What are the major word formation processes in English?

The following are the ways by which new words are formed in English. 


Derivation is a process of forming new words according to fairly regular pattern on the basis of pre-existing words.

If we analyse the process of derivation in more detail we will notice that a step in a derivation is usually not on process but 3 semantinal process namely-
a)      morphological process
b)      semantic process
c)      syntactic process

Major word formation processes in English are:-

1) Affixation-
One of the commonest methods of word making in English is called Affixation. Affixation is accomplished by means of a large number of small bits of the English language which are not usually given in listings in the dictionary. These small bits are called affix and the process is known as affixation. A few examples are the elements un, mis, pre, less ish etc which appear in words like unhappy, misrepresent, pre-paid, boyish, terrorism etc.
In the preceding groups of words it should be obvious that some affixes had to be added to the beginning of a word. For example- “un”. These are called prefixes and the process is known as prefixation. The other affix forms are added to the end of the word, for example, “ism” and these are called suffixes. The process involved here is called suffixation. All English words formed by the derivational process of affixation used either prefixes or suffixes or both. Thus “mislead” has a prefix, “disrespectful” has both prefix and suffix and “likeliness” has two suffixes.   

The English language has made generous use of prefixes and suffixes to make new words or to modify or to extend the root idea. But there are some important differences between prefixes and suffixes. Prefixes are put before a word whereas suffixes are put in the end of a word. Another important difference between them is that prefixes mostly have a meaning of their own, though they are not generally used as separate words, whereas suffixes are used only to modify the root idea of a word or to convert the word into another part of speech. For example, if we add a prefix to the word “author” we’ll get “co-author”. Here the root idea is not modified and moreover the word class is unchanged. But by suffixation we get a new word authorship. Here we get a new word.


Some new words are formed from the initial letters of a set of other words. These are called acronyms. For example-SARS, NASA, NATO, UN. Acronyms can loose their initials become everyday terms such as LASER, SCUBA (self-continued underwater breathing asparagus)etc.


A very especialised type of reduction process is known as backformation. Typically a word of one type (usually a noun) is reduced to form another word of a different type( usually overt). For example, televise for television, emote from emotion, enthuse from enthusiasm, edit from editor etc.


A change in the function of a word, as for example when a noun comes to be used as a verb without any reduction is generally known as conversion. Other lebels for this very common process are category change and functional shift. A number of nouns such as paper, butter, bottle etc can via the process of conversation come to be used as verb as in the following sentences-

He is papering the bedroom walls
Have you buttered the toast?
He is tutoring the students.


One of the commonest ways of making a new word is to join two or more element, each of which is also used as separate word. This method of forming new word is called composition or compounding, and the words thus formed are called compounds. For example brainwash, headache, sleep walking, day dreamer, self control etc.

Words made from the names of places and persons:-

Another prolific source of word formation in English is the derivation of new words from the names of places, persons and characters in famous books. For example; the word sandwitch comes from the name of the Earl of Sandwitch. Cardigan comes from the Earl of Cardigan. Quicksotic comes from Don Quicksotc. The word solomon as a substitute for wisdom originates from the Bible.

Portmantaau words:-

This process is comparatively a new comer in the scenario of word generation. This is of noble nature in comparison with other forms of word formation. Too different and independent lexical entries are blended together by subtracting the front portion of a word and a back portion of another. The word thus formed are called Portmantaau words; for example; happenstance (happening+circumstance); workaholic(work+alcoholic);wevzine(web-sight+magazine); Internet(International+Network) etc.

The difference between inflection and derivation

Both derivation and inflection makes word but derivation makes a new word. For example, respect->respectful; good-> goodness etc. But inflection merely changes the relation of case, number, gender, person and pens. For example

dog-  dogs-    dogs
            plural   possessive
look-  looks-   looks

In English prefixes are always derivational.