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Word formation
by Elizabeth Potter

• Compounds
• Other ways of forming words
• Activity
• Spelling note


In last month's issue of MED Magazine you could read about how words are formed with suffixes and prefixes. However, using prefixes and suffixes is not the only way to form new words. Many English words are compounds. Compounds are formed by combining two or three words. Sometimes these combinations remain as two or three separate words and sometimes they combine to form one new word. For example, the word troublemaker has been formed by combining the two nouns trouble and maker. This has created a new word meaning 'someone who makes (= causes) trouble'.

Most compounds are treated as separate entries in the Macmillan Essential Dictionary, so that you can see immediately that they have a meaning of their own that is different from the meanings of the words from which they are formed. Sometimes these meanings are easy to guess. For example, a bus stop is a place where buses stop to pick up passengers, and a bookshop is a place where you buy books. However, a soap opera does not contain any singing and has nothing to do with soap: it is a television or radio show that is broadcast several times a week, and tells the story of the lives of a group of ordinary people.


Other ways of forming words

Some new words are formed by combining part of one word with part of another. For example, brunch is a meal you eat in the late morning that combines breakfast and lunch, and edutainment is something such as a video, television programme, or software program that combines education and entertainment.



Can you guess which words have combined to form the following computer terms: emoticon, netiquette, netizen, technophobe?

And can you guess their meanings from the words that have combined to form them?


Other new words are formed from the first letters of the words in a compound or phrase. Examples of this are CD-ROM (compact disc read-only memory), FAQs (frequently-asked questions), and IT (information technology). These new words are called acronyms.

Think about how new words are formed in your own language. Are they formed mainly by using prefixes and suffixes, by combining words to form compounds, by means of acronyms, or in other ways?


Spelling note

Words that are formed from combinations of other words, whether these are compounds or words formed from prefixes or suffixes, are often written in several different ways. You may see them written as separate words, or with hyphens, or as single words. For example: hard hat, hard-hat, or hardhat. Although one form is often more frequent than others, you shouldn't worry too much about which is correct. If you want to be sure, write the word using the form that you find in your dictionary.