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Derivation

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English

Do you want to know how new words are made? Today we will explore one way of forming new words - derivation.

We will explain the meaning of derivation in English grammar and how derivatives are formed. We will also look at some examples and the difference between derivation, zero derivation, and inflection.

Derivation in English grammar

In English grammar, derivation refers to the creation of a new word from an existing one by adding affixes to the root. Affixes can be broken down into prefixes and suffixes.

Prefixes = placed at the beginning of a word, e.g. the 'un' in 'unhappy' is a prefix.

Suffixes = placed at the end of a word, e.g. the 'ly' in 'finally' is a suffix.

Derivation is a type of neologism which refers to creating and using new words.

In case you forgot: The root of a word is the base part (without any affixes added), e.g. the root of the word 'untrue' is 'true'.

Think of the root of a word as the trunk of a tree. The added affixes are the leaves that grow from the branches.

Derivation, the root of a word similar to the trunk of a tree StudySmarterIllustration of a tree, pixabay.com

Derivation word formation

Derivatives can be formed in two different ways:

  1. Adding a prefix to the root of an existing word.
  2. Adding a suffix to the root of an existing word.

Derivations follow different patterns depending on what is added. When a word is formed by adding a suffix, the word form changes and the word class (e.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.) is usually changed - though not always. Below are some examples of different suffixes and how they can change the word class:

Suffixes

Suffixes can be added to an adjective to form different word classes:

Weak (adjective) ⇨ Weakness (noun)

Short (adjective) ⇨ Shorten (verb)

Polite (adjective) ⇨ Politely (adverb)

Sometimes, suffixes can be added to an adjective without changing the word classfor example:

Pink (adjective) ⇨ Pinkish (adjective).

Suffixes can be added to a noun to form different word classes:

Tradition (noun) ⇨ Traditional (adjective)

Motive (noun) ⇨ Motivate (verb)

Sometimes, suffixes can be added to a noun without changing the word class - for example:

Friend (noun) ⇨ Friendship (noun)

They can also be added to a verb to form different word classes:

Annoy (verb) ⇨ Annoying (adjective)

Write (verb) ⇨ Writer (noun)

Prefixes

When a prefix is added to a word, the word form changes. However, the word class usually remains the same. For example:

Do (verb) ⇨ Undo (verb)

Happy (adjective) ⇨ Unhappy (adjective)

Derivation example sentence

It is important to know how to use 'derivation' in a sentence. For example:

The process of creating a word by adding affixes is known as derivation.

The word that has been changed due to derivation is referred to as a derivative of the root word. For example:

Carefully is a derivative of the word careful.

The affixes added to words when derivation occurs are known as derivational affixes. For example:

  • 'dis' is a derivational prefix
  • 'al' is a derivational suffix

Derivation examples in English

Now let's look at some more examples of derivation:

Root wordDerivativeAffix type
WriteRewritePrefix
IntenseIntensifySuffix
Conscious SubconsciousPrefix
PredictPredictableSuffix
AgreeDisagreePrefix
KindKindnessSuffix
SureUnsurePrefix
EstablishEstablishmentSuffix
PerfectImperfectPrefix
RelationRelationshipSuffix

Derivation vs zero derivation

Let's look at the meaning of zero derivation:

Zero derivation refers to when a new word is created, and there is no change in the word form, but the word class changes.

Call (verb) - e.g. 'Call me tomorrow.'

VS

Call (noun) - e.g. 'That call was long.'

In this case, the verb 'call' changes word class to a noun, but the word form stays the same.

In comparison, derivation does change the form of the word. It can also change the word class, but not always.

Derivation vs inflection

It is easy to get derivation and inflection mixed up, as they both use affixes.

Let's look at the meaning of inflection:

Inflection refers to the change in the form of an existing word by adding affixes to show grammatical meaning (i.e. tense, voice, mood, person). The word class does not change.

Eat → Eating → Eaten

These are different forms of the verb 'eat' that show changes in tense - the suffixes 'ing' and 'en' are added.

Derivation - Key takeaways

  • Derivation refers to the creation of a new word from an existing word by adding affixes (prefixes or suffixes) to the root of a word.
  • Derivation is a form of neologism.
  • When suffixes are added, the word form changes and usually the word class too (though not always). The word form changes when prefixes are added, but the word class rarely does.
  • Zero derivation refers to when a new word is created, and there is no change in the word form, but the word class changes.
  • Inflection refers to the change in the form of an existing word by adding affixes to show grammatical meaning. The word class does not change.

Derivation

Derivation refers to the creation of a new word from an existing one by adding affixes (suffixes or prefixes) to the root of a word. 

Here are a few examples of derivation:

  • Happy - happiness (suffix)

  • Like - likely (suffix)

  • Treat - mistreat (prefix)

  • True - untrue (prefix)

A derivative refers to a word formed from an existing root word. A derivative is formed through the process of derivation.

Derivation is the creation of a new word by adding affixes. If suffixes are added, the word form changes and the word class usually changes. If prefixes are added, the word form changes, but the word class rarely changes. Zero derivation is the creation of a new word, and there is no change in the word form, but the word class changes.

Derivation is the creation of a new word by adding affixes. If suffixes are added, the word form changes and the word class usually changes. If prefixes are added, the word form changes, but the word class rarely changes. 

Inflection refers to the change in the form of a word by adding affixes to show grammatical meaning. The word class does not change.

Final Derivation Quiz

Question

What does derivation refer to?

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Answer

The creation of a new word from an existing word by adding affixes to the root of a word.

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Question

Derivational suffixes always change the class of a word.


True or false?

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Answer

False.


They often change the word class, but not always!

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Question

Derivational prefixes always change the class of a word.


True or false?

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Answer

False.


They rarely change the word class. 

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Question

Fill in the blank:


Inflection is the change in form of an existing word to show ________ meaning.

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Answer

grammatical

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Question

Inflection uses affixes.


True or false?

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Answer

True

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Question

Zero derivation changes the word form.


True or false?

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Answer

False.


Zero derivation does not change the word form, but does change the word class.

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Question

Fill in the blank:


Zero derivation changes the word ____.

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Answer

class

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Question

Derivation is a type of ________.

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Answer

neologism

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Question

What does neologism refer to?

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Answer

The creation and use of new words.

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Question

A suffix is placed at the ___ of a word.

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Answer

end

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Question

A prefix is placed at the _______ of a word.

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Answer

beginning

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Question

Out of the following two words, which one is the root word?


Kindness OR kind?

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Answer

kind

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Question

Out of the following two words, which one is the derivative?


Unclear OR clear?

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Answer

unclear

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Question

In the following example, which word class does the derivative change into?


Comfort (noun) ---> comfortable (?)

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Answer

Adjective

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Question

In the following example, which word class does the derivative change into?


Punish (verb) ---> punishment (?)

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Answer

Noun

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