Modern English Word-Formation

Modern English Word-Formation


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[1] 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[2]

observes in his discussion of the linguistics of the latter part of the

nineteenth century:

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.[3]

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 Saussures 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[4]: 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[5] 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 Chomskys Syntactic Structures[6]. 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[7]. 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-hearers knowledge of his language and performance, the actual

use of language in concrete situations[8]. Linked with this distinction

are the notions of grammaticalness and acceptability; in Chomskys

words, Acceptability is a concept that belongs to the study of

competence[9]. 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[10]. 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[11] 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[12] 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[13] 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[14]

is based on one million words from sources in print in 1961. Unfortunately,

the majority of the words in Webster's Unabridged[15] 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[16] 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[17] 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[18] (200,000 names), and the Rand McNally Commercial

Atlas and Marketing Guide[19] (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[20] (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

English lexicology.

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[21] 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[22] 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[23], 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[24] 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 childchildhood,

friendfriendship, etc.

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) ically = 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,

brightness, etc.).

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,

defendant, etc.);

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,

'doorway, etc.

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, underhandsolidly and

with a break[25]. 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 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

belongs to.

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 |



|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

classified as:

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-

productive patterns.

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 ( [ (longleg) +

ed] ( longlegged. 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; [ ( + 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

emotive colouring.

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[26]. 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.


[1] Randolph Quirk, Ian Svortik. Investigating Linguistic Acceptability.

Walter de Gruyter. Inc., 1966. P. 127-128.

[2] Robins, R. H. A short history of linguistics. London: Longmans, 1967.

P. 183.

[3] Henry Sweet, History of Language. Folcroft Library Editions,1876. P.


[4] Zellig S. Harris, Structural Linguistics. University of Chicago Press,

1951. P. 255.

[5] Leonard Bloomfield, Language. New York, 1933

[6] Noam Avram Chomsky, Syntactic Structures. Berlin, 1957.

[7] Ibidem, p. 15.

[8] Ibidem, p. 4.

[9] Ibidem, p. 11.

[10] Ibidem, p. 10.

[11] Jukka Pennanen, Aspects of Finnish Grammar. Pohjoinen, 1972. P. 293.

[12] K. Zimmer, Levels of Linguistic Description. Chicago, 1964. P. 18.

[13] A. Ross Ecklers letters to Daria Abrossimova, 2001.

[14] Kucera, H. & Francis, W. N. Computational analysis of present-day

American English. University Press of New England, 1967.

[15] Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language.

Random House Value Pub. 1996.

[16] A. Ross Ecklers letters to Daria Abrossimova, 2001.

[17] Dmitri Borgmann. Beyond Language. Charles Scribners Sons. 1965.

[18] The Times Atlas of the World. Times Books. 1994.

[19] Rand McNally Commercial Atlas and Marketing Guide. Rand McNally & Co.


[20] Prof. Smirnitsky calls them potential words in his book on English

Lexicology (p. 18).

[21] Ginzburg R. A Course in Modern English Lexicology. Moscow, 1979. P.


[22] Ibidem. P. 114-115.

[23] Marchand H. Studies in Syntax and Word-Formation. Munich, 1974.

[24] Ginzburg R. A Course in Modern English Lexicology. Moscow, 1979. P.


[25] The spelling is given according to Websters New Collegiate

Dictionary, 1956 and H.C. Wyld. The Universal English Dictionary, 1952.

[26] 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.


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