Formation and Origin of Words - English Grammar Notes

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  • Some words in the English language have unique origins and formations.
    1. Sound words (onomatopoeias)
      - Some of the words imitate the sounds they represent. These words are called sound or onomatopoeic words. For example, the words bang and crash describe a loud, sudden noise. The word murmur describes a low, soft noise that keeps going.
      - Many English words imitate noises made by animals. For example, the word chirp imitates the short, high sound made by a small bird or a cricket.

      Other examples of sound (onomatopoeic) words

      Beep         gobble           neigh        squeal
      blast          growl            purr          tick
      buzz          hiss               quack       zip
      clang         honk              rip           clatter
      hum          roar               crack        meow
      smash       crunch            moo         splash

      Exercise 1

      Write a sound word for each of the following descriptions.
      1. The sound of something breaking
      2. The loud, deep sound of a lion.
      3. The sound of a clock.
      4. The sound of an angry dog.
      5. The sound of a loud bell.
      6. The sound made by a duck.
      7. The sound of a bottle opening.
      8. The sound of a cat drinking milk.
      9. The sound of a bomb exploding.
      10. The sound of a snake.
    2. Words that come from names of people and places (Eponyms)
      - Some of the words in the English language come from the names of people and places.

      Word Meaning Named after
      Sandwich Two or more slices of bread
      with meat between them.
      John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, who liked eating meat between slices of bread.
      Maverick A person who breaks from conventional actions Samuel Maverick, a Texas cattle owner who refused to brand the calves of one of his herds as per the requirements.
      Saxophone A musical wind instrument Adolphe Sax, the Belgian inventor of the musical instrument.
      Madras A cotton cloth with a design or pattern on plain background Madras, a city in India, where it was invented.
      Rugby A game Rugby school. England, where rugby was invented.
      Tarantula A large, hairy spider Taranto, a town in Italy where Tarantulas are found.
      Shylock A greedy money-lender The relentless and vengeful money- lender in Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice.
      Sousaphone  A musical instrument John Phillip Sousa, an American composer who invented the Sousaphone.

      - There are many more words in the English language which originated from names of people or places.

      Exercise 2

      Find out from your dictionary the origins and meanings of the following English words.
      1. lima bean              6. guppy            11. guillotin
      2. cardigan                7. cheddar         12. macadam
      3. bloomer                8. quisling         13. pasteurisation
      4. canary birds           9. silhouette       14. watt
      5. Ferris wheel          10. Marxism       15. ohm
    3. Words formed from blending two or more words (portmanteau words)
      - Some words in the English language are a blend of two or more words or morphemes.

      Word Combination of Meaning
      Smog Smoke + fog A combination of smoke and fog in the air.
      Fantabulous  Fantastic + fabulous Incredible, astonishing, unbelievable, wonderful
      Brunch Breakfast + lunch A late breakfast taken some hours before lunch
      Wikipedia Wiki + encyclopaedia A website
      Comcast Communication + broadcast  
      Verizori Veritas + horizon  
      Accenture Accent + future  
      Spork Spoon + fork An eating utensil that is a combination of a spoon and a fork.
      Skort Skirt + shorts An item of clothing that is part skirt and short.
      Simulcast Simultaneous + broadcast  To broadcast a programme on television and radio at the same time
      Cyborg Cybernetic + organism  
      Motel Motor + hotel A roadside hotel

      Exercise 3

      Identify the words that are blended to form the following words. Find out their meanings from your dictionary.
      1. slithy             6. breathalyser
      2. chortle           7. cable gram
      3. galumph        8. camcorder
      4. bash              9. edutainment
      5. blog             10. email
    4. Words formed by use of prefixes and suffixes
      Some words are formed addition of prefixes and suffixes to other words.


      - A prefix is a word part that is added to the beginning of a word to form another word or to change its meaning. The word to which the prefix is added is called the base word.


      Prefix Base word New word

      A prefix changes the meaning of the base word. For example, the prefix un-above means “not”. Hence, unfriendly means “not friendly”. Each prefix has its own meaning.

      More examples of common English prefixes

      Prefix Meaning Examples
      wrong, incorrectly
      before, in advance
      before, preceding
      opposing, against, the opposite
      opposition, opposite direction
      put into or on
      outside, beyond
      between, among
      inside, within
      absence, negation
      excessively, completely
      after in time, or order
      before in time, place order or importance
      favouring, in support of
      half, partly
      across, beyond
      beneath, below
      misspell – to spell incorrectly
      revisit – visit again
      preschool – before school
      antecedent, ante-room
      anti-aircraft, antibiotic, anticlimax
      contraceptive, contraband
      counter-attack, counteract
      engulf, enmesh
      extraordinary, extracurricular
      interact, interchange
      intramural, intravenous
      non-smoker, non-alcoholic
      overconfident, overjoyed
      postpone, post-mortem
      precondition, preadolescent
      repaint, reawaken
      semicircle, semi-conscious
      transnational, transatlantic
      unacceptable, unreal, unhappy, unmarried
      underarm, undercarriage

      Exercise 4

      Give the meaning of the following prefixes and write two examples each of words in which they are used. Use your dictionary.

      1. ultra-           6. infra-
      2. hypo-           7. hypo-
      3. hemi-           8. hemi
      4. ex-               9. ex-
      5. dia               10. dia

      - A suffix is a word part that is added to the end of a base word to form a new word or to change its meaning.


      Enjoy + able = enjoyable

      - Each suffix has its own meaning. The suffix “able” means “capable of”. Hence enjoyable means “capable of being enjoyed”.

      Common English suffixes
      Suffix Meaning Examples
      Noun Suffixes
      -ance, -ence
      -er, -or
      -ity, -ty
      -sion, -tion
      Verbs suffixes
      -ify, -fy
      -ize, ise
      Adjective suffixes
      -able, -ible
      -ic, -ical
      -ious, ous
      - ive

      state or quality
      act or process of
      quality of
      place or state of being
      one who
      doctrine, belief
      one who
      quality of
      condition of
      state of being
      position held
      state of being

      make or become

      capable of being
      pertaining to
      reminiscent of
      notable for
      pertaining to
      characterized by
      having the quality of
      having the nature of
      characterized by

      privacy, advocacy
      refusal, dismissal
      Maintenance, eminence
      freedom, kingdom
      trainer, protector
      Communism, Marxism
      chemist, pharmacist
      veracity, curiosity
      argument, armament
      heaviness, fearlessness
      fellowship, headship
      concession, transition

      eradicate, fumigate
      enlighten, fugliten
      terrify, specify
      civilize, apologize

      edible, presentable
      regional, sectional
      fanciful, colourful
      musical, mythic
      nutritious, portentous
      fiendish, greenish
      creative, abusive
      endless, pointless
      sleazy, cheeky

      Exercise 5

      Add an appropriate suffix to each of the following words and then give the meaning of the new word.
      1. hope            6. green
      2. read             7. wear
      3. child             8. fear
      4. grey             9. kind
      5. play             10. wash


Exercise 1

  1. crack                   6. quack
  2. roar                     7. pop
  3. tick                     8. lap
  4. growl                  9. boom
  5. chime                10. hiss

Exercise 2

  1. Lima bean – a broad, flat, pale-green or white bean used as a vegetable – named after Lima, the capital of Peru where it was grown first.
  2. Cardigan – a kind of a pullover or sweater that buttons down the front – named after J.T. Brudwell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan.
  3. Bloomer – a woman’s baggy and long garment for the lower body – named after Amelia Bloomer, an American women rights and temperance advocate.
  4. Canary birds – yellow songbirds – named after Canary Islands, Spain, where they are found in large numbers.
  5. Ferris wheel – a special wheel for an amusement park – named after the inventor G.W. Ferris.
  6. Guppy – the most popular freshwater tropical fish – named after R.J.L. Guppy, the man who introduced it in England.
  7. Cheddar – A firm Cheese – named after the English village of Cheddar, where it was first made.
  8. Quisling – a person who treacherously helps to prepare for enemy occupation of his own county, a traitor – named after Vidkum Quisling, a Norwegian politician.
  9. Silhouette – an outline portrait or profile – named after a French minister of finance, Etienne de Silhouette.
  10. Marxism – the political and economic theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – named after Karl Marx.
  11. Guillotine – a device used for carrying out executions – named after Dr. Joseph Guillotine, the designer.
  12. Macadam – small, broken stones that are used for making roads – named after John L. McAdam, a Scottish engineer who invented this kind of a road.
  13. Pasteurisation – the process of heating milk, wine, beer, or other liquids hot enough to kill harmful bacteria and to prevent or stop fermentation – named after Louis Pasteur, a French chemist, who invented the process.
  14. Watt – Unit of measuring electric power – named after James Watt, a Scottish engineer, who pioneered in the development of the steam engine.
  15. Ohm – a measure of electrical resistance – named after George S. Ohm, a German physicist.

Exercise 3

  1. slithy – lithe + slimy                  6. breathalyser – breath + analyser
  2. chortle – chuckle + short           7. cablegram – cable + telegram
  3. galumph – gallop + triumph       8. camcorder – camera + recorder
  4. bash – bang + smash                9. edutainment – education + entertainment
  5. blog – web + log                      10. email – electronic + mail

Exercise 4

  1. utra – beyond – ultraviolet, ultrasonic
  2. syn – in union – synchronize, symmetry
  3. sub – at a lower position – submarine, subsoil
  4. peri – round, about – perimeter
  5. out – surpassing, exceeding – outperform
  6. infra – below – infrared, infrastructure
  7. hypo – under – hypodermic, hypothermia
  8. hemi – half – hemisphere
  9. ex – previous – ex-wife, ex-policeman
  10. dia – across, through – diagonal

Exercise 5

  1. hopeful – full of hope                          6. greenish – having green colour
  2. reader – a person who reads               7. weary – tired
  3. childish – having manners of a child     8. fearless – lacking fear
  4. greyish – having grey colour               9. kindness – the quality of being kind
  5. playful – fond of playing                    10. washable – can be washed
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