, without regard to their origin, just
as a zoologist must learn to describe accurately a horse or any
other animal. Nor would the mere statements that the modern horse is
a descendant of a three-toed marsh quadruped be accepted as an
exhausted description... Such however is the course being pursued by
most antiquarian philologists.
The most influential scholar concerned with the new linguistics was
Ferdinand de Saussure, who emphasized the distinction between external
linguistics – the study of the effects on a language of the history and
culture of its speakers, and internal linguistics – the study of its system
and rules. Language, studied synchronically, as a system of elements
definable in relation to one another, must be seen as a fixed state of
affairs at a particular point of time. It was internal linguistics,
stimulated by de Saussure’s works, that was to be the main concern of the
twentieth-century scholars, and within it there could be no place for the
study of the formation of words, with its close connection with the
external world and its implications of constant change. Any discussion of
new formations as such means the abandonment of the strict distinction
between history and the present moment. As Harris expressed in his
influential Structural Linguistics: ‘The methods of descriptive
linguistics cannot treat of the productivity of elements since that is a
measure of the difference between our corpus and some future corpus of the
language.’ Leonard Bloomfield, whose book Language was the next work of
major influence after that of de Saussure, re-emphasized the necessity of a
scientific approach, and the consequent difficulties in the way of studying
‘meaning’, and until the middle of the nineteen-fifties, interest was
centered on the isolating of minimal segments of speech, the description of
their distribution relative to one another, and their organization into
larger units. The fundamental unit of grammar was not the word but a
smaller unit, the morpheme.
The next major change of emphasis in linguistics was marked by the
publication in 1957 of Noam Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures. As Chomsky
stated it, the aim of linguistics was now seen to be ‘to make grammatical
explanations parallel in achievement to the behavior of the speaker who, on
the basis of a finite and accidental experience with language can produce
and understand an indefinite number of new sentences’. The idea of
productivity, or creativity, previously excluded from linguistics, or
discussed in terms of probabilities in the effort to maintain the view of
language as existing in a static state, was seen to be of central
importance. But still word-formation remained a topic neglected by
linguists, and for several good reasons. Chomsky made explicit the
distinction, fundamental to linguistics today (and comparable to that made
by de Saussure between langue, the system of a language, and parole, the
set of utterances of the language), between linguistic competence, ‘the
speaker-hearer’s knowledge of his language’ and performance, ‘the actual
use of language in concrete situations’. Linked with this distinction
are the notions of ‘grammaticalness’ and ‘acceptability’; in Chomsky’s
words, ‘Acceptability is a concept that belongs to the study of
competence’. A ‘grammatical’ utterance is one which may be generated and
interpreted by the rules of the grammar; an ‘acceptable’ utterance is one
which is ‘perfectly natural and immediately comprehensible... and in no way
bizarre or outlandish’. It is easy to show, as Chomsky does, that a
grammatical sentence may not be acceptable. For instance, this is the
cheese the rat the cat caught stole appears ‘bizarre’ and unacceptable
because we have difficulty in working it out, not because it breaks any
grammatical rules. Generally, however, it is to be expected that
grammaticalness and acceptability will go hand in hand where sentences are
The ability to make and understand new words is obviously as much a part of
our linguistic competence as the ability to make and understand new
sentences, and so, as Pennanen points out, ‘it is an obvious gap in
transformational grammars not to have made provision for treating word-
formation.’ But, as we have already noticed, we may readily thing of words,
like to piano and to violin, against which we can invoke no rule, but which
are definitely ‘unacceptable’ for no obvious reason. The incongruence of
grammaticality and acceptability that is, is far greater where words are
concerned than where sentences are concerned. It is so great, in fact, that
the exercise of setting out the ‘rules’ for forming words has so far seemed
to many linguists to be out of questionable usefulness. The occasions on
which we would have to describe the output of such rules as ‘grammatical
but non-occurring’ are just too numerous. And there are further
difficulties in treating new words like new sentences. A novel word (like
handbook or partial) may attract unwelcome attention to itself and appear
to be the result of the breaking of rules rather than of their application.
And besides, the more accustomed to the word we become, the more likely we
are to find it acceptable, whether it is ‘grammatical’ or not – or perhaps
we should say, whether or not is was ‘grammatical’ at the time it was first
formed, since a new word once formed, often becomes merely a member of an
inventory; its formation is a historical event, and the ‘rule’ behind it
may then appear irrelevant.
What exactly is a word? From Lewis Carroll onwards, this apparently simple
question has bedeviled countless word buffs, whether they are participating
in a game of Scrabble or writing an article for the Word Ways linguistic
magazine. To help the reader decide what constitutes a word, A. Ross
Eckler suggests a ranking of words in decreasing order of
admissibility. A logical way to rank a word is by the number of English-
speaking people who can recognize it in speech or writing, but this is
obviously impossible to ascertain. Alternatively, one can rank a word by
its number of occurrences in a selected sample of printed material. H.
Kucera and W.N. Francis's Computational Analysis of Present-day English
is based on one million words from sources in print in 1961. Unfortunately,
the majority of the words in Webster's Unabridged do not appear even
once in this compilation – and the words which do not appear are the ones
for which a philosophy of ranking is most urgently needed. Furthermore, the
written ranking will differ from the recognition ranking; vulgarities and
obscenities will rank much higher in the latter than in the former.
A detailed, word-by-word ranking is an impossible dream, but a ranking
based on classes of words may be within our grasp. Ross Eckler proposes
the following classes: (1) words appearing in one more standard English-
language dictionaries, (2) non-dictionary words appearing in print in
several different contexts, (3) words invented to fill a specific need and
appearing but once in print.
Most people are willing to admit as words all uncapitalized, unlabeled
entries in, say, Webster's New International Dictionary, Third Edition
(1961). Intuitively, one recognizes that words become less admissible as
they move in any or all of three directions: as they become more frequently
capitalized, as they become the jargon of smaller groups (dialect,
technical, scientific), and as they become archaic or obsolete. These
classes have no definite boundaries – is a word last used in 1499
significantly more obsolete than a word last used in 1501? Is a word known
to 100,000 chemists more admissible than a word known to 90,000 Mexican-
Americans? Each linguist will set his own boundaries.
The second class consists of non-dictionary words appearing in print in a
number of sources. There are many non-dictionary words in common use; some
logologists would like to draw a wider circle to include these. Such words
can be broadly classified into: (1) neologisms and common words overlooked
by dictionary-makers, (2) geographical place names, (3) given names and
Dmitri Borgmann points out that the well-known words uncashed, ex-wife
and duty-bound appear in no dictionaries (since 1965, the first of these
has appeared in the Random House Unabridged). Few people would exclude
these words. Neologisms present a more awkward problem since some may be so
ephemeral that they never appear in a dictionary. Perhaps one should read
Pope's dictum "Be not the first by whom the new are tried, nor yet the last
to lay the old aside."
Large treasure-troves of geographic place names can be found in The Times
Atlas of the World (200,000 names), and the Rand McNally Commercial
Atlas and Marketing Guide (100,000 names). These are not all different,
and some place names are already dictionary words. All these can be easily
verified by other readers; however, some will feel uneasy about admitting
as a word the name, say, of a small Albanian town which possibly has never
appeared in any English-language text outside of atlases.
Given names appear in the appendix of many dictionaries. Common given names
such as Edward or Cornelia ought to be admitted as readily as common
geographical place names such as Guatemala, but this set does not add much
to the logological stockpile.
Family surnames at first blush appear to be on the same footing as
geographical place names. However, one must be careful about sources.
Biographical dictionaries and Who's Who are adequate references, but one
should be cautious citing surnames appearing only in telephone directories.
Once a telephone directory is supplanted by a later edition, it is
difficult to locate copies for verifying surname claims. Further, telephone
directories are not immune to nonce names coined by subscribers for
personal reasons. A good index of the relative admissibility of surnames is
the number of people in the United States bearing that surname. An estimate
of this could be obtained from computer tapes of the Social Security
Administration; in 1957 they issued a pamphlet giving the number of Social
Security accounts associated with each of the 1500 most common family
The third and final class of words consists of nonce words, those invented
to fill a specific need, and appearing only once (or perhaps only in the
work of the author favoring the word). Few philologists feel comfortable
about admitting these. Nonce words range from coinages by James Joyce and
Edgar Allan Poe (X-ing a Paragraph) to interjections in comic strips
(Agggh! Yowie!). Ross Eckler and Daria Abrossimova suggest that
misspellings in print should be included here also.
In the book “Beyond Language”, Dmitri Borgmann proposes that the
philologist be prepared to admit words that may never have appeared in
print. For example, Webster's Second lists eudaemony as well as the entry
"Eudaimonia, eudaimonism, eudaimonist, etc." From this he concludes that
EUDAIMONY must exist and should be admitted as a word. Similarly, he can
conceive of sentences containing the word GRACIOUSLY'S ("There are ten
graciously's in Anna Karenina") and SAN DIEGOS ("Consider the luster that
the San Diegos of our nation have brought to the US"). In short, he argues
that these words might plausibly be used in an English-language sentence,
but does not assert any actual usage. His criterion for the acceptance of a
word seems to be its philological uniqueness (EUDAIMONY is a short word
containing all five vowels and Y).
The available linguistic literature on the subject cites various types and
ways of forming words. Earlier books, articles and monographs on word-
formation and vocabulary growth in general used to mention morphological,
syntactic and lexico-semantic types of word-formation. At present the
classifications of the types of word-formation do not, as a rule, include
lexico-semantic word-building. Of interest is the classification of word-
formation means based on the number of motivating bases which many scholars
follow. A distinction is made between two large classes of word-building
means: to Class I belong the means of building words having one motivating
base (e.g. the noun doer is composed of the base do- and the suffix -er),
which Class II includes the means of building words containing more than
one motivating base. They are all based on compounding (e.g. compounds
letter-opener, e-mail, looking-glass).
Most linguists in special chapters and manuals devoted to English word-
formation consider as the chief processes of English word-formation
affixation, conversion and compounding.
Apart from these, there is a number of minor ways of forming words such as
back-formation, sound interchange, distinctive stress, onomatopoeia,
blending, clipping, acronymy.
Some of the ways of forming words in present-day English can be restored to
for the creation of new words whenever the occasion demands – these are
called productive ways of forming words, other ways of forming words cannot
now produce new words, and these are commonly termed non-productive or
unproductive. R. S. Ginzburg gives the example of affixation having been a
productive way of forming new words ever since the Old English period; on
the other hand, sound-interchange must have been at one time a word-
building means but in Modern English (as we have mentioned above) its
function is actually only to distinguish between different classes and
forms of words.
It follows that productivity of word-building ways, individual derivational
patterns and derivational affixes is understood as their ability of making
new words which all who speak English find no difficulty in understanding,
in particular their ability to create what are called occasional words or
nonce-words (e.g. lungful (of smoke), Dickensish (office), collarless
(appearance)). The term suggests that a speaker coins such words when he
needs them; if on another occasion the same word is needed again, he coins
it afresh. Nonce-words are built from familiar language material after
familiar patterns. Dictionaries, as a rule, do not list occasional words.
The delimitation between productive and non-productive ways and means of
word-formation as stated above is not, however, accepted by all linguists
without reserve. Some linguists consider it necessary to define the term
productivity of a word-building means more accurately. They hold the view
that productive ways and means of word-formation are only those that can be
used for the formation of an unlimited number of new words in the modern
language, i.e. such means that “know no bounds” and easily form occasional
words. This divergence of opinion is responsible for the difference in the
lists of derivational affixes considered productive in various books on
Nevertheless, recent investigations seem to prove that productivity of
derivational means is relative in many respects. Moreover there are no
absolutely productive means; derivational patterns and derivational affixes
possess different degrees of productivity. Therefore it is important that
conditions favouring productivity and the degree if productivity of a
particular pattern or affix should be established. All derivational
patterns experience both structural and semantic constraints. The fewer are
the constraints, the higher is the degree of productivity, the greater is
the number of new words built on it. The two general constraints imposed on
all derivational patterns are: the part of speech in which the pattern
functions and the meaning attached to it which conveys the regular semantic
correlation between the two classes of words. It follows that each part of
speech is characterized by a set of productive derivational patterns
peculiar to it. Three degrees of productivity are distinguished for
derivational patterns and individual derivational affixes: (1) highly
productive, (2) productive or semi-productive and (3) non-productive.
R. S. Ginzburg says that productivity of derivational patterns and
affixes should not be identified with the frequency of occurrence in
speech, although there may be some interrelation between then. Frequency of
occurrence is characterized by the fact that a great number of words
containing a given derivational affix are often used in speech, in
particular in various texts. Productivity is characterized by the ability
of a given suffix to make new words.
In linguistic literature there is another interpretation of derivational
productivity based on a quantitative approach. A derivational pattern or a
derivational affix are qualified as productive provided there are in the
word-stock dozens and hundreds of derived words built on the pattern or
with the help of the suffix in question. Thus interpreted, derivational
productivity is distinguished from word-formation activity by which is
meant the ability of an affix to produce new words, in particular
occasional words or nonce-words. For instance, the agent suffix –er is to
be qualified both as a productive and as an active suffix: on the one hand,
the English word-stock possesses hundreds of nouns containing this suffix
(e.g. writer, reaper, lover, runner, etc.), on the other hand, the suffix
–er in the pattern v + –er ( N is freely used to coin an unlimited number
of nonce-words denoting active agents (e.g. interrupter, respecter,
laugher, breakfaster, etc.).
The adjective suffix –ful is described as a productive but not as an active
one, for there are hundreds of adjectives with this suffix (e.g. beautiful,
hopeful, useful, etc.), but no new words seem to be built with its help.
For obvious reasons, the noun-suffix –th in terms of this approach is to be
regarded both as a non-productive and a non-active one.
Now let us consider the basic ways of forming words in the English
Affixation is generally defined as the formation of words by adding
derivational affixes to different types of bases. Derived words formed by
affixation may be the result of one or several applications of word-
formation rule and thus the stems of words making up a word-cluster enter
into derivational relations of different degrees. The zero degree of
derivation is ascribed to simple words, i.e. words whose stem is homonymous
with a word-form and often with a root-morpheme (e.g. atom, haste, devote,
anxious, horror, etc.). Derived words whose bases are built on simple stems
and thus are formed by the application of one derivational affix are
described as having the first degree of derivation (e.g. atomic, hasty,
devotion, etc.). Derived words formed by two consecutive stages of coining
possess the second degree of derivation (e.g. atomical, hastily,
devotional, etc.), and so forth.
In conformity with the division of derivational affixes into suffixes and
prefixes affixation is subdivided into suffixation and prefixation.
Distinction is naturally made between prefixal and suffixal derivatives
according to the last stage of derivation, which determines the nature of
the immediate constituents of the pattern that signals the relationship of
the derived word with its motivating source unit, e.g. unjust (un– + just),
justify (just + –ify), arrangement (arrange + –ment), non-smoker (non– +
smoker). Words like reappearance, unreasonable, denationalize, are often
qualified as prefixal-suffixal derivatives. R. S. Ginzburg insists that
this classification is relevant only in terms of the constituent morphemes
such words are made up of, i.e. from the angle of morphemic analysis. From
the point of view of derivational analysis, such words are mostly either
suffixal or prefixal derivatives, e.g. sub-atomic = sub– + (atom + –ic),
unreasonable = un– + (reason + –able), denationalize = de– + (national +
–ize), discouragement = (dis– + courage) + –ment.
A careful study of a great many suffixal and prefixal derivatives has
revealed an essential difference between them. In Modern English,
suffixation is mostly characteristic of noun and adjective formation, while
prefixation is mostly typical of verb formation. The distinction also rests
on the role different types of meaning play in the semantic structure of
the suffix and the prefix. The part-of-speech meaning has a much greater
significance in suffixes as compared to prefixes which possess it in a
lesser degree. Due to it, a prefix may be confined to one part of speech
as, for example, enslave, encage, unbutton, or may function in more that
one part of speech as over– in overkind, overfeed, overestimation. Unlike
prefixes, suffixes as a rule function in any one part of speech often
forming a derived stem of a different part of speech as compared with that
of the base, e.g. careless – care; suitable – suit, etc. Furthermore, it is
necessary to point out that a suffix closely knit together with a base
forms a fusion retaining less of its independence that a prefix which is as
a general rule more independent semantically, e.g. reading – ‘the act of
one who reads’; ‘ability to read’; and to re-read – ‘to read again’.
Prefixation is the formation of words with the help of prefixes. The
interpretation of the terms prefix and prefixation now firmly rooted in
linguistic literature has undergone a certain evolution. For instance, some
time ago there were linguists who treated prefixation as part of word-
composition (or compounding). The greater semantic independence of prefixes
as compared with suffixes led the linguists to identify prefixes with the
first component part of a compound word.
At present the majority of scholars treat prefixation as an integral part
of word-derivation regarding prefixes as derivational affixes which differ
essentially both from root-morphemes and non-derivational prepositive
morphemes. Opinion sometimes differs concerning the interpretation of the
functional status of certain individual groups of morphemes which commonly
occur as first component parts of words. H. Marchand, for instance,
analyses words like to overdo, to underestimate as compound verbs, the
first component of which are locative particles, not prefixes. In a similar
way he interprets words like income, onlooker, outhouse qualifying them as
compounds with locative particles as first elements.
R. S. Ginzburg states there are about 51 prefixes in the system of
Modern English word-formation.
Unlike suffixation, which is usually more closely bound up with the
paradigm of a certain part of speech, prefixation is considered to be more
neutral in this respect. It is significant that in linguistic literature
derivational suffixes are always divided into noun-forming, adjective-
forming and so on; prefixes, however, are treated differently. They are
described either in alphabetical order or sub-divided into several classes
in accordance with their origin,. Meaning or function and never according
to the part of speech.
Prefixes may be classified on different principles. Diachronically
distinction is made between prefixes of native and foreign origin.
Synchronically prefixes may be classified:
1) According to the class of words they preferably form. Recent
investigations allow one to classify prefixes according to this
principle. It must be noted that most of the 51 prefixes of Modern
English function in more than one part of speech forming different
structural and structural-semantic patterns. A small group of 5
prefixes may be referred to exclusively verb-forming (en–, be–, un–,
2) As to the type of lexical-grammatical character of the base they are
added to into: (a) deverbal, e.g. rewrite, outstay, overdo, etc.; (b)
denominal, e.g. unbutton, detrain, ex-president, etc. and (c)
deadjectival, e.g. uneasy, biannual, etc. It is interesting that the
most productive prefixal pattern for adjectives is the one made up of
the prefix un– and the base built either on adjectival stems or
present and past participle, e.g. unknown, unsmiling, untold, etc.
3) Semantically prefixes fall into mono– and polysemantic.
4) As to the generic denotational meaning there are different groups that
are distinguished in linguistic literature: (a) negative prefixes such
as un–, non–, in–, dis–, a–, im–/in–/ir– (e.g. employment (
unemployment, politician ( non-politician, correct ( incorrect,
advantage ( disadvantage, moral ( amoral, legal ( illegal, etc.); (b)
reversative of privative prefixes, such as un–, de–, dis–, dis– (e.g.
tie ( untie, centralize ( decentralize, connect ( disconnect, etc.);
(c) pejorative prefixes, such as mis–, mal–, pseudo– (e.g. calculate (
miscalculate, function ( malfunction, scientific ( pseudo-scientific,
etc.); (d) prefixes of time and order, such as fore–, pre–, post–, ex–
(e.g. see ( foresee, war ( pre-war, Soviet ( post-Soviet, wife ( ex-
wife, etc.); (e) prefix of repetition re– (e.g. do ( redo, type (
retype, etc.); (f) locative prefixes such as super–, sub–, inter–,
trans– (e.g. market ( supermarket, culture ( subculture, national (
international, Atlantic ( trans-Atlantic, etc.).
5) When viewed from the angle of their stylistic reference, English
prefixes fall into those characterized by neutral stylistic reference
and those possessing quite a definite stylistic value. As no
exhaustive lexico-stylistic classification of English prefixes has yet
been suggested, a few examples can only be adduced here. There is no
doubt, for instance, that prefixes like un–, out–, over–, re–, under–
and some others can be qualified as neutral (e. g. unnatural, unlace,
outgrow, override, redo, underestimate, etc.). On the other hand, one
can hardly fail to perceive the literary-bookish character of such
prefixes as pseudo–, super–, ultra–, uni–, bi– and some others (e. g.
pseudo-classical, superstructure, ultra-violence, unilateral, bifocal,
Sometimes one comes across pairs of prefixes one of which is neutral,
the other is stylistically coloured. One example will suffice here:
the prefix over– occurs in all functional styles, the prefix super– is
peculiar to the style of scientific prose.
6) Prefixes may be also classified as to the degree of productivity into
highly-productive, productive and non-productive.
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. There are suffixes however, which do not shift
words from one part of speech into another; a suffix of this kind usually
transfers a word into a different semantic group, e. g. a concrete noun
becomes an abstract one, as is the case with child—childhood,
Chains of suffixes occurring in derived words having two and more suffixal
morphemes are sometimes referred to in lexicography as compound suffixes:
–ably = –able + –ly (e. g. profitably, unreasonably) –ical–ly = –ic + –al +
–ly (e. g. musically, critically); –ation = –ate + –ion (e. g. fascination,
isolation) and some others. Compound suffixes do not always present a mere
succession of two or more suffixes arising out of several consecutive
stages of derivation. Some of them acquire a new quality operating as a
whole unit. Let us examine from this point of view the suffix –ation in
words like fascination, translation, adaptation and the like. Adaptation
looks at first sight like a parallel to fascination, translation. The
latter however are first-degree derivatives built with the suffix –ion on
the bases fascinate–, translate–. But there is no base adaptate–, only the
shorter base adapt–. Likewise damnation, condemnation, formation,
information and many others are not matched by shorter bases ending in
–ate, but only by still shorter ones damn–, condemn–, form–, inform–. Thus,
the suffix –ation is a specific suffix of a composite nature. It consists
of two suffixes –ate and –ion, but in many cases functions as a single unit
in first-degree derivatives. It is referred to in linguistic literature as
a coalescent suffix or a group suffix. Adaptation is then a derivative of
the first degree of derivation built with the coalescent suffix on the base
Of interest is also the group-suffix –manship consisting of the suffixes
–man and –ship. It denotes a superior quality, ability of doing something
to perfection, e. g. authormanship, quotemanship, lipmanship, etc.
It also seems appropriate to make several remarks about the morphological
changes that sometimes accompany the process of combining derivational
morphemes with bases. Although this problem has been so far insufficiently
investigated, some observations have been made and some data collected. For
instance, the noun-forming suffix –ess for names of female beings brings
about a certain change in the phonetic shape of the correlative male noun
provided the latter ends in –er, –or, e.g. actress (actor), sculptress
(sculptor), tigress (tiger), etc. It may be easily observed that in such
cases the sound [?] is contracted in the feminine nouns.
Further, there are suffixes due to which the primary stress is shifted to
the syllable immediately preceding them, e.g. courageous (courage),
stability (stable), investigation (investigate), peculiarity (peculiar),
etc. When added to a base having the suffix –able/–ible as its component,
the suffix –ity brings about a change in its phonetic shape, namely the
vowel [i] is inserted between [b] and [l], e. g. possible ( possibility,
changeable ( changeability, etc. Some suffixes attract the primary stress
on to themselves, there is a secondary stress on the first syllable in
words with such suffixes, e. g. 'employ'ee (em'ploy), govern'mental
(govern), 'pictu'resque (picture).
There are different classifications of suffixes in linguistic literature,
as suffixes may be divided into several groups according to different
1) The first principle of classification that, one might say, suggests
itself is the part of speech formed. Within the scope of the part-of-
speech classification suffixes naturally fall into several groups such
a) noun-suffixes, i.e. those forming or occurring in nouns, e. g.
–er, –dom, –ness, –ation, etc. (teacher, Londoner, freedom,
brightness, justification, etc.);
b) adjective-suffixes, i.e. those forming or occurring in
adjectives, e. g. –able, –less, –ful, –ic, –ous, etc.
(agreeable, careless, doubtful, poetic, courageous, etc.);
c) verb-suffixes, i.e. those forming or occurring in verbs, e. g.
–en, –fy, –ize (darken, satisfy, harmonize, etc.);
d) adverb-suffixes, i.e. those forming or occurring in adverbs, e.
g. –ly, –ward (quickly, eastward, etc.).
2) Suffixes may also be classified into various groups according to the
lexico-grammatical character of the base the affix is usually added
to. Proceeding from this principle one may divide suffixes into:
a) deverbal suffixes (those added to the verbal base), e. g. –er,
–ing, –ment, –able, etc. (speaker, reading, agreement, suitable,
b) denominal suffixes (those added to the noun base), e. g. –less,
–ish, –ful, –ist, –some, etc. (handless, childish, mouthful,
violinist, troublesome, etc.);
c) de-adjectival suffixes (those affixed to the adjective base), e.
g. –en, –ly, –ish, –ness, etc. (blacken, slowly, reddish,
3) A classification of suffixes may also be based on the criterion of
sense expressed by a set of suffixes. Proceeding from this principle
suffixes are classified into various groups within the bounds of a
certain part of speech. For instance, noun-suffixes fall into those
a) the agent of an action, e. g. –er, –ant (baker, dancer,
b) appurtenance, e. g. –an, –ian, –ese, etc. (Arabian, Elizabethan,
Russian, Chinese, Japanese, etc.);
c) collectivity, e. g. –age, –dom, –ery (–ry), etc. (freightage,
officialdom, peasantry, etc.);
d) diminutiveness, e. g. –ie, –let, –ling, etc. (birdie, girlie,
cloudlet, squirreling, wolfing, etc.).
4) Still another classification of suffixes may be worked out if one
examines them from the angle of stylistic reference. Just like
prefixes, suffixes are also characterized by quite a definite
stylistic reference falling into two basic classes:
a) those characterized by neutral stylistic reference such as
–able, –er, –ing, etc.;
b) those having a certain stylistic value such as –old, –i/form,
–aceous, –tron, etc.
Suffixes with neutral stylistic reference may occur in words of
different lexico-stylistic layers. As for suffixes of the second class
they are restricted in use to quite definite lexico-stylistic layers
of words, in particular to terms, e.g. rhomboid, asteroid, cruciform,
cyclotron, synchrophasotron, etc.
5) Suffixes are also classified as to the degree of their productivity.
Distinction is usually made between dead and living affixes. Dead affixes
are described as those which are no longer felt in Modern English as
component parts of words; they have so fused with the base of the word as
to lose their independence completely. It is only by special etymological
analysis that they may be singled out, e. g. –d in dead, seed, –le, –l,
–el in bundle, sail, hovel; –ock in hillock; –lock in wedlock; –t in
flight, gift, height. It is quite clear that dead suffixes are irrelevant
to present-day English word-formation, they belong in its diachronic
Living affixes may be easily singled out from a word, e. g. the noun-
forming suffixes –ness, –dom, –hood, –age, –ance, as in darkness,
freedom, childhood, marriage, assistance, etc. or the adjective-forming
suffixes –en, –ous, –ive, –ful, –y as in wooden, poisonous, active,
hopeful, stony, etc.
However, not all living derivational affixes of Modern English possess
the ability to coin new words. Some of them may be employed to coin new
words on the spur of the moment, others cannot, so that they are
different from the point of view of their productivity. Accordingly they
fall into two basic classes — productive and non-productive word-building
It has been pointed out that linguists disagree as to what is meant by
the productivity of derivational affixes.
Following the first approach all living affixes should be considered
productive in varying degrees from highly-productive (e. g. –er, –ish,
–less, re–, etc.) to non-productive (e. g. –ard, –cy, –ive, etc.).
Consequently it becomes important to describe the constraints imposed on
and the factors favouring the productivity of affixational patterns and
individual affixes. The degree of productivity of affixational patterns
very much depends on the structural, lexico-grammatical and semantic
nature of bases and the meaning of the affix. For instance, the analysis
of the bases from which the suffix –ize can derive verbs reveals that it
is most productive with noun-stems, adjective-stems also favour ifs
productivity, whereas verb-stems and adverb-stems do not, e. g. criticize
(critic), organize (organ), itemize (item), mobilize (mobile), localize
(local), etc. Comparison of the semantic structure of a verb in –ize with
that of the base it is built on shows that the number of meanings of the
stem usually exceeds that of the verb and that its basic meaning favours
the productivity of the suffix –ize to a greater degree than its marginal
meanings, e. g. to characterize — character, to moralize — moral, to
dramatize — drama, etc.
The treatment of certain affixes as non-productive naturally also depends
on the concept of productivity. The current definition of non-productive
derivational affixes as those which cannot hg used in Modern English for
the coining of new words is rather vague and maybe interpreted in
different ways. Following the definition the term non-productive refers
only to the affixes unlikely to be used for the formation of new words,
e. g. –ous, –th, fore– and some others (famous, depth, foresee).
If one accepts the other concept of productivity mentioned above, then
non-productive affixes must be defined as those that cannot be used for
the formation of occasional words and, consequently, such affixes as
–dom, –ship, –ful, –en, –ify, –ate and many others are to be regarded as
The theory of relative productivity of derivational affixes is also
corroborated by some other observations made on English word-formation.
For instance, different productive affixes are found in different periods
of the history of the language. It is extremely significant, for example,
that out of the seven verb-forming suffixes of the Old English period
only one has survived up to the present time with a very low degree of
productivity, namely the suffix –en (e. g. to soften, to darken, to
A derivational affix may become productive in just one meaning because
that meaning is specially needed by the community at a particular phase
in its history. This may be well illustrated by the prefix de– in the
sense of ‘undo what has been done, reverse an action or process’, e. g.
deacidify (paint spray), decasualize (dock labour), decentralize
(government or management), deration (eggs and butter), de-reserve
(medical students), desegregate (coloured children), and so on.
Furthermore, there are cases when a derivational affix being
nonproductive in the non-specialized section of the vocabulary is used to
coin scientific or technical terms. This is the case, for instance, with
the suffix –ance which has been used to form some terms in Electrical
Engineering, e. g. capacitance, impedance, reactance. The same is true of
the suffix –ity which has been used to form terms in physics, and
chemistry such as alkalinity, luminosity, emissivity and some others.
Conversion, one of the principal ways of forming words in Modern English
is highly productive in replenishing the English word-stock with new
words. The term conversion, which some linguists find inadequate, refers
to the numerous cases of phonetic identity of word-forms, primarily the
so-called initial forms, of two words belonging to different parts of
speech. This may be illustrated by the following cases: work — to work;
love — to love; paper — to paper; brief — to brief, etc. As a rule we
deal with simple words, although there are a few exceptions, e.g.
wireless — to wireless.
It will be recalled that, although inflectional categories have been
greatly reduced in English in the last eight or nine centuries, there is
a certain difference on the morphological level between various parts of
speech, primarily between nouns and verbs. For instance, there is a clear-
cut difference in Modern English between the noun doctor and the verb to
doctor — each exists in the language as a unity of its word-forms and
variants, not as one form doctor. It is true that some of the forms are
identical in sound, i.e. homonymous, but there is a great distinction
between them, as they are both grammatically and semantically different.
If we regard such word-pairs as doctor — to doctor, water — to water,
brief — to brief from the angle of their morphemic structure, we see that
they are all root-words. On the derivational level, however, one of them
should be referred to derived words, as it belongs to a different part of
speech and is understood through semantic and structural relations with
the other, i.e. is motivated by it. Consequently, the question arises:
what serves as a word-building means in these cases? It would appear that
the noun is formed from the verb (or vice versa) without any
morphological change, but if we probe deeper into the matter, we
inevitably come to the conclusion that the two words differ in the
paradigm. Thus it is the paradigm that is used as a word-building means.
Hence, we may define conversion as the formation of a new word through
changes in its paradigm.
It is necessary to call attention to the fact that the paradigm plays a
significant role in the process of word-formation in general and not only
in the case of conversion. Thus, the noun cooker (in gas-cooker) is
formed from the word to cook not only by the addition of the suffix –er,
but also by the change in its paradigm. However, in this case, the role
played by the paradigm as a word-building means is less obvious, as the
word-building suffix –er comes to the fore. Therefore, conversion is
characterized not simply by the use of the paradigm as a word-building
means, but by the formation of a new word solely by means of changing its
paradigm. Hence, the change of paradigm is the only word-building means
of conversion. As a paradigm is a morphological category conversion can
be described as a morphological way of forming words.
Compounding or word-composition is one of the productive types of word-
formation in Modern English. Composition like all other ways of deriving
words has its own peculiarities as to the means used, the nature of bases
and their distribution, as to the range of application, the scope of
semantic classes and the factors conducive to productivity.
Compounds, as has been mentioned elsewhere, are made up of two ICs which
are both derivational bases. Compound words are inseparable vocabulary
units. They are formally and semantically dependent on the constituent
bases and the semantic relations between them which mirror the relations
between the motivating units. The ICs of compound words represent bases
of all three structural types. The bases built on stems may be of
different degree of complexity as, for example, week-end, office-
management, postage-stamp, aircraft-carrier, fancy-dress-maker, etc.
However, this complexity of structure of bases is not typical of the bulk
of Modern English compounds.
In this connection care should be taken not to confuse compound words
with polymorphic words of secondary derivation, i.e. derivatives built
according to an affixal pattern but on a compound stem for its base such
as, e. g. school-mastership ([n + n] + suf), ex-housewife (prf + [n +
n]), to weekend, to spotlight ([n + n] + conversion).
Structurally compound words are characterized by the specific order and
arrangement in which bases follow one another. The order in which the two
bases are placed within a compound is rigidly fixed in Modern English and
it is the second IC that makes the head-member of the word, i.e. its
structural and semantic centre. The head-member is of basic importance as
it preconditions both the lexico-grammatical and semantic features of the
first component. It is of interest to note that the difference between
stems (that serve as bases in compound words) and word-forms they
coincide with is most obvious in some compounds, especially in compound
adjectives. Adjectives like long, wide, rich are characterized by
grammatical forms of degrees of comparison longer, wider, richer. The
corresponding stems functioning as bases in compound words lack
grammatical independence and forms proper to the words and retain only
the part-of-speech meaning; thus compound adjectives with adjectival
stems for their second components, e. g. age-long, oil-rich, inch-wide,
do not form degrees of comparison as the compound adjective oil-rich does
not form them the way the word rich does, but conforms to the general
rule of polysyllabic adjectives and has analytical forms of degrees of
comparison. The same difference between words and stems is not so
noticeable in compound nouns with the noun-stem for the second component.
Phonetically compounds are also marked by a specific structure of their
own. No phonemic changes of bases occur in composition but the compound
word acquires a new stress pattern, different from the stress in the
motivating words, for example words key and hole or hot and house each
possess their own stress but when the stems of these words are brought
together to make up a new compound word, 'keyhole — ‘a hole in a lock
into which a key fits’, or 'hothouse — ‘a heated building for growing
delicate plants’, the latter is given a different stress pattern — a
unity stress on the first component in our case. Compound words have
three stress patterns:
a) a high or unity stress on the first component as in 'honeymoon,
b) a double stress, with a primary stress on the first component and a
weaker, secondary stress on the second component, e. g. 'blood-
?vessel, 'mad-?doctor, 'washing-?machine, etc.
c) It is not infrequent, however, for both ICs to have level stress as
in, for instance, 'arm-'chair, 'icy-'cold, 'grass-'green, etc.
Graphically most compounds have two types of spelling — they are spelt
either solidly or with a hyphen. Both types of spelling when accompanied by
structural and phonetic peculiarities serve as a sufficient indication of
inseparability of compound words in contradistinction to phrases. It is
true that hyphenated spelling by itself may be sometimes misleading, as it
may be used in word-groups to emphasize their phraseological character as
in e. g. daughter-in-law, man-of-war, brother-in-arms or in longer
combinations of words to indicate the semantic unity of a string of words
used attributively as, e.g., I-know-what-you're-going-to-say expression, we-
are-in-the-know jargon, the young-must-be-right attitude. The two types of
spelling typical of compounds, however, are not rigidly observed and there
are numerous fluctuations between solid or hyphenated spelling on the one
hand and spelling with a break between the components on the other,
especially in nominal compounds of the n+n type. The spelling of these
compounds varies from author to author and from dictionary to dictionary.
For example, the words war-path, war-time, money-lender are spelt both with
a hyphen and solidly; blood-poisoning, money-order, wave-length, war-ship—
with a hyphen and with a break; underfoot, insofar, underhand—solidly and
with a break. It is noteworthy that new compounds of this type tend to
solid or hyphenated spelling. This inconsistency of spelling in compounds,
often accompanied by a level stress pattern (equally typical of word-
groups) makes the problem of distinguishing between compound words (of the
n + n type in particular) and word-groups especially difficult.
In this connection it should be stressed that Modern English nouns (in the
Common Case, Sg.) as has been universally recognized possess an attributive
function in which they are regularly used to form numerous nominal phrases
as, e. g. peace years, stone steps, government office, etc. Such variable
nominal phrases are semantically fully derivable from the meanings of the
two nouns and are based on the homogeneous attributive semantic relations
unlike compound words. This system of nominal phrases exists side by side
with the specific and numerous class of nominal compounds which as a rule
carry an additional semantic component not found in phrases.
It is also important to stress that these two classes of vocabulary units —
compound words and free phrases — are not only opposed but also stand in
close correlative relations to each other.
Semantically compound words are generally motivated units. The meaning of
the compound is first of all derived from the combined lexical meanings of
its components. The semantic peculiarity of the derivational bases and the
semantic difference between the base and the stem on which the latter is
built is most obvious in compound words. Compound words with a common
second or first component can serve as illustrations. The stem of the word
board is polysemantic and its multiple meanings serve as different
derivational bases, each with its own selective range for the semantic
features of the other component, each forming a separate set of compound
words, based on specific derivative relations. Thus the base board meaning
‘a flat piece of wood square or oblong’ makes a set of compounds chess-
board, notice-board, key-board, diving-board, foot-board, sign-board;
compounds paste-board, cardboard are built on the base meaning ‘thick,
stiff paper’; the base board– meaning ‘an authorized body of men’, forms
compounds school-board, board-room. The same can be observed in words built
on the polysemantic stem of the word foot. For example, the base foot– in
foot-print, foot-pump, foothold, foot-bath, foot-wear has the meaning of
‘the terminal part of the leg’, in foot-note, foot-lights, foot-stone the
base foot– has the meaning of ‘the lower part’, and in foot-high, foot-
wide, footrule — ‘measure of length’. It is obvious from the above-given
examples that the meanings of the bases of compound words are
interdependent and that the choice of each is delimited as in variable word-
groups by the nature of the other IC of the word. It thus may well be said
that the combination of bases serves as a kind of minimal inner context
distinguishing the particular individual lexical meaning of each component.
In this connection we should also remember the significance of the
differential meaning found in both components which becomes especially
obvious in a set of compounds containing identical bases.
Compound words can be described from different points of view and
consequently may be classified according to different principles. They may
be viewed from the point of view:
1) of general relationship and degree of semantic independence of
2) of the parts of speech compound words represent;
3) of the means of composition used to link the two ICs together;
4) of the type of ICs that are brought together to form a compound;
5) of the correlative relations with the system of free word-groups.
From the point of view of degree of semantic independence there are two
types of relationship between the ICs of compound words that are generally
recognized in linguistic literature: the relations of coordination and
subordination, and accordingly compound words fall into two classes:
coordinative compounds (often termed copulative or additive) and
subordinative (often termed determinative).
In coordinative compounds the two ICs are semantically equally important as
in fighter-bomber, oak-tree, girl-friend, Anglo-American. The constituent
bases belong to the same class and òîé often to the same semantic group.
Coordinative compounds make up a comparatively small group of words.
Coordinative compounds fall into three groups:
a) Reduplicative compounds which are made up by the repetition of the
same base as in goody-goody, fifty-fifty, hush-hush, pooh-pooh. They
are all only partially motivated.
b) Compounds formed by joining the phonically variated rhythmic twin
forms which either alliterate with the same initial consonant but vary
the vowels as in chit-chat, zigzag, sing-song, or rhyme by varying the
initial consonants as in clap-trap, a walky-talky, helter-skelter.
This subgroup stands very much apart. It is very often referred to
pseudo-compounds and considered by some linguists irrelevant to
productive word-formation owing to the doubtful morphemic status of
their components. The constituent members of compound words of this
subgroup are in most cases unique, carry very vague or no lexical
meaning of their own, are not found as stems of independently
functioning words. They are motivated mainly through the rhythmic
doubling of fanciful sound-clusters.
Coordinative compounds of both subgroups (a, b) are mostly restricted
to the colloquial layer, are marked by a heavy emotive charge and
possess a very small degree of productivity.
c) The bases of additive compounds such as a queen-bee, an actor-manager,
unlike the compound words of the first two subgroups, are built on
stems of the independently functioning words of the same part of
speech. These bases often semantically stand in the genus-species
relations. They denote a person or an object that is two things at the
same time. A secretary-stenographer is thus a person who is both a
stenographer and a secretary, a bed-sitting-room (a bed-sitter) is
both a bed-room and a sitting-room at the same time. Among additive
compounds there is a specific subgroup of compound adjectives one of
ICs of which is a bound root-morpheme. This group is limited to the
names of nationalities such as Sino-Japanese, Anglo-Saxon, Afro-Asian,
Additive compounds of this group are mostly fully motivated but have a
very limited degree of productivity.
However it must be stressed that though the distinction between
coordinative and subordinative compounds is generally made, it is open to
doubt and there is no hard and fast border-line between them. On the
contrary, the border-line is rather vague. It often happens that one and
the same compound may with equal right be interpreted either way — as a
coordinative or a subordinative compound, e. g. a woman-doctor may be
understood as ‘a woman who is at the same time a doctor’ or there can be
traced a difference of importance between the components and it may be
primarily felt to be ‘a doctor who happens to be a woman’ (also a mother-
goose, a clock-tower).
In subordinative compounds the components are neither structurally nor
semantically equal in importance but are based on the domination of the
head-member which is, as a rule, the second IC. The second IC thus is the
semantically and grammatically dominant part of the word, which
preconditions the part-of-speech meaning of the whole compound as in
stone-deaf, age-long which are obviously adjectives, a wrist-watch, road-
building, a baby-sitter which are nouns.
Functionally compounds are viewed as words of different parts of speech.
It is the head-member of the compound, i.e. its second IC that is
indicative of the grammatical and lexical category the compound word
Compound words are found in all parts of speech, but the bulk of
compounds are nouns and adjectives. Each part of speech is characterized
by its set of derivational patterns and their semantic variants. Compound
adverbs, pronouns and connectives are represented by an insignificant
number of words, e. g. somewhere, somebody, inside, upright, otherwise
moreover, elsewhere, by means of, etc. No new compounds are coined on
this pattern. Compound pronouns and adverbs built on the repeating first
and second IC like body, ever, thing make closed sets of words
|SOME |+ |BODY |
|ANY | |THING |
|EVERY | |ONE |
|NO | |WHERE |
On the whole composition is not productive either for adverbs, pronouns
or for connectives.
Verbs are of special interest. There is a small group of compound verbs
made up of the combination of verbal and adverbial stems that language
retains from earlier stages, e. g. to bypass, to inlay, to offset. This
type according to some authors, is no longer productive and is rarely
found in new compounds.
There are many polymorphic verbs that are represented by morphemic
sequences of two root-morphemes, like to weekend, to gooseflesh, to
spring-clean, but derivationally they are all words of secondary
derivation in which the existing compound nouns only serve as bases for
derivation. They are often termed pseudo-compound verbs. Such polymorphic
verbs are presented by two groups:
1) verbs formed by means of conversion from the stems of compound nouns
as in to spotlight from a spotlight, to sidetrack from a side-track,
to handcuff from handcuffs, to blacklist from a blacklist, to pinpoint
from a pin-point;
2) verbs formed by back-derivation from the stems of compound nouns, e.
g. to baby-sit from a baby-sitter, to playact from play-acting, to
housekeep from house-keeping, to spring-clean from spring-cleaning.
From the point of view of the means by which the components are joined
together, compound words may be classified into:
1) Words formed by merely placing one constituent after another in a
definite order which thus is indicative of both the semantic value and
the morphological unity of the compound, e. g. rain-driven, house-dog,
pot-pie (as opposed to dog-house, pie-pot). This means of linking the
components is typical of the majority of Modern English compounds in
all parts of speech.
As to the order of components, subordinative compounds are often
a) asyntactic compounds in which the order of bases runs counter to
the order in which the motivating words can be brought together
under the rules of syntax of the language. For example, in
variable phrases adjectives cannot be modified by preceding
adjectives and noun modifiers are not placed before participles
or adjectives, yet this kind of asyntactic arrangement is
typical of compounds, e. g. red-hot, bluish-black, pale-blue,
rain-driven, oil-rich. The asyntactic order is typical of the
majority of Modern English compound words;
b) syntactic compounds whose components are placed in the order
that resembles the order of words in free phrases arranged
according to the rules of syntax of Modern English. The order of
the components in compounds like blue-bell, mad-doctor,
blacklist ( a + n ) reminds one of the order and arrangement of
the corresponding words in phrases a blue bell, a mad doctor, a
black list ( A + N ), the order of compounds of the type door-
handle, day-time, spring-lock ( n + n ) resembles the order of
words in nominal phrases with attributive function of the first
noun ( N + N ), e. g. spring time, stone steps, peace movement.
2) Compound words whose ICs are joined together with a special linking-
element — the linking vowels [ou] and occasionally [i] and the linking
consonant [s/z] — which is indicative of composition as in, for
example, speedometer, tragicomic, statesman. Compounds of this type
can be both nouns and adjectives, subordinative and additive but are
rather few in number since they are considerably restricted by the
nature of their components. The additive compound adjectives linked
with the help of the vowel [ou] are limited to the names of
nationalities and represent a specific group with a bound root for the
first component, e. g. Sino-Japanese, Afro-Asian, Anglo-Saxon.
In subordinative adjectives and nouns the productive linking element
is also [ou] and compound words of the type are most productive for
scientific terms. The main peculiarity of compounds of the type is
that their constituents are nonassimilated bound roots borrowed mainly
from classical languages, e. g. electro-dynamic, filmography,
technophobia, videophone, sociolinguistics, videodisc.
A small group of compound nouns may also be joined with the help of
linking consonant [s/z], as in sportsman, landsman, saleswoman,
bridesmaid. This small group of words is restricted by the second
component which is, as a rule, one of the three bases man–, woman–,
people–. The commonest of them is man–.
Compounds may be also classified according to the nature of the bases and
the interconnection with other ways of word-formation into the so-called
compounds proper and derivational compounds.
Compounds proper are formed by joining together bases built on the stems or
on the word-forms of independently functioning words with or without the
help of special linking element such as doorstep, age-long, baby-sitter,
looking-glass, street-fighting, handiwork, sportsman. Compounds proper
constitute the bulk of English compounds in all parts of speech, they
include both subordinative and coordinative classes, productive and non-
Derivational compounds, e. g. long-legged, three-cornered, a break-down, a
pickpocket differ from compounds proper in the nature of bases and their
second IC. The two ICs of the compound long-legged — ‘having long legs’ —
are the suffix –ed meaning ‘having’ and the base built on a free word-group
long legs whose member words lose their grammatical independence, and are
reduced to a single component of the word, a derivational base. Any other
segmentation of such words, say into long– and legged– is impossible
because firstly, adjectives like *legged do not exist in Modern English and
secondly, because it would contradict the lexical meaning of these words.
The derivational adjectival suffix –ed converts this newly formed base into
a word. It can be graphically represented as long legs ( [ (long–leg) +
–ed] ( long–legged. The suffix –ed becomes the grammatically and
semantically dominant component of the word, its head-member. It imparts
its part-of-speech meaning and its lexical meaning thus making an adjective
that may be semantically interpreted as ‘with (or having) what is denoted
by the motivating word-group’. Comparison of the pattern of compounds
proper like baby-sitter, pen-holder
[ n + ( v + –er ) ] with the pattern of derivational compounds like long-
legged [ (a + n) + –ed ] reveals the difference: derivational compounds are
formed by a derivational means, a suffix in case if words of the long-
legged type, which is applied to a base that each time is formed anew on a
free word-group and is not recurrent in any other type if words. It follows
that strictly speaking words of this type should be treated as pseudo-
compounds or as a special group of derivatives. They are habitually
referred to derivational compounds because of the peculiarity of their
derivational bases which are felt as built by composition, i.e. by bringing
together the stems of the member-words of a phrase which lose their
independence in the process. The word itself, e. g. long-legged, is built
by the application of the suffix, i.e. by derivation and thus may be
described as a suffixal derivative.
Derivational compounds or pseudo-compounds are all subordinative and fall
into two groups according to the type of variable phrases that serve as
their bases and the derivational means used:
a) derivational compound adjectives formed with the help of the
highly-productive adjectival suffix –ed applied to bases built
on attributive phrases of the A + N, Num + N, N + N type, e. g.
long legs, three corners, doll face. Accordingly the
derivational adjectives under discussion are built after the
patterns [ (a + n ) + –ed], e. g. long-legged, flat-chested,
broad-minded; [ ( ïèò + n) + –ed], e. g. two-sided, three-
cornered; [ (n + n ) + –ed], e. g. doll-faced, heart-shaped.
b) derivational compound nouns formed mainly by conversion applied
to bases built on three types of variable phrases — verb-adverb
phrase, verbal-nominal and attributive phrases.
The commonest type of phrases that serves as derivational bases for this
group of derivational compounds is the V + Adv type of word-groups as in,
for instance, a breakdown, a breakthrough, a castaway, a layout.
Semantically derivational compound nouns form lexical groups typical of
conversion, such as an act or instance of the action, e. g. a holdup — ‘a
delay in traffic’' from to hold up — ‘delay, stop by use of force’; a
result of the action, e. g. a breakdown — ‘a failure in machinery that
causes work to stop’ from to break down — ‘become disabled’; an active
agent or recipient of the action, e. g. cast-offs — ‘clothes that he
owner will not wear again’ from to cast off — ‘throw away as unwanted’; a
show-off — ‘a person who shows off’ from to show off — ‘make a display of
one's abilities in order to impress people’. Derivational compounds of this
group are spelt generally solidly or with a hyphen and often retain a level
stress. Semantically they are motivated by transparent derivative relations
with the motivating base built on the so-called phrasal verb and are
typical of the colloquial layer of vocabulary. This type of derivational
compound nouns is highly productive due to the productivity of conversion.
The semantic subgroup of derivational compound nouns denoting agents calls
for special mention. There is a group of such substantives built on an
attributive and verbal-nominal type of phrases. These nouns are
semantically only partially motivated and are marked by a heavy emotive
charge or lack of motivation and often belong to terms as, for example, a
kill-joy, a wet-blanket — ‘one who kills enjoyment’; a turnkey — ‘keeper of
the keys in prison’; a sweet-tooth — ‘a person who likes sweet food’; a red-
breast — ‘a bird called the robin’. The analysis of these nouns easily
proves that they can only be understood as the result of conversion for
their second ICs cannot be understood as their structural or semantic
centres, these compounds belong to a grammatical and lexical groups
different from those their components do. These compounds are all animate
nouns whereas their second ICs belong to inanimate objects. The meaning of
the active agent is not found in either of the components but is imparted
as a result of conversion applied to the word-group which is thus turned
into a derivational base.
These compound nouns are often referred to in linguistic literature as
"bahuvrihi" compounds or exocentric compounds, i.e. words whose semantic
head is outside the combination. It seems more correct to refer them to the
same group of derivational or pseudo-compounds as the above cited groups.
This small group of derivational nouns is of a restricted productivity, its
heavy constraint lies in its idiomaticity and hence its stylistic and
The linguistic analysis of extensive language data proves that there exists
a regular correlation between the system of free phrases and all types of
subordinative (and additive) compounds. Correlation embraces both the
structure and the meaning of compound words, it underlies the entire system
of productive present-day English composition conditioning the derivational
patterns and lexical types of compounds.
 Randolph Quirk, Ian Svortik. Investigating Linguistic Acceptability.
Walter de Gruyter. Inc., 1966. P. 127-128.
 Robins, R. H. A short history of linguistics. London: Longmans, 1967.
 Henry Sweet, History of Language. Folcroft Library Editions,1876. P.
 Zellig S. Harris, Structural Linguistics. University of Chicago Press,
1951. P. 255.
 Leonard Bloomfield, Language. New York, 1933
 Noam Avram Chomsky, Syntactic Structures. Berlin, 1957.
 Ibidem, p. 15.
 Ibidem, p. 4.
 Ibidem, p. 11.
 Ibidem, p. 10.
 Jukka Pennanen, Aspects of Finnish Grammar. Pohjoinen, 1972. P. 293.
 K. Zimmer, Levels of Linguistic Description. Chicago, 1964. P. 18.
 A. Ross Eckler’s letters to Daria Abrossimova, 2001.
 Kucera, H. & Francis, W. N. Computational analysis of present-day
American English. University Press of New England, 1967.
 Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language.
Random House Value Pub. 1996.
 A. Ross Eckler’s letters to Daria Abrossimova, 2001.
 Dmitri Borgmann. Beyond Language. Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1965.
 The Times Atlas of the World. Times Books. 1994.
 Rand McNally Commercial Atlas and Marketing Guide. Rand McNally & Co.
 Prof. Smirnitsky calls them “potential words” in his book on English
Lexicology (p. 18).
 Ginzburg R. A Course in Modern English Lexicology. Moscow, 1979. P.
 Ibidem. P. 114-115.
 Marchand H. Studies in Syntax and Word-Formation. Munich, 1974.
 Ginzburg R. A Course in Modern English Lexicology. Moscow, 1979. P.
 The spelling is given according to Webster’s New Collegiate
Dictionary, 1956 and H.C. Wyld. The Universal English Dictionary, 1952.
 Prof. A. I. Smirnitsky as far back as the late forties pointed out the
rigid parallelism existing between free word-groups and derivational
compound adjectives which he termed “grammatical compounds”.