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Word-building in English

Дивіться також:
  3. External means of enriching vocabulary (Old English borrowings)
  4. III. Phraseological units connected with the names and nicknames of English kings, queens, scholars, eminent writers, public leaders, etc.
  5. Phraseology. Lexicography. American English.
  6. Regional Varieties of the English Vocabulary
  7. Scandinavian-English doublets
  8. Specific Features of English Compounds
  9. Structural types of English words. Word-formation
  10. Stylistic differentiation of English words.
  11. The Etymology of English words.
  12. The main periods in the history of English

Derivational and Functional Affixes

The connection between lexicology and grammar is illustrated by the characteristics of affixes, the study of which is especially important for building words.

Derivational and functional affixes may coincide in form but they are absolutely different in meaning, function, valency, their structural property.

Functional affixes (hardly 10 in number) may be added to any element belonging to definite part of speech (pen-pens, work-worked, big-bigger).

Derivational affixes do not possess such freedom of combinability (e.g. -ish is not added to verbal stems, -en can be added to "gold" or "wood" but cannot be added to "steel".

A person living in London is Londoner, in New York - New Yorker, Moscow - Muscovite, Washington - Washingtonian.


The description of affixational system of the language aims at the establishment of the inventory (инвентарь) and the boundary of affixation and the semantic load carried by this or that affix.

Derivational status of affixes is especially important for the English language where due to borrowing it is very difficult to establish morphemic and derivational properties of words.

The number of affixational morphemes in Modern English varies in different classifications: up to 130 suffixes and 48 prefixes. They may be characterized from various points of view depending on the purpose of the research.

I. Classification of affixes according to the part of speech in which the most frequent affixes of present-day English occur.

1. Noun-forming suffixes: -er, -ness, -ship, -hood, -ing, -dom, -(in)ty, -ance, -age, -ist, - ism, -ee, -eer, - ant/ent, -eer, -ee;

2. Adjective-forming suffixes: -ful, -less, -ic, -al, -able, - ant, -ate, -ed, -an/-ian, -ish, -ive, -like, -ous, -y;

3. Numeral-forming suffixes: -fold, -teen, -th, -ty;

4. Verb-forming suffixes: -en, -ate, -er, -fy, -ize, -ish;

5. Adverb-forming suffixes: -ly, -ward, -wide.

II. Classification of affixes according to their origin

(Native and borrowed affixes)

Native affixes are formed from Old English words (bound forms may be derived from free words).

The most important native suffixes are: -er, -ed, -dom, -en, -ful, -less, - hood, -let, -lock, -ly, -ness, -red, -ship, -some, -teen, -th, -ward, -wise, -y.

Borrowed affixes, according to their origin, are Latin (-or, -ant, -able), French (-ard, -ance, -ate) and Greek (-ist, -ism, -oid).

The nomenclature of suffixes and other word-final elements in English is gradually increasing and amounts to about 1500 elements.

e.g. phobia -agarophobia

pedia - logopedia

noia - paranoia

onomasia - paronomasia

logic - genealogic, dialogic

biotic - antibiotic

valence - equivalence, prevalence

scape - seascape

shire - Oxfordshire

phony - euphony, cacophony

grapher - lexicographer

These forms are either always or frequently encountered in combination with other words or word elements. *

III. Classification of affixes according to their meaning

Lexico-grammatical meaning of suffixes is determined by their belonging to lexico-grammatical classes within parts of speech. Suffixes signalize whether we deal with names of persons, names of things, abstract nouns, material nouns, etc.

There is a special subgroup of feminite affixes (-ess, -ine, -rix, -ette). Collectivity is signalled by -dom, -ery, -hood, -ship. The absence or presence of quality is rendered through -full, -less.

Prefixes modifying lexical meaning of the stem may impart a negative meaning (un-, mis-, dis-, in-), the meaning of time and order (pre-, post-, after-), place (super-, sub-, trans-, in-), degree and size (over-, under-, out-).

Prefixation in English concerns mostly verbs.

IV. Classification of affixes according to their valency

All the affixes are characterized by their combining power or valency and the derivational patterns in which they occur. We can see that not all combinations of root morphemes with affixes are possible. Untrue and unkind may exist but not unclever and uncruel. The possibility of a particular stem to combine with a particular affix depends on semantic, morphological and phonological factors. Thus, -er (agent of a verbal action) is added to verbal stems, -dom and -ism, -ish and -ly are combined with adjectival stems: freedom, realism, whitish, slowly. When -ish is added to noun-stems (boyish, swinish, Mono-Lizaish), -it forms adjectives with a slight derogatory colouring which is absent in Adj + ish.

-Tion and -or are both noun-forming suffixes and are both combined with V-stems but -tion forms abstract nouns and -or -agent nouns.

A wide range of derivational patterns in which we meet un - may be demonstrated by:

un + Adj (unfair), un + Part I stem (unfailing), un + Part II stem (unbalanced), un + V (unpack), un + N (unperson).

Affix - valency is given in comprehensive dictionaries:

be + N → V trans (bediamond)

be + V → V intense (becompliment)

be- be + N → V turn into (becalm, bedim)

be + N → V deprive (behead)

V. Classification of Affixes According to their Productivity

Certain affixes are no longer felt as constituent parts of words merging with the root: -d ("dead", "seed"), -le, -l, -el ("bundle", "sail"), -lock ("wedlock"), -t ("flight, "gift").

The so-called "living" affixes are different from the point of view of their productivity, the ability to form new words . The degree of productivity varies from highly productive (-er, -ish, -les) to non-productive (-ard, -ive, -th, -ous, fore-). The dictionaries of new words may contribute to the study of the productivity of certain affixes.

VI. Classification of Affixes According to their Frequency of Occurrence

Frequency is measured by the number of words containing this or that affix registered by the dictionaries and found in actual usage. Productive affixes are always frequent but not every frequent affix is productive. -Ous is a very frequent suffix but not productive.

VII. Classification of Affixes According to their Connotational Characteristics

(Emotive Charge and Stylistic Reference)

Together with meaning certain affixes charge the stem with emotional force, mainly derogatory: - ard (dullard, stinkard, drunkard), - ster (roadster, hipster, gangster, youngster), -ton (simpleton) -ling (kingling, shaveling, Greekling), -o (bosso, stinko), -y/ie (whitey, Paddy, Yelie). Emotionally coloured diminutive suffixes may express endearment mingled with reprobation: cabbie, hanky, mannikin, Frenchy.

From the point of view of their stylistic reference English affixes are characterized by neutral stylistic reference: -er, -able, -ing and a certain stylistic value (bookish, terminological, etc.): -oid, -eme, -tron, para-, arch-, -aceous.


Composition as a way of word-building was very productive since OE period and remains one of the most active types of word-formation in Modern English. Compound words are words consisting of at least two stems which occur in the language as free forms. There are compound words among all notional parts of speech, but mostly among nouns and adjectives: synchronic word-building system of English has a nominal (именной) character.

Compound words are inseparable vocabulary units which are formally and semantically dependent on their components and relations between them. More than ⅓ of neologisms in English are compound words.

In OE domineering structural patterns of composition were N + N, Adj + N, N + Adj:

tunZol (звезда) + witeZa (ученый) > tunZolwiteZa (астролог);

hāliZ (святой) + dæZ (день) > hāliZdæZ (праздник);

īs (лед) + ceald (холодный) > īsceald (холодный как лед);

stip (сильный) + mōd (характер) > stipmōd (храбрый).

In Middle English period compound nouns were very numerous: tablecloth, penknife. New compounds consisted of Prep + N (afternoon, thoroughfare), Adv + V (income), V + N (breakfast); new compound pronouns were: anybody, everything, anything; compound adverbs: meanwhile, beforehand, already.

All the existing classifications of compound words represent a modified classification of Old Sanscrit Grammar where nominative compound words are subdivided into copulative (Norman-French, woman-doctor, secretary- stenographer), determinative (air-mail, spaceman, handbag) and exocentric (kill-joy, dare-devil, cut-throat) which are not typical of the English language.

As English compound words consist of free forms it is difficult to distinguish them from combinations of words. What is the difference between a black board and a blackboard? A slow coach and a slowcoach? There are several criteria which help us to differentiate between them.

1. Graphical Criterion

Compound words may have either solid and hyphenated spelling and even separate spelling.

The lack of uniformity in spelling makes this criterion unreliable and insufficient.

2. Phonological Criterion

There is a strong tendency in English to give compounds a heavy stress on the first element. Almost all compound nouns with a few exceptions always show a high stress or the first element. Compound adjectives are double-stressed: 'gray-'green, 'easy-'going, ''snow-'white (emphatic comparison). Sometimes phonological stress helps to differentiate the meaning of compounds man'kind (the human race) and 'mankind (contrasted with women).

3. Semantic Criterion

The meaning of a compound word is not a total sum of the meanings of the components but something entirely different. The semantic integrity of compound lexical units serves as the basis of semantic criterion of distinguishing compound words from word-combinations.

Semantically compound words are motivated by the meanings of their components, they express a single idea which is not identical in meaning to the sum of the meanings of its components in a free phrase.

There are compound words "table-cloth, "bookcase", "toothache", "shipwreck" where semantic motivation is quite clear but in such compounds as "fusspot", "slow-coach", "brain-wash" motivation is not transparent: they are idiomatic. Between clearly motivated compounds and idiomatic ones there is a great number of intermediate cases. In case of idiomatic compounds it is impossible to derive the meaning of "night-cap" (the last drink taken before going to bed) and "blackguard" from meaning of the components.

In motivated compound words motivation may be complete (sky-blue, tea-leave) and partial (hand cuffs, flower-bed, castle-builder).

In non-motivated (idiomatic) compound words we see no connection between their lexical meaning, lexical meaning of their constituent parts and the meaning of the pattern: fiddlesticks (nonsense, rubbish), butter-finger (a person who can't do things well), blue-stocking (a pedantic woman).

4. Morphological Criterion

Criterion of Formal Integrity was introduced by A.I. Smirnitsky.

Comparing "shipwreck" and "wreck of a ship" with identical sets of morphemes

and identical meaning he states that they differ: a word is characterized by structural integrity which is absent in a word-combination. Grammatical formants (endings) are added not to every component of "shipwreck" but to the whole compound: shipwrecks, shipwreck's, shipwrecks".

5. Syntactic Criterion

We have no right to modify any component of a compound word or to change their order or to insert any word into its structure. L. Bloomfield points out that the word "black" in the phrase "black birds" can be modified by "very" ("very black birds") but never in a compound "blackbirds". B. Block and G. Trager say that nothing can be inserted between the components of "blackbird".

In some cases transformational analysis helps us to prove the structural integrity of a compound word (if they are not idiomatic): tooth-powder → powder for teeth; But (!) "wall-paper" is not "paper on the wall".

It should be mentioned therefore that not a single criterion mentioned above is sufficient to establish whether we deal with a combination of words or a compound word.

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