LITERARY DISCOURSE: Word Formation Part One

Having understood the relevance of appropriate word choice, we need to learn WORD FORMATION to facilitate our writing tasks. Just as grammatical correctness is not enough, so diction is not adequate in effective college writing. But combined knowledge of word formation, correctness, and diction can help us achieve a considerable level of adequacy in writing. Yes, understanding word formation enhances our ability to choose the right words and use them in the right contexts.

Learning Outcomes
By the end of this discourse, fellow learners and readers should be able to increase their understanding of:

  • The definition of Word Formation
  • The various processes of Word Formation

Word Formation, as the name implies, is the process of creating new words in English Language.

There are many processes of Word Formation in English. Among them are the following:

  • Back-formation
  • Conversion
  • Compounding
  • Clipping
  • Blending
  • Abbreviations
  • Acronyms
  • Eponyms
  • Coinages
  • Borrowing


Back-formation is the word formation process in which an actual or supposed derivational affix is removed from the base form of a word to create a new word. The following list provides examples of some common back-formations in English:

Original – Back-formation

  • babysitter – babysit
  • donation – donate
  • gambler – gamble
  • moonlighter – moonlight
  • television – televise


Conversion is the word formation process in which a word of one grammatical form becomes a word of another grammatical form without any changes to spelling or pronunciation. For example, the noun email appeared in English before the verb: a decade ago I would have sent you an email (noun) whereas now I can either send you an email (noun) or simply email (verb) you. The original noun email has experienced conversion, resulting in the new verb email . Conversion is also referred to as ZERO DERIVATION or NULL DERIVATION with the assumption that the formal change between words results in the addition of an invisible morpheme. However, some linguists contend that there is a distinction between the word formation processes of derivation and conversion. Types of Conversion

There are many types of conversion in English. These types may be due to the relative flexibility of conversion and the temptation of users to opt for simplification. For instance, many users of English are tempted to change many words from the various lexical categories to verbs. Indeed, a user is more likely to say “I want to ACCESS the books” [verb] instead of “I want to have ACCESS TO the books.” [noun]. Noun to Verb Conversion

The most pronounced form of conversion in English is NOUN TO VERB conversion. The following list provides examples of verbs converted from nouns:

Noun – Verb

  • access – to access
  • bottle – to bottle
  • can – to can
  • email – to email
  • eye – to eye

Examples in usage:

  • Tiyumba bottled (verb) the juice and canned (verb) the palm oil.
  • Tiyumba put the juice in a bottle (noun) and the palm oil in a can (noun).
  • Chalpang microwaved (verb) her lunch.
  • Chalpang heated her lunch in the microwave (noun).
  • The doctor eyed (verb) Abena’s swollen eye (noun).

Noun to verb conversion is also referred to as VERBIFICATION or VERBING (Calvin and Hobbes, 2012). Verb to Noun Conversion

Another form of conversion in English is verb to noun conversion. The following list provides examples of nouns converted from verbs:

Verb – Noun

  • to alert – alert
  • to attack – attack
  • to call – call
  • to clone – clone
  • to command – command
  • to cover – cover
  • to cry – cry

Examples in usage:

  • Kofi alerted (verb) the general to the attack (noun).
  • The enemy attacked (verb) before an alert (noun) could be sounded.
  • Divela had a good cry (noun) yesterday.
  • Pagapkema cries (verb) everyday for reasons nobody knows.
  • We need to increase (verb) our productivity to get an increase (noun) in profit.

Verb to noun conversion is also referred to as NOMINALIZATION. Other Types of Conversion

It is possible for conversion to occur, although less frequently, to and from other word classes. Below are examples:

  • adjective to verb: green → to green (to make environmentally friendly)
  • preposition to noun: up, down → the ups and downs of life
  • conjunction to noun: if, and, but → no ifs, ands, or buts
  • interjection to noun: ohh ohh ohh → Wuntiti was terrified by the ohh ohh ohhs of onlookers at the scene of the fire tragedy in Accra last Wendesday.

To be continued.
By Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq Azindoo, Coordinator of Students and University Relations, University of Applied Management (UAM), Germany – Ghana Campus, McCarthy Hill, Accra and Tamale

Email: [email protected] Tel: 0244755402

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