How Words Are Formed

Have you ever wondered how words come to be? How we started “googling” stuff instead of using the Google search engine? How we know what “on fleek” means, when it probably doesn’t mean anything to our grandparents? Words are the foundation of any language, and they find themselves into the lexicon through various ways.

The study of how words are formed falls under the branches of morphology and lexicology in linguistics. All words are composed of sound segments called morphemes. Morphemes can be words, affixes, roots, etc., combined to make new words. Here are ten ways in which new words are formed.

  1. Clipping

As the term suggests, clipping shortens a word while keeping the original word’s meaning.

ad from advertisement
exam from examination
petrol from petroleum
  1. Blending

Blending involves the combination of two or more parts of words to create a new word. The word often has a meaning that is the combination of the words it takes from.

breakfast + lunch = brunch
spoon + fork = spork
simultaneous + broadcast = simulcast
  1. Coinage

This word formation process is not actually a process. Coinage involves words making it to the lexicon accidentally or deliberately because of popular usage.

  1. Borrowing

Borrowing involves the usage of words that come from foreign languages. Sometimes, words are directly borrowed and used in the language as is. Other times, words are borrowed then translated. The process that involves translation is called calquing.

quid pro quo (Latin)
fjord (Norwegian)
smorgasbord (Swedish)
scapegoat (from Hebrew ez ozel)
beer garden (from German biergarten)
blue blood (from Spanish sangre azul)
  1. Compounding

This process involves the combination of two or more already existing words to create a new one. Compound words are written as one word, joined by hyphens, or without hyphens but used as a singular term.

ice cream
  1. Backformation

Backformation involves the creation of new words by removing an affix from a long word. Unlike clipping, words that are backformed have a different part of speech from the original.

donation (n.), donate (v.)
babysitter (n.), babysit (v.)
television (n.), televise (v.)
  1. Conversion

Conversion takes one word and converts it into a different speech part without changing the word. Technically, no new words are created, only new meanings.

butter (from noun to verb)
cheat (verb to noun)
final (adjective to noun)
  1. Acronyms

Acronyms create new words by pronouncing initialisms as words. An initialism is a form of abbreviation that takes the first letters of a word or a phrase.

AWOL – Absent Without Official Leave
NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Scuba – Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus
  1. Eponyms

Eponyms are words created from proper names. Unlike coinage, which takes words from anywhere, eponyms come from names of real or fictitious people.

pasteurize (v.) – Louis Pasteur
sadistic (adj.) – Marquis de Sade
sandwich (n.) – John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich
  1. Derivation

Derivation is a process similar to backformation. In this process, however, an affix is added to an already existing word to create a new one.

nature – natural (noun to adjective)
sweet – sweeten (noun to verb)
happy – happily (adjective to adverb)
code – codify (noun to verb)