How words are formed

The English language owes much to many.

From the outset it borrowed from Germanic, French, Latin and Dutch influences, to name just a few.

Overtime the language has seen words come and go. Word styles and forms change continuously. Suffice to say the language lives among its users.

Word formation is a vast topic. Today’s article is a snapshot.

One of the most common practices, if you will, of forming new words is by adding prefixes and suffixes. We already know in most cases what the word will mean or at least what will be connoted by the prefix or suffix.



monorail, monolingual mono- means ‘one’multipurpose, multicultural multi- means ‘many’
post-war, postgraduate post- means ‘after’
unusual, undemocratic un- means ‘not’ or ‘opposite to’


terrorism, sexism -ism and -dom are used to form nouns
employer, actor -er and -or are used to form nouns to describe people who do things
widen, simplify -en and -ify are used to form verbs
reasonable, unprofitable -able is used to form adjectives
unhappily, naturally -ly is a common suffix used to form adverbs

What I find more interesting (although still disdaining – see I just made a word – the use of rubbish as a verb) is the practice of words changing from one class to another.

Here are some examples from

The verbs to email and to microwave are formed from the nouns email and microwave:

Can you text her? (verb from noun text, meaning to send a text-message)

If you’re not careful, some downloads can damage your computer. (noun from verb download)

OK, so the meeting’s on Tuesday. That’s a definite. (noun from adjective)

It’s a very big if and I’m not at all sure we can afford it. (noun from conjunction, meaning ‘it’s not at all certain’)

All companies have their ups and downs. (nouns from prepositions)

We also use conversion when we change a proper noun into a common noun:

Has anybody seen my Dickens? (copy of a book by Dickens)

Google has also become an accepted verb (from Proper noun) meaning internet search.


The other interesting area of word development is history. Words such as sandwich The 18th century Lord Sandwich found an efficient way to hold a piece of meat and that was between two slices of bread, thus enabling him to continue to sit at a gambling table.

The verb/noun hoover, used as a generic term for (the action of using) an electric vacuum cleaner, was based on the name of the 19th-century American industrialist William Henry Hoover

William Henry Hoover, the 19th century American industrialist, who leant his name to a vacuum cleaner, developed a brand so strong that over time it was well understood to say, “I must hoover the carpets” and be perfectly well understood. Much like google, brands too play their part in adding words to language. (

Events too must create words. And this is the purpose of this blog. In view of the student uprising of the past four weeks and the #FeesMustFall, I have a new word and it’s this.

Considering all, the number of students demanding free education, the capacity of each university, the need to continue to develop world class education and a on a growth to nowhere economy, and a budget stretched in all directions and a government so muddied by corruption, I must just ask is it at all FEE-SABLE?

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