Word formation

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Word formation refers to creation of new words.

It sometimes refers more specifically to things not already in the dictionary, so to unusual words and/or things that beyond a language's basic morphology.

...but it may include things that fit the language already, but just go beyond what is currently accepted

Compare and contrast with derivation, morphology, semantic change (change in meaning).

Coining often refers to an individual and often directed attempt to establish a word, often a neologism, rather than a more natural development.

Concepts related to word formation:

The first association is often the morphological means of (base+affix) word formation.
Many languages primarily have agglutination in the form of affixing some common functional bound morphemes.
Note that in typologies, agglutivative languages/systems has the more specific meaning of adding one bit of meaning per affix, contrasted with fusional languages/systems, which often add multiple per affix, and also contrasted with languages that just remove the spaces from phrases.

  • incorporation - agglutination-like compound where, for example, a direct object/participle is combined with (usually) a verb.
Examples: breastfeed, intake, (verify) [1]

  • clipping (also truncation, shortening) [2] without changing the meaning. There are some possible distinctions, such as:
    • use of abbreviated form. Many are used in a narrow, jargon-like context, although they may become more generally used (exam, lab, vet)
    • use of such a brief form in combinations (not unusually from words that are abbreviated themselves, such as ad from advertisement)
  • back-formation[3] - adding to the set of inflections (the paradigm) by removing or substituting affixes
often following a pattern, see e.g. how English changed changed how it dealt with Latin words over time
differs from e.g. clipping, in that clipping does not change the meaning, and back-formation is a new inflection

  • blending - refers generally to creation from multiple things, for example acronyms, clipping, and more.
    • portmanteau - for example smog (smoke+fog)
    • acronym - for example laser (from Light Amplified by Stimulated Emission of Radiation), but note that laser has
  • conversion (a.k.a. zero derivation) - use of an existing word in a new meaning, often in a new lexical category. For example the green in golf.
some languages can do this structurally
often fairly compositional, e.g. earthquake, but also frequently not butterfly, but the patterns and habits to this vary per language

  • neologism - a completely new word (may follow little more than a language's basic letter/phonetic structure). (Sometimes used more broadly in the 'any new word' sense)
e.g. laser (which used to be an acronym), agitprop (portmanteau of agitation propaganda, though now carrying a wider meaning)

  • folk etymology
an incorrect reading of a word sounding or looking like it has a specific inflection, which it does not (often because they're loanwords)
leading to new words (via backformation)


  • loanword - copying a word from another language
  • calque - translating a phrase word for word, for example to lose face (from Chinese to English), "disque dur" (from English to French)
  • Semantic loan[4]
borrowing where the word already exists, but grows a new meaning(verify)
e.g. English called a specific input device a computer mouse (for its shape). French then adopted it into souris.

  • reborrowing[5] -

  • phono-semantic matching - borrowing a word into a language by matching it to an existing, semantically similar native word/root.

See also