Morphology morph allomorph morpheme morpheme classes word

morpheme classes
cranberry problem
phonological conditioning
diachronic explanation
word - lexeme
The next larger unit after the syllable is obviously the word. It is interesting that this unit, which seems so
simple in everyday language is so complicated if we try to analyse it linguistically. Normally we would
say that all units between two spaces in a written text are words. But if we decide on take and took being
two words, what about put (present tense) and put (past tense)? As can be seen by these examples the
concept of word contains two levels. It may refer
• to the physical unit, the written or spoken form, which is called word form
• to the semantic entity, which is normally an entry in the dictionary and therefore called cit ation form.
The meaningful unit behind a word is called the lexeme. A lexeme includes all inflected forms of a
word. Like the phoneme it is a kind of abstraction or class of forms and is indicated by small
capitals, as in the following examples: TAKE (the lexeme) - takes, taking, took, taken (the word
It is conventional to choose one of the inflected forms to represent it, such as the infinitive of the verbs
given above or the singular of nouns. (In Latin dictionaries, on the other hand, verbs are listed in their sg
pres tense forms; thus, the verb 'to love' is listed as amo 'I love' not as amare 'to love'.)
The lexeme can be represented by a simple (eye) or complex word (eyeless), by a word group (black eye)
or even by an idiom (to be all eyes ´to wait eagerly for sb.´). Here we come across another complication:
In all cases where the lexeme contains two or more units separated by a space such as middle class family
life, flying boat model test, the day before yesterday, can we still say that the whole is a word?
Thus it is necessary to develop a number of criteria to decide this question:
• Orthographic: a word is what occurs between spaces in writing.
• Semantic: a word has a coherent meaning; it expresses a unified concept. Thus in compounds the
total meaning is different from the sum of the meanings of the two words. Cp paperback (which is a
book rather tahn a back) to a paper back, a hothouse (which is still a house but not always hot) to
any hot house etc.
• Phonological: (a) a word occurs between potential pauses in speaking. Though in normal speech we
generally do not pause, we may potentially pause between words but not in the middle of words; (b)
a word spoken in isolation has one and only one primary stress (with some exceptions, such as
compound adjectives).
• Morphological: a word has an internal cohesion and is indivisible by other units; a word may be
modified only externally by the addition of suffixes and prefixes. So back door does not allow an
internal, only an external addition: a dirty back door - *a back dirty door Grammatical: words fall
into particular classes.
• Syntactic: a word has external distribution or mobility; it is moved as a unit, not in parts (e.g. as
subject or object).
The first two criteria are not very conclusive in delimiting words since spacing between words, as well as
hyphenation practices, are often quite arbitrary in English and phrases consisting of several words may
also have semantic unity. We can see the usefulness of these criteria if we look at some problematical
examples of word delimitation:
travel agency
look over
meets all the criteria for wordhood; compare however passion fruit, which has
the same structure but is separated.
Semantically a single concept but it is written and pronounced (two primary
stresses) as more than one word.
has the appearance of a phrase written as one word and moved as a single unit
(not separated in the sentence).
is a single word when made possessive (sons -in-law's), but a phrase when
pluralized with internal modification (sons-in-law).
is treated syntactically as a single word, but it has two primary stresses, and is
hence phonologically a phrase.
both phonologically and syntactically a phrase, because material may intercede
between the parts (Look over the information - look the informtion over). But it
seems to express a single semantic notion: the same is expressed by the single
word examine.
If we consider the elements in words like (she) works, worked, worker, workhouse, we find in a first step
in the analysis recurrent forms: work, -s, -ed, -er, house. These are called morphs, i.e. phonological
representations of an element, a segment, which is not yet classified.
By comparing these morphs with the same forms in other words we find that they all have their own
meaning: work + s (marks the 3rd person singular), work + ed (a marker for past tense), work + er (a
marker for "person who does the activity expressed in the verb”), work + house (a special house). All
these words are made up of at least two meaningful units. We call these morphemes, i.e. the smallest
meaningful unit of a language. The branch of linguistics which deals with these morphemes is called
morphology. This comprises both grammatical forms, e.g., work, works, working, and word formations,
e.g. worker, workhouse. The importance of the factor „meaningful“ is shown by the following examples:
If we compare words such as worker, baker or corner, hammer, we can see that worker and baker can be
split up into the meaningful units work + er or bake + er, whereas the analysis of corner and hammer
does not result in the elements corn + er or ham(m) + er, because in both cases -er has no meaning (and
neither corn- nor ham- have anything to do with either ´grain´ or ´meat´). The relationship between
morphs and morphemes can be shown in the following examples:
unique morphemes - cranberry problem
Words can have one morpheme: girl, two: girls, three: hunters, four: reactivate, unfriendliness. However,
sometimes the morpheme status is not quite clear: In words like cranberry , raspberry, huckleberry,
boysenberry there is clearly a morpheme -berry which shows the semantic category of these words. The
first elements, however, have no meaning apart from a differentiating one. They can be paralleled to the
Latin roots –late, -fer etc , and so are bound roots. Some linguist call these unique morphemes.
morpheme classes - free - bound - lexical - derivational - inflectional
If we analyse the words unhappy, disloyal, helpless, inhabitant, works, worked, we can see that the
morphemes happy, loyal, help and inhabit can stand all by themselves, they are consequently free
morphemes. The morphemes un-, dis-, -less, -ant, -s and -ed are always bound to another word,
consequently they are called bound morphemes. The morphemes happy, loyal, help, inhabit have a
complex meaning which is explained in dictionaries. They are lexical morphemes (or lexemes), the
morphemes un-, dis-, -less, -ant derive new words from existing ones, that is why they are derivational
morphemes. The morphemes -s and -ed represent a grammatical function, which is explained in a
grammar; they are grammatical or inflectional morphemes.
Words like house, love, fine are free and lexical, is, to, and are free and grammatical, elements like un-, less-, -ceive are bound and lexical, -s in walks, -ed in walked, -ing in walking are bound and grammatical.
These combinations have the following names:
content word
Free lexical forms such as house, love, fine are called content words. These are nouns, verbs, adjectives
and as such form a relationship between language and the world by refering to things and persons (nouns),
activities and situations (verbs) and characteristics (adjectives). These are autosemantic, i.e., they have an
independent sense.
function word
Contrary to these function words, i.e. free grammatical forms like is (walking), to, and, are synsemantic,
i.e., their meaning is partly or exclusively dependent on their context.
affix - prefix - suffix
Affixes occur either as prefixes or suffixes. They are always bound and can be lexical (derivational) as all
prefixes: un- in unhappy, or grammatical as all inflectional endings, suffixes such as –ed in worked.
Suffixes can also be derivational as –less in hopeless.
inflectional ending
Other inflectional endings (i.e. bound grammatical suffixes) are –s in walks, -ed in walked, - ing in
Morpheme types in English
function word
inflectional affix
content word
derivational affix
can, to, and, she
-ed, -s, -er
house, garden, door
hopeful, unhappy
Inflexional and derivational endings
They are explained in the grammar.
They are only suffixes.
They never change the word-class.
They are explained in the dictionary.
They can be both prefixes and suffixes.
They can change the word-class.
They can be applied to every member of a class:
e.g. plural-s can be attached to almost all nouns.
They form a small inventory
They have just a very general meaning, e.g. plural
= more than one
They belong to a closed class (just eight)
They are restricted in their use. There is unwise but
not *unexcellent.
They are much more numerous.
They have often quite specific meanings, e.g., -er
in stranger
Their class is open, e.g. -burger is a new quasisuffix
This carries the principal lexical or grammatical meaning. It is normally a free form as avoid, grown,
heart , class, which can or cannot be expanded to derivations (unavoidable, overgrown, disheartened,
classify). Occasionally it can also be a bound form such as –ceive in receive, conceive, perceive, deceive,
apperceive, -mit in commit, admit, omit, remit, submit, transmit, -vert in convert, revert, subvert, intravert,
pervert and –fer in confer, defer, refer, transfer.
Just as allophones are variants of a phoneme, so allomorphs are realisations or variant of morphemes.
They occur in all types of morphemes: in lexical morphemes such as official from office, in roots as in
reception from receive, in derivational morphemes as in impossible vs. incorrect and in grammatical
endings, such as voiced /d/ in loved vs. unvoiced /t/ in walked.
phonological conditioning - morphological conditioning - grammatical conditioning
If these allomorphs ar e determined by a preceding phoneme, they are called phonologically conditioned
allomorphs. If there is no phonemic conditioning, they are called morphologically conditioned
allomorphs, i.e. a certain lexical morpheme constitutes the realisation of a certain affix. Another
conditioning is the so-called grammatical conditioning, which changes the bases and not the affixes. This
is the case in plural or past tense forms knives, thieves, houses and wept, slept, where the ending
conditions voiced word final consonant viz. shortening of the basis. This can be demonstrated in the
English plurals and past tense morphemes:
phonologically conditioned
morphologically conditioned
[z] after voiced consonants and vowels:
beds, knees
[s] after voiceless consonants: tulips, parents
[Iz] after sibilants (Zischlaute): horses,
Umlaut: feet, geese, teeth, mice
-en: oxen, children
zero-allomorph: fish, deer
Latin/Greek loans: fungi, antennae,
phenomena, theses
past tense [d] after voiced consonants and vowels:
rubbed, judged, entered
[t] after voiceless consonants: stopped,
kicked, laughed
[Id] after [t, d]: wanted, decided
portmanteau morpheme: took, gave
zero-allomorph: put, cut
Grammatical conditioning of English plurals
elves, dwarves, calves, knives, leaves, loaves, lives, selves, sheaves, thieves,
conditioned plurals wolves, woves; houses [ÈhaUzIz], blouses [ÈblaUzIz]
regular plurals
beliefs, chiefs, proofs, safes
wharf – wharves, hoofs – hooves, scarfs – scarves, cloths – clothes (with
difference in meaning)
For cases like took or mice linguists suggested the term portmanteau morphs, i.e. one morph realises more
than one morpheme or function. In these cases took contains the meaning of ´take + the meaning of past
tense´ and mice contains both the morpheme ´mouse + the plural morpheme´. This is also the case in your
(cars), which has three morphemes (2 nd person, plural, possession) or in Latin amo (first person, singular,
present, active).
zero -allomporph
A further abstraction is the concept of the zero-realisation (no visible affix, but a specific meaning) in
plurals such as fish and deer and past tense forms such as cut and put.
diachronic explanation
All these irregularities are non-productive inflectio ns and can be better explained diachronically, i.e. if we
compare the present-day system with the OE one. Then, as in German, all of the irregularities were still
productive or at least much more common. This goes for the –en-plural in oxen and children (cp. German
Frauen, Straßen, Hallen), for the Umlaut in men, geese or mice, which affected a lot more nouns in older
English, e.g. also the plural of cows, brothers, books (cp. German Kühe, Brüder, Bücher). The irregular
verbs with mutation (called Ablaut) such as give – gave, come – came, find – found were a lot more
common and could be grouped into (seven) classes (cp. the related German strong verbs). Grammatical
conditioned forms are the result of sound changes in English: knives, leaves is a remnant of OE
phonological rules (voicing of consonants in voiced surrounding) and kept, met go back to a shortening of
vowels before a consonant cluster.
In a couple of words some grammatical functions are not represented by inflectional endings but rather by
completely different words. This is called suppletion and occurs in all European languages with more or
less the same concepts/meanings.
Gradation of ´good´: good – better; gut – besser; bon – meilleur; Russian: xoros&o (good) - luc&s&e (better)
Form s of to be: be, am, are, is, was – sein, bin, ist, sind, war – etre, suis, est, sommes, etait
Past tense of ´to go´: go – went; aller – il va; Spanish: ir (to walk) – fue (went)
Word formation
immediate constituents
grammatical and word formation rules
homonymic prefixes
synonymic prefixes
changes of the root
homonymic suffixes
dead suffixes
burger problem
contrastive analysis
compound or phrase
meaning relationsships
underlying sentences
amalgamated compounds
syntactic conversion
approximate conversion
partial conversion
importance of conversion in English
English conversion - German derivation
subtractive word formation
This deals with the formation of new words with the help of lexical morphemes (lexemes, derivational
morphemes). This feature is very important in every language, which can be seen when one compares the
ratio between simple and complex words by choosing a specific semantic field , e.g., things about the
house (front door, refrigerator, TV set) or by counting them in a page of a dictionary. If a language did not
have the possiblity of word formation and if it had only simple words, speakers would be forced to use
individual forms different from one another, which would increase the number of different forms to such
an amount that nobody could remember them any more. Word formations are the semantic „bridges“
between the various concepts.
How do we understand word formations, e.g. what makes us know at once that a windmill is a mill
powered by the wind and not a mill which produces wind? If we try to analyse the constituents of the
word unfriendliness, we could do this in the following way: un + friend + li + ness; this linear analysis,
however, does not show the internal relationship between the various parts, which could be demonstrated
in the following way:
[un[[friend][li]]ness] or un friend li ness
immediate constituents - stem - base
The parts of the word that are in closer connection with one another are called the immediate constituents.
The last remaining part which cannot be split up into other elements is called the stem, the part or parts
which form the basis for a word formation is called the base. The stem in English is normally a free form
but it can also be a bound root like in pi-ous, jeal-ous. In our example friend is both stem and base for
friendly, which is base for unfriendly etc.
An important factor in word formation is the productivity of word formation processes. This may range
from very limited to quite extensive, depending upon whether they are found in just a few words and no
longer used to create new words (such as be- in behold, become, besmear) or whether they are found in
many words and still being in use (such as the prefix un-).
A survey of productive types shows the following distribution: derivations 20%, compounds 41%,
abbreviations (blends, clippings, acronyms) 5 % each and conversions also 5%.
We can differentiate between are three types of productivity:
actual English words
These are existing word formations, prefixations such as unable, unkind, suffixations as whiten, soften and
compounds as sandstone.
potential English words
These would be possible by word formation rules but they are not realised in the language, e.g.there is no
prefixation such as unexcellent, no suffixation such as slowen or greenen and no compound granite stone.
One reason for this non-realisation (blockage) may be the fact that there is already an existing word for the
concept in question: there is no stealer, because there is already thief, warmness has not been realised
because there had already been warmth. Phonological reasons are potential tongue-twisters as in miserlily,
non-English words
Unlike the latter these are not even possible by word formation rules. There are both phonological and
morphological constraints on word formation. An example of the former is English –en attached to
adjectives to form verbs (whiten, soften, madden). This is only possible in monosyllabic adjectives ending
in an obstruent. That is why derivations such as abstracten, bluen, angryen are not possible. The latter
shows in the impossibility of unhealth because un- cannot be attached to nouns, nor is there selfishless
because –less can only be attached to nouns and not to adjectives. Unsad, unpessimistic do not exist
because of the semantic reason that there is no negation of the negative partner in an antonymic pair.
Compare also Humpty-Dumpty´s famous “unbirthday present” in Alice in Wonderland.
nonce formations
Many word formations are created as spontaneous ad hoc or nonce formations such as and either uses just
once or get out of use very soon. Others are institutionalised and finally find their way into the
dictionaries. That there are rules behind word formations in a similar way as there are rules behind
grammatical forms can be shown by the following example: If we know what a soleme (a non existing
word) is, we can also derive solemic, the verb solemicize and the process solemicization.
word formation vs. grammar rules
Here are some similarities and differences between rules in grammar and word formation:
• Similarities: Both can be generalised and apply for more than one or very few instances. Both have
restrictions which can sometimes be formulated.
• Differences: Grammatical rules are far more generally applicable than word formation rules: A rule
such as ´past tense is formed by adding –ed to verbs´ is much more general than a rule such as ´graded
adjectives can be negated by the prefix un-´. In grammar irregular verbs are considered to be
exceptions. In word formation rules, however, these „exceptions“ are more widespread and are much
more difficult to be explained either structurally or historically. Besides, inflectional morphemes are a
closed system of forms, lexical and derivational ones are an open system.
Apart from that the question which affix attaches to which root is quite unpredictable. Sometimes it must
be stated separately for each root. Here is an example of how word formation rules for suffixations of
verbs look like:
Word formation rules according to Quirk et al.
suffix added to
mainly personal nouns
personal nouns
a) abstract nouns
b) collective nouns
nouns (chiefly abstract)
nouns (chiefly count abstract)
a) abstract nouns
b) concrete nouns
non-count abstract nouns
state, action
state, action
result of activity
(result of) activity
driver, worker
computer, receiver
refusal, dismissal
We turn now to the individual word formation processes, which can be roughly subdivided into derivation
(affixation), conversion, compounding, coinage and the substractive word formations.
derivation - affixation
This is the attachment of a morpheme to a free form either as a prefix or as a suffix. Unlike German (e.g.
ab-ge-worfen) there is no infixation in English with the possible exception of such humourous forms as
im-bloody-pssible, abso-blooming-lutely or the historically fixed forms hand-i-work, hand-i-craft.
The addition of a derivational affix produces a new word with one or more of the following changes:
• Orthographic: pity > pitiful, deny > denial
• Phonological: reduce > reduction, fuse > fusion, drama > dramatize, relate > relation
• Semantic: This may be sometimes rather simple as the negation expressed in un- (unhappy), but
sometimes rather complex such as fashionable which unlike impressionable is not just ´able to be xed´.
• Grammatical: Words are shifted from one word class to another.
Prefixes normally cause a change of meaning (negative: unhappy; reversative: untie; locative: transplant).
Exceptions are the non-productive prefixes which make nouns (adjectives) into verbs:
• be- in bedevil, bewitch, behead, befriend
• en-/-em in enjoy, enscircle, entrap, enslave, enlarge, embark, empower.
The spelling is sometimes hyphenated: pro-communist, anti-social, pre-war; especially in multiple
prefixes: anti-disestablishment. There are native prefixes such as be-, fore-, mis-, un-, but more common
are foreign ones such as dis-, non-, anti-, ex-, pseudo-, ab-,
homonymic prefixes
Some prefixes have the same form with a different meaning. Compare unfair - untie, uninstall, dislike –
disinfect (negative vs. reversative), interweave – interfere, income – invalid, pro-British - prologue
synonymic prefixes
On the other hand, some prefixes have the same meaning in different forms: unhappy, disloyal, nonsmoker, illegal, abnormal, non-scientific are all negative. (But there is a slight difference to unscientific,
cp. also uninterested – disinterested)
Some prefixes are assimilated (cp. p. 22) to the stem und thus form variants in complementary
distribution: independent, impossible, irregular, illegal; endanger, empower
List of prefixes
un-, nonprivation
un-, dis-
pre-, post-
inter-, sub-, trans-
hyper-, ultra-
bi-, poly-, mono-
unfair, unwise, unforrgettable; unassuming,
unexpected;nonconformist, nonsmoker, nonpolitical, nondrip
undo, untie, unzip, unpack, unleash; disconnect, disinfest, disown,
disheartened, discoloured
prewar , preschool, pre-nineteenth century, premarital; postwar,
postclassical, postpone, post-structuralist
international, interact, inetermarry; subway, subconscious,
subdidive; transplant, transatlantic
hypercritical, hyperactive, hypersensitive; ultraviolet, ultramodern,
ultraconservative, ultramarine
bilingual, bicycle; polysyllabic, poyglot; monolingual,
Suffixes normally change the word-class; exceptions are suffixes such as –dom in kingdom or –hood in
childhood, neighbourhood, knighthood, -ship in friendship, fellowship, championship, membership,
kinship, where there is a change of the semantic class. In many cases suffixes trigger a change of the root
(either consonant or vowel), which can be formulated by phonological rules:
Allomorphs of basis
type of change
change of final
ai > I
i: > e
eI > Q [«]
aU > Ã
«U > •
historical changes
in suffixation
admire, divine, vice
serene, sincere, supreme
admiration, divinity, vicious
serenity, sincerity, supremacy
insane, profane, major
pronounce, abound
phone, tone, melodiouis
insanity, profanity, Majority
pronunciation, abundance
phonic, tonic, melody
Japan, photograph
Japanese, photographic
Native suffixes combine only with a native base, and there is no change of stress: hopeful, goodness.
Foreign suffixes, however, can combine with a foreign base as in utterance or with a native base as in
eatable. These are called hybrids.
homonymic suffixes
More than prefixes suffixes can have different meanings, which is especially manifest in –er:
Meanings of –er
added to
dynamic verbs
agent: the person who does what is
expressed in the verb
dynamic verbs
instrument: a machine which does what is
expressed in the verb
dynamic verbs
a thing to slip into
place names
a person from x
Baker, singer, lover, reader, writer,
Computer, receiver, transmitter
Londoner, New Yorker
Other examples are: coastal (adjective) – withdrawal (noun), cupful – careful, wooden (adjective) –
shorten (verb)
are basically free forms, which are almost used as suffixes (same position and semantically empty) as craft in witchcraft, statecraft, -proof in fireproof, waterproof, -wise in lengthwise, -monger in ironmonger,
fishmonger, scandalmonger, - wright in playwright, -like in childlike, -man in walkman, -burger in
cheeseburger, fishburger etc.
dead suffixes
Forms such as -dom, -hood, -th: kingdom, boyhood, length are no longer productive in Modern English.
false division
A historically false division may result in rather productive suffixes as in
• -burger from hamburger > cheeseburger, fishburger, chickenburger etc.
• -oholic from alcoholic > workoholic, wordoholic, chocoholic
• -athon from marathon > workathon, telathon
Survey of suffixes in English
adjective > noun
idealism, realism, imperialism, romanticism
sanity, vanity, rapidity, banality, ability, chastity, curiosity
-ness happiness, meanness, clerverness, usefulness, brightness, darkness
verb > noun
refusal, dismissal, denial, survial, approval, trial, proposal
worker, writer, driver, employer, swimmer, preacher, traveller
-ment arrangement, amazement, judgement, astonishment, treatment
adjective/noun >
ripen, widen, deafen, sadden, harden, lengthen, deepen
beautify, diversify, codify, amplify, simplify, glorify, nullify
symbolize, hospitalize, publicize, popularize, modernize
noun > adjective
useful, delightful, helpful, careful, awful, rightful, sinful, cheerful
foolish, selfish, snobbish, modish, hellish, Swedish, Jewish
acceptable, readable, drinkable, livable, comfortable, changeable
adjective/noun >
happily, strangely, oddly, basically, semantically
-wise clockwise, lengthwise, weatherwise
-ward homeward, eastward
contrastive analysis: diminutive suffixes - feminine suffixes
There is a big difference in some areas of suffixation between German and English, e.g., in diminutive
suffixes. These are very rare in English and occur only in few words: booklet, piglet, gosling, kitchenette,
cigarette, whereas they can be freely added to German nouns (with stylistic restrictions) Häuschen,
Fensterchen, Gärtlein.
In English feminine suffixes are added to only about ten stems: waitress, stewardess, duchess, but are
generally used in German: Lehrerin, Professorin, Erzieherin, Köchin. With political correctness the two
languages have gone opposing ways: English has abolished the „discrimating“ female forms: stewardess
became flight attendant, fireman became firefighter, charwoman became cleaner; German has to add it to
every profession, e.g. Bürgerinnen und Bürger, StudentInnen and by that becomes more clumsy and
conversion - zero-derivation - functional shift
Derivation without a derivational affix, i.e., this can be compared to a derivation with the help of a suffix
as the arrival from to arrive, only that here as in the return + 0 from to return no suffix or rather a zerosuffix is attached. This is then a shift of word-class without a derivational element. However, many
frequently used words such as change, cure, love ,cry , turn, start, stop, rest, set do not show any traces of
a derivation from one word class to another (noun to verb or verb to noun?). Thus for some linguists word
class is neutral or latent and shows only in the context of the word in question.
Sometimes the question arrises which word class is the original and which the derived one. Possible
criteria are:
• Historical: In written documents the cook is earlier than to cook (proved by OED)
• The original word class is shown by typical endings such as these noun-endings: to landscape, to
requisition, to whitewash.
• Semantic elements: to net is described as ´to catch with a net´ and not the net as ´an instrument for
• Frequency: the basic word has a higher frequency than the conversion
Conversions affect every word-class, e.g.
• adjectives > verbs: to idle, to calm, to clean, to dry, to empty, to open, to total;
• adjectives > nouns: a daily, a bitter, a natural, a regular, the rich, a double
• verbs > nouns : a look, a call, a cut, a cough, a doubt, a rise, a smell, a smile, a spy. This is especially
productive in verb-object-combinations: to have a look, to give a damn, to take a walk, give it a turn,
have a stare at, make a guess, have a cry and in prepositional heads: in the long run, on the wax, at a
• nouns > verbs: to bridge, to butter, to knife, to mail, to queue, to shoulder, to iron, to service, to X -ray,
to blacklist to skin, to weed; the fall, a lift denotes action itself; the sweat, a catch are result of the
action and a spy is the actor.
• adverbs > adjectives (the then president), > verbs (to down the tools), > nouns (the ins and outs)
• function words > nouns: the how and why, many ifs and buts
• interjections > verbs: to hurrah, to bravo
• suffixes act as free forms: patriotism, nationalism and other isms
There is a stress shift when phrasal verbs become nouns and adjectives: to Ècome Èback > a Ècomeback, to
Èrun Èoff > a Èrunoff, to Ètake oÈover > a Ètakeover; a Èthrow-away thing, a Èbuilt-in wardrobe
syntactic conversion
Conversion functions even within word-classes and makes intransitive into transitive verbs: run > to run a
business, stand > to stand the robbers against the wall, and trasitive into intransitive verbs: to read > this
book reads well, to scare > I don´t scare easily.
English conversion – German affixation
Conversion occurs in other languages as well (cp. German lachen - das Lachen) and is not directly
dependent on the loss of grammatical suffixes in English. The main reason for the higher frequency of this
process in English is the low productivity of characteristic prefixes and suffixes, e.g. in noun > verb
conversions en- (enslave), -ify (magnify, beautify), - ize (nationalize). Altogether the important role of
conversion in English is another factor of the analytical character of the language, i.e., (word-class)
functions are not attached to but integrated in the word.
This process in many ways makes English more flexible and economic. To carpet the living room is much
more concise than das Wohnzimmer mit einem Teppichboden ausstatten. In most cases of English
conversion German requires a specific derivation or phraseology which has to be learned and remembered
• a prefix as in to grease – einfetten,
• a suffix as in kassieren – to cash, gruppieren – to group
• the Umlaut as in häuten – to skin, schälen – to peel
• a whole phrase as in in Kontakt treten – to contact,
• a causative verb as in fliegen lassen – to fly a kite
a completely different word as in to house – unterbringen, to mail – verschicken.
Of course, the loss of formal elements entails sometimes the loss of function or meaning, consequently a
headline such as "Interest rate rises slow retail sails", with slow as verb, is much clearer in German, where
the prefix in ver-langsamen points to the verb directly.
approximate conversion
Some conversions do show a slight difference in form, especially a voiced fricative in the verb as in:
advice - to advise, house - to house, use - to use, increase - to increase, belief - to believe, thief - to thieve;
teeth - to teethe. It is doubtful whether there is still conversion in pairs with even more changes, like the
glass - to glaze, breath - to breathe, blood - to bleed, food - to feed.
Another case of this borderline conver sion are the two-syllable words like import, export
partial conversion
Here the word is transfered into its new class only partially, i.e., it shows just some characteristics of this
class: So I can say The wealthy are with us, but not I know *a wealthy. I can say the wealthier, but not
some wealthies.
A compound is a combination of two free forms, which exist in all word-classes:
• nouns: good shot, door knob, playboy, pickpocket, cut-throat, madman, software, background,
outcast, downpour, drop-out, sit-in
• adjectives: narrow-minded, midnight blue, bittersweet, back -street, tow-away, man-eating, aesygoing,
handwoven, double-barrelled
• verbs: to house-break, to tape-record, to babysit, to outdo, to overcook
There are two borderline cases of compounds:
neoclassical formations such as telescope, telegraph, microscope, microphone, a combination of two
bound forms which are nevertheless no affixes. These are all-important in naming technical
inventions and processes.
Combinations of two free forms, where at least one form behaves almost like a prefix or suffix: ingroup, policeman [-m«n]
compound or phrase
Unlike in German, where the spelling is both necessary and sufficient condition for a compound, the
question in English if a combination is just a phrase like black bird or a compound like blackbird is not as
easily to be solved. A compund has to meet one or more of the following conditions:
• Spelling: Compounds are either written together: bedroom, foodstuff, hedgehog, written with a
hyphen (more in BrE than in AmE): tax-free, living-room, or written separately: reading material,
common room, minced meat. Some compounds even allow for all three spellings: flowerpot, flowerpot, flower pot
• Accent: The primary accent is normally on the first part (the determinant): Èchewing gum, Èdrinking
water, Èhothouse, but there are exceptions with double stress (cp. $):Èhigh Ètreason, Èhot Èwar, Èminced
• Syntax: If the determinant is an adjective, this loses its syntactic features, i.e. it can no longer be
graded or used predicatively: a wetter day - *a smaller talk, a very wet day - *a very small talk, the
day is wet - *the talk is small
• Internal coherence, i.e. endings such as plurals are added to the second part: man-servants. Phrases are
internally modified (at any of the word boundaries): lookers-on, mothers-in-law, in-group, sit-in,
passers-by. Borderline cases are phrase compounds such as lady-in-waiting, dog-in-the-manger,
forget-me-not, has-been, son-in-law which are internally modified in the plural: sons-in-law, but
externally modified in the possessive: my son-in-law´s new car.
• External mobility: Compounds move in a sentence as a whole, not in parts. Compare the difference
between the compound cross-examination and the phrase to check out in the following sentences:
The lawyer conducted the cross-examination. – The cross-examination was conducted by the lawyer.
He checked out the witness. – He checked the witness out.
• Constituents: In compounds modifiers describe the second rather than the first part: a dirty book case
is not a case for dirty books, a round door knob is not a knob for round doors; a narrow door way but
not *a wooden door way, a mahagony book case but not *a rare book case
meaning relationships
Semantically compounds are normally not the sum of their constituents but they rather generate a new
meaning, e.g. hothouse, which is not just a combination of hot + house but takes on a completely new
meaning: ´a greenhouse with a warmer temperature´.
The relationships between the two consituents in a compound are manifold and sometimes not easy to see.
Homeland is a land which is one´s home, homemade is something made at home, homebody is somebody
who stays at home, homestead is a place which is a home, homework is done at home, and homerun is too
complicated to describe in just a few words. Airplane is a vehicle that travels through the air, airfield is a
field where airplanes land and air hose is a hose that carries air.
There is a widely-accepted system to describe this internal relationship, which suggests three types of
determinative - endocentric
This is by far the most frequent type: the first part (determinant) determines the second (determinatum):
flower girl, haircut, rainfall, washing machine. These are also called endocentric because all formal
characteristics of the compound are the same as those of one of its constituents.
The compound shows characteristics of both the first and the second part: actor-manager, study-bedroom,
bread and butter, bitter-sweet, sleepwalk, freeze-dry
Bahuvrihi - exocentric
This strange name is a remnant of 19th century comparative linguistics and suggests that the referent of the
compound is outside the elements used, that one characteristic of the referent is highlighted by the
compound. They are mostly compounds refering to a person with this specific characteristic: a paleface is
a person with a pale face, a killjoy is a person who kills the joy etc.
Quirk´s underlying sentences
Another method of analysing the semantic relationship between the parts of a compound is suggested by
the Quirk grammar, namely paraphrases by underlying sentences: Types such as sunrise or rattlesnake
contain the subject and the verb: the sun rises, the snake rattles, so does washing machine (a machine
washes), compounds such as word formation or air-conditioning contain the verb and an object: to form
words, sth. that conditions the air. This is especially productive with an agential noun: songwriter is
somebody who writes songs; words like factory worker or night flight have an adverbial: somebody who
works in a factory, a flight at night. The latter is a verbless compound, the same as windmill (a mill
powered by wind) or honey-bee (a bee that produces honey). This method seems to be quite efficient
method especially in language teaching.
amalgamated compounds (Verdunkelte Komposita)
If we analyse compounds diachronically, we can see that there are a number of words in present-day
English which used to be compounds in older English. The most striking examples are lady and lord ,
which are based on the former compounds hla f (loaf) + dige (´knead´, cp. dough): the ´kneader of the
bread´ and hlaf + weard (´warden`): the warden of the bread.
Reasons for these processes are a shift of stress and/or a change of meaning of one or both parts, so that
the units are no longer associated with their roots, or even the extinction of one element (as *dige which
does no longer exist). The first step in this process was obviously the dissociation of at least one of the
elements in meaning (people no longer understood it), so that there was no longer a morphological
boundary. In this way the constituents were weakened and the stems were shortened.
They have either been completely amalgamated as sherrif (shire + reeve) or daisy (day´s eye), or one part
is still recognizable as in holiday (holy day) or shepherd (sheep herd). Some are obscured only in their
pronunciation: breakfast (to break the fasting of the night), cupboard (a board for cups), Christmas,
forehead. Other examples are: garlic (gar (spear) – leech), goodbye (God be with you), gospel (good spell
(message)), gossip (good sib (relatives)), hussy (house – wife), marshal (mere – scealc (horse – boy)),
nickname (an eke (also) name), steward (stig (climb) – warden), stirrup (stig – up), woman (wife – man).
German examples: Wimper (wint-brawe), ruchlos (ruoche = Sorge), Meineid („Falsch“-eid)
In English this word formation is often found in children´s language or used for humorous effect. There
are three different kinds:
• exact reduplication: papa, mama, goody-goody, so-so, hush-hush
• mutation: criss-cross, zig-zag, ping-pong, tick -tock, mish-mash, wishy-washy, clip-clop, riff-raff
• rhyme: helter-skelter holterdiepolter´´, hodge-podge ´Eintopf´, fuddy-duddy ´verknöchert´, razzledazzle ´Trubel´, boogie-woogie
This kind of word formation plays a bigger role in some languages other than English, e.g. in Pidgin
English, where it is used as an intensifier: washwash ´a thorough dunking´, wheelwheel ´a bicycle´.
subtractive word formation
Unlike the word formations discussed so far, where bound or free forms are added together, the following
are all products of parts of the word being taken away. This is also called negative word formation. As this
process has been gaining in importance and productivity in recent years, it is also sometimes called
„modern word formation“
However, this is a very old word formation process. Nobody would see clippings in the following words:
mean (< gemaene), fight (< gefeohte), sight (< gesihþ), mend (< amend), peal (< appeal), fend (< defend),
sport (< disport), spite (< despite), stress (< distress), bus (< omnibus), cab (< cabriolet), chap (<
chapman), gin(ger), Miss(tress), mob(ile), pub(lic house), pants (< pantaleons), (peri)wig, (cara)van. More
recent instances of clippings where the long form is disappearing are zoo or fax, where few people know
that they are derived from zoological garden or facsimile.
fore-clipping The front part of a word is clipped: chute, gator, phone, plane, van, varsity
back-clipping The back part is clipped: ad, auto, bike, coke, co-op, deli, doc, exam, fan, gas, gent, gym,
hippo, lab, mike, memo, net, photo, porn, pro, pep, pram, prefab, vet, zoo; pop; demob
back+fore clipping In very rare cases both parts are clipped: flu, fridge, tec, poly
Clippings of phrases occur in women´s lib(eration), high tech(nology), narc(otic agent or addict);
clippings which leave just a prefix are ex(-husband), bi(-sexual)
Clippings are almost exclusively nouns and belong mainly to everyday informal conversations and to
newspaper texts. Here they meet the tendency of newspaper headlines to use the shortest forms possible.
Their use in casual language is especially clear with names like Al, Fred, Randy, Tom, Andy, Archie,
Barny, which show that the speaker is on a familiar basis with the addressee. An additional informal touch
is provided by the suffix –ie/-y as in Aussie, Bolshy, booky, brolly, cabby, comvy, granny, Jerry, loony,
Another area for clippings are colloquialisms in technical and special languages, such as school and
education: coll, chem, dorm, grad, frat, lab, log, medic, prep, prof, soph, tech, the military: cap, loot,
sarge or criminal language: con, dinah, pen, poke
These formations look like clippings in that the last part of the word is being clipped. Unlike clippings,
however, backformations are always clipped at the morpheme boundary, they always change the wordclass, and what is more, they are based on the erroneous opinion that the backformation is the base of the
expanded word, where really the expanded form is the base of this process. A major source of this in
English has been (agent) nouns ending in –er/-or such as editor, swindler or stoker. As there are thousands
of derivations with this suffix it was assumed that these words too had been formed by adding –er/-or.
Backformations in English
backformation by removal of
agentive suffix –er, -or
baby-sit < babysitter
burgle< burglar
edit < editor
globetrot < globetrotter
orate < orator
peddle < peddler
swindle < swindler
sculpt < sculptor
by removal of other suffixes
hawk < hawker
matchmake < matchmaker
donate < donation
enthuse< enthusiasm
homesick < homesickness
dagnose < diagnosis
resurrect < resurrection
sightsee < sightseer
typewrite < typewriter
vivisect < vivisection
televise television
transcript < transcription sedate <
self-destruct < self-destruction
They consist of clipped parts of two words and thus could be considered as „compounds“ of clippings.
Again, one cannot predict where these elements are clipped. They are not as frequent as clippings and
occur frequently in science, but also in advertisements. As with clippings there are a few words which are
no longer recognised as such word formations by most speakers such as chortle (chuckle + snortle) or
motel (motor + hotel).
breakfast + lunch motel
binary + digit
channel + tunnel permafrost
helicopter +
motor + hotel
motor +
permanent +
smoke + fog
transfer -resistor
document + drama
modulator +
teleprinter - exchange
acronyms - alphabetisms - initialisms
This is the most extreme form of clipping because the complete rest of the word is clipped apart from the
first (sometimes the first two) letter of a word. Acronyms are not formed in a systematic way; a letter may
be skipped or the first two letters of a word may be chosen, in order to produce a form which conforms to
English phonotactics. They occur especially in the language of politics, administration, military and
science and thus are restricted to written language (often in newspapers) or the spoken form of technical
languages. There are various types:
In alphabetisms the letters are pronounced separately as in TV, UN, USA, MP, C.O.D.,CD (compact disc),
GI (=government issue), IRA, FBI, COD (concise Oxford dictionary) , PC (personal computer or political
correctness), CNN, a.m., p.m., B.C., A.D.
The letters are treated as a new word in Nato, Unesco, VAT, radar, laser, hi-fi, Jeep (=GP = general
purpose vehicle). This is especially obvious in acronyms with a suffix: yuppie, dinks where it can be seen
these have become lexicalised words of the language.
A subtype of acronyms are allusions to existing words: Start, Salt, wasps (white Anglo-Saxon
protestants), Aids (acquired immune deficiency syndrom), sad (students against drugs), BASIC (Beginners
All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code)
One last type of word formation with even less productivity are words which are derived from names,
which is especially common in cases where industry requires a new and attractive name for a product as in
brand names: kleenex, Coca-Cola, Levis, kodak, Orlon ´a crease-resistant fabric´, tabasco, Teflon, xerox.
Usually older coinages are derived from the names of inventors or discoverers such as bourbon, sandwich,
watt, lynch, boycott, hoove. Sometimes proper nouns even change into verbs such as to lynch, to canter ´to
move with ease´. Very often these nouns take a (nominal, verbal or adjectival) suffix: sadism, chauvinism;
to tantalize ´ to tease or make frustrated,´ to pasteurize; quixotic, platonic, spartan, machiavellian.