Dr. Kristin Lems, English Language Specialist, for
ENGLISH SUMMER TOWN 2012
There are (at least) 12 ways to make new
words in English
Word formation processes most of
us already know
Adding a prefix
do -> undodo
Adding a suffix
brief -> briefly
Adding a combination of prefixes and suffixes
Comfort -> uncomfortably
A little bit about
Morphemes – units of meaning
Words are made of morphemes
Their spelling or pronunciation might change, but
their meaning can be seen in the word
Example: cupboard (2 morphemes: a board cups can
be put on….but pronounced differently now)
Example: scratched (2 morphemes: scratch and the
past tense morpheme –ed)
Words composed of two morphemes might melt
together over time until they can’t be separated
Example: overwhelm (1 morpheme: whelm can’t be
used to form other words – except as a joke)
A dozen ways to make new English
1. Coinage 7. Abbreviations
2. Borrowing 8. Backformation
3. Compounding 9. Conversion
10. Paired word sound play
11. Scale change
5. Clipping 12. Multiple processes
1. Coinage (neologism)
A completely new word is made up from
scratch to suit certain purposes. These are
often invented by companies with new
products or processes, or taken from names.
“to coin a phrase”
2. Borrowing (loan words)
Words are created by borrowing from another
language and incorporating into English.
Sometimes the original meaning is altered, and the
pronunciation may change. Since some words were
borrowed long ago, it may be hard to recognize that
they were ever not part of English.
Tortilla * nuance
coup de grace *chaos
kowtow and this song says it!
Borrowing – or theft??
A new word is composed of two free
morphemes to create a new meaning.
How to punctuate?
Sometimes compound words are two distinct
words, sometimes they are hyphenated, and
sometimes they are simply pressed together
into a new word.
Hmmmmm…..Jet lag, jet-lag, or jetlag?
4. Blending (portmanteau words)
A new word is created from blends or parts of
morphemes in two other words to form a new
single morpheme. Examples:
5. Clipping (or shortening)
New words are made by shortening the perceived
ending of another word or phrase.
pro psych (class)
Clipping can ALSO be at the
beginning of a word:
Or in the middle of a morpheme:
(we)blog (web + log)
The first letter of a group of words is combined into a
single word. The resulting word is sometimes
capitalized but later made lower case. Examples:
The first letters of a group of words are
combined into a single word whose letter
names are pronounced separately.
Mixed form of
BFF AKA JPEG
More punctuation issues
When to put a period?
R.I.P. or RIP?
Over time, the periods fall out….
People cut off a piece of an existing word,
create a new morpheme from it, and combine
it with other morphemes to create a new
word. Sometimes the part of speech
Example: television -> televise
priority -> prioritize
donation -> donate
enthusiasm - > enthuse
sermon -> sermonize
Example of backformation
“Our job is to set a tone at the top
to incent people to do the right
thing….and to catch people who
Charles Prince, Citigroup,
9. Conversion (or Category shift)
New words are formed when the grammatical
category of a word is changed with no
changes to the basic letters of the word.
butter (N -> V)
empty (adj -> V, N)
this movie is a must (V - > N)
chair (N -> V)
“friend” on Facebook (N -> V)
homeschool (N ->V)
The “can do” spirit (V -> adj.)
Interview with teacher Will
You’ve written that too many teachers are
“un-Googleable.” What do you mean by
that and why does it matter?
…the kids in our classrooms are going to be
Googled—they're going to be searched for
on the Web—over and over again….the
people I learn from on a day-to-day basis are
Googleable. They’re findable, they have a
presence, they’re participating…
10. Paired word sound play
A “double word” is created in two ways:
1. the second word has a change of vowel,
usually formed lower in the mouth.
2. the second type is a rhyme, with the first
consonant changing. There may be a slight
onomatopoetic association, but not always.
Changed vowel rhyme
hip hop helter skelter
singsong willy nilly
wishy washy bow wow
seesaw hurdy gurdy
splish splash nitwit
11. Scale Change
Affixes are added to a base word to indicate
its dimension, sometimes using affixes from
12. Multiple processes
Most words are formed through multiple
deli is borrowed from German (delicatessen) and then
snowball is compounded from two free morphemes to
form a noun, then converted into a verb (snowballed,
Internet is a product of clipping (international plus
network), blending (inter+net) and conversion
cyberbullying is a blend (cyber + bully) and a conversion
(N -> V-> Gerund)
How does understanding word
formation help students?
Pattern recognition helps wire the brain with
new places to store knowledge
Metacognitive skills help us learn languages
Shows that language in their own lives
(internet and pop culture) has interest, value
How does understanding word
formation help teachers?
The more you understand about how your
object of study ~ English ~ is put together,
the better you can teach it!
It can explain a lot of new words
It brings some potential fun activities into the
Word Formation in the English
1. Students keep track of words as you read or
study them and put them into their word
formation categories. Look at Spanish
words which follow the same patterns.
2. Students create compound words and
3. Students create a product name and explain
why it will sell well. Illustrate or design the
Word formation in the classroom,
4. Create a crossword puzzle specializing in
each of the word formation methods, or
have students create one
5. Create a dialog using only text message
acronyms. Have students write out the full
words and then perform the dialog for each
6. Create a list of clipped words and have
students write out the whole words. Call the
place you keep it a “clip board.”
this material can be found in the book:
Lems, K., Miller, L.D. &
Soro, T.M. (2010).
Teaching Reading to
English language learners: Insights
from Linguistics. New York:
Please contact me for more information
or conversation on this (or any) topic!
Kristin Lems, Professor
National Louis University
5202 Old Orchard Rd.,
Skokie, IL 60077
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Skype, Facebook,