Word Formation Processes

In linguistics, there are many ways for creating a new word. In this lesson, we will get to know all the word-formation processes in the English language.

Word Formation Processes

What are Word Formation Processes?

As languages evolve and develop all the time, new words emerge to help speakers communicate better. In this lesson, we are going to talk about the word formation processes or WFP to find out how a new word enters a language.

Word Formation Processes in English

This is a list of common word-formation processes in English:

Now, let us discuss them one by one.

1. Loan-word

Borrowing or loan word refers to the process where a foreign word is used in the language without being translated. The English language has adopted a large number of words from other languages. Remember that the word does not lose its meaning in the target language.

Loan-Words: Types

There are two different types of loan words. Let's take a look at them:

  • Foreign words with the same spelling

This happens when a word is borrowed from a foreign language and its orthography stays the same.

ballet from (French) to (English)

patio from (Spanish) to (English)

hamster from (German) to (English)

cookie from (Dutch) to (English)

yogurt from (Turkish) to (English)

  • Foreign words with different spelling

In this case, the orthography of the word changes in the target language.

chauffeur from (French) to (Spanish) chofer

football from (English) to (Hungarian) futbal

check from (English) to (Finnish) sˇekki

2. Calque

Loan-translation, also known as calque, is a translation method in which a word or phrase is translated literally, word-for-word, into another language. It's important to note that calques are usually semantic or syntactic translations, meaning that they retain the meaning or structure of the word in the original language, rather than being phonetically matched.

Calque: Types

There are five types of calque which have been listed below with examples:

  • Phraseological calque:

When idiomatic phrases or sets of expressions are translated word-for-word.

It goes without saying (English) translated from ça va sans dire (French)

Here, This English phrase is derived from a direct literal translation of a French phrase.

schau stehlen (German) translated from steal the show (English)

  • Syntactic calque:

This type of calque only occurs at a structural level in a sentence where the structure of two different languages is involved. Remember that no lexical change happens in this type.

to find guilty = encontrar culpable (instead of ''declarar culpable'') from Spanish to English.

Here, a third language is made which could be called 'Spanglish'.

in order to: en orden à (instead of ''para'') from French to English.

  • Semantic calque:

Semantic calque happens when we transfer the additional meaning of the words of our source language into the target language.

'green light' calques the French 'feu vert'

Here, 'feu' means 'light' and 'vert' means 'green'.

'superman' calques the German 'Übermensch'

'Adam's apple' calques the French 'pomme d'Adam'

  • Phonological calque:

In this type of calque, the sound of the source language word is projected in the target language. Take a look at these similar-sounding Chinese words:

马赛克 Mǎsàikè from Mosaic (English)

卡通片 Kǎtōng from Cartoon (English)

  • Typographic calque:

This happens when typographical rules that only exist in the source language are transferred into the target language. For example, the rule of capital letters in English has entered Spanish, as well as the use of italics for emphasis and certain uses of quotation marks.

Sam wasn't the only person in that room.

Here, We must use italics for emphasis.

3. Compounding

When two separate words are combined together to form a single new word, compounding happens. This happens in English and German more than in French and Spanish.

Compounding: Types

There are three types of compound words:

  • Open compounding: When there is a space between two elements.

ice cream

peanut butter

first aid

  • Hyphenated compounding: When there is a hyphen between two compounded elements.




  • Closed compounding: When the two elements are written together.




The Plural Form of Compound Nouns

  • Compound nouns are usually pluralized by adding the inflection -s to the end of the word.

a bookcase → two bookcases

a post office → two post offices

  • In compound nouns that are made from a noun and an adverb, the first part (the noun) becomes plural.

a passer-by → several passers-by

a Listener-in → several Listeners-in

  • Compound nouns that end in -'in-law' can be pluralized on both the first and the final part.

mother-in-law → mothers-in-law or mother-in-laws

sister-in-law → sisters-in-law or sister-in-laws

4. Blending

Blending is when a word is formed by mixing two other words together.

brunch : breakfast + lunch

smog: smoke + fog

Blending: Types

There are two different types of blending:

  • Attributive blends in which one part is the head and the other one is attributive.

Snobject: a snobbery-satisfying object

Here, 'object' is the head.

Fruitopia: a kind of drink

Here, 'Fruit' is the head.

  • Coordinate blends combine two words with equal positions and have two heads.

biopic: biography + picture

camcorder: camera + recorder

glimmer: gleam + shimmer

5. Clipping

Clipping or shortening involves cutting down some parts of a word and forming a shorter word that is a synonym for the original word. Clipping is different from abbreviation as it is the shortened form of written words. Here are some examples:

gasoline = gas

condominium = condo

Clippings as Slang or Jargon

Some linguists believe that clippings originated as slang or jargon among students and teachers in schools, officers and soldiers in the army, or doctors and nurses in the medical profession. Here are some examples:

examination = exam

mathematics = math

laboratory = lab

veteran = vet

captain = cap

manicure = mani

pedicure = pedi

Clipping is a type of WFP

Clipping: Types

Depending on the part of the word that is reduced, there are four types of clipping:

  • Final clipping: (the most common type) When the final part of the word is shortened:

veteran = vet

fanatic = fan

  • Initial clipping: when the final part is kept and the first part is reduced:

robot = bot

parachute = chute

alligator = gator

  • Medial clipping: when a word is gradually shortened due to the process of elision under the influence of rhythm

Fantasy = Fancy

madam = ma’am

forecastle = fo'c'sle

  • Complex clipping: (clipped compounding) When a word is clipped and compounded with another word. Remember that complex clipping is a type of blending.

science-fiction: Sci-fi

Here, It was compounded and then clipped.

situation comedy: sitcom

As you can see, It was compounded and then clipped.


English speakers tend to clip each other’s names. For example, instead of saying 'Alexander', they shorten it to 'Alex' or just 'Al'. There are many more examples such as 'Jen' for 'Jennifer' or 'Rob' for 'Robert'.

6. Hypocorisms

It is a type of clipping mostly used in British and Australian English when a longer word is reduced to one syllable and -'ie' or –'y' is added to the end. It is mainly used in 'child-talk', 'nicknames', and everyday life conversations.

Moving picture: movie

Television: telly

Sick leave: sickie

Bookmarker: bookie

7. Backformation

This word-formation process happens when a word (usually a noun) is reduced to another part of speech (normally a verb). This word-formation process originated in Latin nouns ending with '-ion' that entered the English language. Take a look at some examples:

Option (noun) → to opt

As you can see in the example, the Latin word 'option' was taken over in English and many years later, the verb 'opt' was created.

Insertion (noun) → to insert

opinion (noun) → to opine

resurrection (noun) → to resurrect

If there is a noun ending in -er (or something close in sound), then we can create a verb:

worker → to work

editor → to edit


Back-formation is different from clipping. Back-formation may change the word's class or meaning, whereas clipping makes shortened words from longer words, but does not change the class or meaning of the word.

8. Conversion

This word-formation process is also called zero derivation and happens when we create a new word with another part of speech without changing its form. For example:

green (noun) → green (adjective)

The adjective 'green' is derived from the noun 'green' that means a grass land.

cheat (verb): cheat (noun)

Conversion: Types

As you can see below, there are three types of conversion:

  • phrasal verb to noun

to print out → a printout

to take over → a takeover

  • verb to noun

must (verb) → must (noun)

As you can see, 'Must' is mainly used as a verb but it is trendy to use 'must' as a noun.

hit (verb): hit (noun)

  • noun to verb

bottle (noun) → to bottle

The noun 'bottle' is used as a verb these days.

mail (noun) → to mail

  • adjective to verb

clean (adjective) → clean (verb)

empty (adjective) → empty (verb)

9. Coinage

Coinage is a type of word-formation process in which a new word is created, either by inventing a completely new word or by adapting an existing word in a new way. This can happen because of advances in technology, movies, literature, music, and popular culture. For instance:





Words that are formed by coinage are usually written in lowercase letters when they are used in context, but when we want to refer to the source of the word, it becomes a proper noun and has to be written in uppercase letters.

10. Eponyms

This is a type of coinage where the word is derived from the names of people or places. Eponyms are usually written in lowercase letters, but when they are used as proper nouns, they must be written in uppercase letters. Like:


Here, 'jeans' comes from the Italian city of Genoa where this type of cloth was first made


Here, The condition is named after James Parkinson who described the shaking palsy.

11. Affixation

Affixation involves the use of prefixes and suffixes which are small words put before or after some words to change their meaning and part of speech. Here are some examples:

create → creation

Here, the suffix -ion shows the result of a process.

agree → disagree

Here, the prefix dis- shows the opposite meaning of the word.

12. Infixes

Infixes are affixes inserted into the word stems. There are a few infixes in English and they are normally used in informal speech or technical texts. Here are some examples:

sophistimacated (sophisticated)

saxomaphone, (saxophone)

edumacation (education)

hizouse (house)

Here, -iz- is an infix from hip-hop culture.

shiiznit (shit)

Here, -izn- is an infix from hip-hop culture.


Tmesis is quite different from infixes. Infixes are tiny meaningless words but tmesis is a meaningful word inserted into another noun. For example:




13. Abbreviation

An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase that is used to represent the full form of the word or phrase. Here are some examples:

USA (United States of America)

CEO (Chief Executive Officer)

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)

km (kilometer)

St. (street)

Abbreviation: Types

There are five types of abbreviations. Let’s take a look at each type:

  • Acronyms: When we put the initial letters of a set of words together or separate the initial letters of a word, we make an acronym. An acronym is always pronounced as a word.

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)

sonar (sound navigation and ranging)

UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund)

  • Initialism: An initialism is formed by the first letters of a group of words that are pronounced letter by letter, not as a word.

HR (Human Resources)

UN (United Nations)

URL (uniform resource locator)

FYI (for your information)

  • Contraction: When we reduce the size of the word, by omitting the middle letters.

Sgt. (Sergeant)

Mr. (Mister)

amt. (amount)

  • Shortening: when only the first letters or first syllables of a word are kept.

Prof. (Professor)

approx. (approximately)

Sun. (Sunday)

Co. (Company)

  • Syllabic abbreviations: When an abbreviation is formed from the initial syllables of a group of words and pronounced as a word.

Interpol (International Police)

Comintern (Communist International)

14. Analogy

Analogy happens when a new word is created based on an existing word that has a similar form or meaning. This process involves extending the meaning or form of an existing word to create a new word that is similar in structure or meaning. Take a look at this example for a better understanding:

'Yuppie' is a new form of the earlier word \'Hippie'.\

'Yuppies' were those kinds of hippies that were politically active. By analogy, we could make a similar word to a word like 'Hippie'.


Sometimes, we can use two or more of these processes at the same time to make a word. For instance, partial calque or semi-calque is the combination of calque and loan words together. Take a look at some examples:

liverwurst (English) from (German) leberwurst

Here, 'wurst' remains the same but 'leber' is translated into English.

apple strudel (English) from (German) apfelstrudel

Here, 'strudel' remains the same but 'apfel' is translated into English.


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Compounding and Blending

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Affixes are like codes in a code language. With their help, you can decode the words in a language. Let's take a closer look at these codes!


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Abbreviations are shortened forms of words or phrases. They normally represent a whole sentence or phrase. Ready to learn them?
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