Chapter 6: Word Forms

The other job that morphemes do is derivation, the process that creates new words. In English, one of the most common ways to derive a new word is by adding a derivational affix to a base. The newly-derived word can then serve as a base for another affix.

Check Yourself

1. Which of the following best describes the derivation of the word assignment?

  • Noun + –ment ➔ Verb.
  • Adjective + –ment ➔ Noun.
  • Verb + –ment ➔ Noun.
  • Verb + –ment ➔ Verb.

2. Which of the following best describes the derivation of the word skillful?

  • Adjective + –ful ➔ Verb.
  • Adjective + –ful ➔ Adjective.
  • Verb + –ful ➔ Noun.
  • Noun + –ful ➔ Adjective.

3. Which of the following best describes the derivation of the word simplify?

  • Verb + –ify ➔ Verb.
  • Adjective + –ify ➔ Verb.
  • Noun + –ify ➔ Adjective.
  • Adjective + –ify ➔ Noun.

Video Script

The last unit talked about inflection, which is one of the jobs that morphology can do. The other big job that morphemes have is a derivation.  The derivation is the process of creating a new word. The new, derived word is related to the original word, but it has some new component of meaning to it, and often it belongs to a new category.

One of the most common ways that English derives new words is by affixing a derivational morpheme to a base.  For example, if we start with a verb that describes an action, like teach and we add the morpheme –er, we derive a morphologically complex noun, teacher, that refers to the person who does the action of teaching. That same -er morpheme does the same job in singer, dancer, baker, and writer.

Verb Suffix Noun
teach -er teacher
sing -er singer
dance -er dancer
bake -er baker
write -er writer

If we start with an adjective like happy and add the suffix –ness, we derive the noun that refers to the state of being that adjective, happiness.

Verb Suffix Noun
teach -er teacher
sing -er singer
dance -er dancer
bake -er baker
write -er writer

Adding the suffix –ful to a noun derives an adjective, like hopeful.

Noun Suffix Adjective
hope -ful hopeful
joy -ful joyful
care -ful careful
dread -ful dreadful

Adding the suffix–ize to an adjective like final derives a verb like finalize.

Adjective Suffix Verb
final -ize finalize
modern -ize modernize
social -ize socialize
public -ize publicize

Notice that each of the morphologically complex derived words is related in meaning to the base, but it has a new meaning of its own. English also derives new words by prefixing, and while adding a derivational prefix does lead to a new word with a new meaning, it often doesn’t lead to a category change.

Prefix Verb Verb
re- write rewrite
re- read reread
re- examine reexamine
re- assess reassess

Each instance of derivation creates a new word, and that new word could then serve as the base for another instance of derivation, so it’s possible to have words that are quite complex morphologically.

For example, say you have a machine that you use to compute things; you might call it a computer (compute + -er).Then if people start using that machine to perform a task, you could say that they’re going to computerize (computer + -ize) that task.  Perhaps the computerization (computerize + -ation) of that task makes it much more efficient. You can see how many words have many steps in their derivations.

An interesting thing to note is that once a base has been inflected, then it can no longer go through any derivations.  We can inflect the word computer so that we can talk about plural computers, but then we can’t do derivation on the plural form (*computers-ize).  Likewise, we can add tense inflection to the verb computerize and talk about how yesterday we computerized something, but then we can’t take that inflected form and use it as the base for a new derivation (*computerized-ation).  Inflection always occurs as the last step in word formation.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Essentials of Linguistics Copyright © 2018 by Catherine Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.