Morphological structure of English words


1. Morphemes. Combining forms. Allomorphs.

2. Morphological classification of words.

3. Analysis into immediate constituents.


1. Антрушина Г.Б. Лексикология английского языка. С. 78 – 104.

2. Гвишиани Н.Б. Современный английский язык. С. 80 – 82.

3. Э.М. Дубенец. Современный английский язык. С. 5 – 20.

4. Arnold I.V. The English word. P. 77 – 81, 83 – 87, 104 – 106.



1. The word morpheme is derived from Greek morphe -form. A morpheme is an association of a given meaning with a given sound pattern. Unlike a word, which is also an association of a given meaning with a given sound pattern a morpheme is not autonomous. Morphemes occur only as a constituent parts of words, not independently, though a word may consist of one morpheme. Morphemes are not divisible into smaller meaningful units. That is why the morpheme may be defined as the minimum meaningful language unit.

Morphemes are divided into two large groups: lexical morphemes and grammatical morphemes. Both lexical and grammatical morphemes can be free and bound. A morpheme is said to be free if it may stand alone without changing its meaning, for example: cat, sport, always. A morpheme is called bound because it is bound to something else. For example, in the word sportive sport- is a free morpheme, it can be used independently, there is the word sport. The morpheme -ive is a bound morpheme, it can not be used alone, there is no word like ive.

Free lexical morphemes are roots of words.

Free grammatical morphemes are function words such as articles, conjuctions and prepositions.

Bound lexical morphemes are affixes. Affixes are subdivided into prefixes, suffixes, infixes, combining forms or completives. Bound grammatical morphemes are endings (inflexions). For example: -s for the plural of nouns, -ed for the Past Indefinite of regular verbs and so on.

A prefix is a morpheme standing before a root and modifying its meaning, for example: hearten – dishearten. In some cases prefixes not only modify the meaning of a word but can form words of a different part of speech. For example: earth is a noun, to unearth is a verb. Prefixes can also express the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs, for example: to stay – to outstay.

A suffix is a morpheme following the root or a stem and forming a new word of a different part of speech or a different word class of the same part of speech. For example, the suffixes -en, -y, -less form such words of different parts of speech as hearten, hearty, heartless. The suffixes -ify, -er are verb-forming suffixes, but the suffix -ify forms causative verbs, for example: horrify, purify, while the suffux -er forms frequentative verbs, for example: flicker, shimmer, twitter.

An infix is an affix placed within the word, like -n- in stand, like -s- in statesman. Infixes are rare in the English language.

A combining form or completive is a bound form which can be distringuished from an affix historically. Combining forms are always borrowed from Latin or Greek. In Latin or Greek combining forms existed as free forms, as separate words. In English combining forms occur in compound and derivative words as their parts. These compound and derivative words did not exist in Latin or Greek, they were formed only in modern times in English. For example: megapolis (from mega- Greek and polis - Greek), AIDSophobia (from phobia – Latin), autocue (from auto - Greek), chimponaut (from naut - Greek). Combining forms are mostly international.

Some morphemes may have variants. For example, -ion, -sion, -tion, -ation are variants of the same suffix. They do not differ in meaning or function but show a slight difference in sound form which depends on the final sound of the preceding stem. Such variants are called allomorphs. An allomorph is from Greek allos – другой.

Analysing all the grammatical forms of a word, that is its paradigm, we may see the part which remains unchanged through the whole paradigm. This unchanged part is a stem of a word. Stems may be free or bound, simple or derived. For example, the paradigm of the adjective clean is clean – cleaner – cleanest. The stem of the word clean is clean-.  This stem is free, not bound, because there is an independent word clean. At the same time, this stem is simple, because it coincides with the root of the word clean. In the words cordially and cordiality the stem is cordia-l. This stem is free as there exist the word cordial. But it is not a simple stem, it is a derived stem consisting of the root cord- and a suffix -ial. Bound stems are characteristic of loan words. Take for example French borrowings arrogance, charity, courage, coward, distort, involve, notion, legible. After the affixes of these words are taken away the remaining stems are arrog-, char-, cour-, cow-,-tort, -volve, not-, leg-. They are bound stems, they do not exist independently. Of course, the words cow, not, leg do exist, but the meaning of the stems -cow, not-, leg- and the meaning of the separate words cow, not, leg is different.

Stems have not only the lexical meaning, but also grammatical, part-of-speech meaning. They can be noun stems, as gir-l in the adjective girlish. They can be adjective stems, as girlish- in the noun girlishness. Stems can also be verb stems as in the noun expellee. Stems differ from words by the absence of inflexions in their structure, they can be used only in the structure of words.

2. According to the nature and the number of morphemes constituing a word there are different structural types of words in English: simple, affixed, compound, compound-affixed.

Simple words consist of one root morpheme and an inflexion. In many cases the inflexion is zero, for example: seldom, chair, asked, speaking.

Affixed words consist of one root morpheme, one or several affixes and an inflexion, for example: unemployed, underground, overestimation.

Compound words consist of two or more root morphemes and an inflexion, for example: wait-and-see, forget-me-not, baby-moons.

Compound-affixed words consist of two or more root morphemes, one or more affixes and an inflexion, for example: job-hopper, autotimer, hydroskimmer.

3. To define a structural type of a word, that is, to accomplish a morphological analysis, it is necessary to use the analysis into immediate constituents. It was first suggested by an American scientist L. Bloomfield. Immediate constituents are any of the two meaningful parts forming a larger linguistic unity. The main constituents are un affix and a stem.

L. Bloomfield analyzed the word ungentlemanly

In the first stage of the analysis one breaks the word ungentlemanly into two immediate constituents: un + gentlemanly. The morpheme u- is a negative prefix, one has come across words built on the pattern un + stem: uncertainly, uncomfortably etc. And the adjective gentlemanly exists in the English language.

In the second stage one separates the stem gentleman and the morpheme ly. In English there are many words with the pattern  stem + ly: womanly, masterly etc. There is also the noun gentleman. The immediate constituents of this pattern have the same semantic relationship: having the quality of the person denoted by the stem. Besides, there is the noun gentleman.

In the first two stages of the analysis one separated a free and a bound forms: un + gentlemanly and gentleman + ly.

In the third stage the cut gentle + man has its pecularities. The morpheme gentle is a stem. The element man may be classified as a semi-bound affix or as a variant of the free form man. A similar pattern can be found in the word nobleman.

To sum up: as one breaks the word, one obtains at any level only two immediate cobstituents, one of which is a stem. All the time the analysis is based on the patterns characteristic of the English vocabulary. As a result, we get the following formula: un + (gentle + man) + ly.

The above procedure is an elementary case of the analysis. There are complicated, open or unresolved cases.

An American scientist Eugine Nida discusses the morphological structure of the word untruly. This word might, it seems, be divided either un + truly or un + true + ly. E. Nida notices that the prefix un- is very rarely combined with adverb stems and is freely combined with the adjective stems. So the immediate constituents of the word untruly is untrue + ly. Other examples of the same patterns are uncommonly, unlikely.

Some linguists think that words like pocket cannot be subjected to morphological analysis. They say that in the words pocket, hogget, locket it is possible to single out a diminutive suffix -et.  In the words hogget, locket the remaining parts, that is, hog- and lock- are stems because there are independent words hog and lock. At the same time the remaining part of the word pocket, that is, pock- cannots be regarded as a stem. The element pock- does not exist independently.

Russian scientist Aлександр Иванович Смирницкий does not share the opinion of E. Nida. He believes that the stem is morphologically divisible if at least one of its elements belongs to a regular correlation. It means that if we agree that et- in the words pocket, hogget, locket is a suffix, we must agree that the elements pock-, hog, lock are stems. The words like pocket can be subjected to morphological analysis.

There are also cases, especially among borrowed words, that defy analysis altogether: calendar, perestroika.


Lecture 4



1. Main ways of wordbuilding in English:

a) affixation,

b) composition.


1. Дубенец Э.М. Современный английский язык. С. 26 – 74.

2. Антрушина Г.Б. Лексикология английского языка. С. 78 – 128.

3. I.V. Arnold. The English word. P. 90 – 165.


      1. Wordbuilding is one of the main ways of enriching vocabulary. There are four main ways of wordbuilding in Modern English: affixation, composition, conversion, abbreviation.

There are also secondary ways of wordbuilding: sound interchange, stress interchange, sound imitation, blends, back formation.


Affixation has been one of the most productive ways of wordbuilding throughout the history of English. It consists in adding an affix to the stem of a definite part of speech. Affixation is divided into suffixation and prefixation.


The first function of suffixes is to form one part of speech from another. The second function is to change the lexical meaning of the same part of speech.

There exist different classifications of suffixes: part of speech classification, semantic classification, lexico-grammatucal character of the stem, origion of affixes, productivity, structure.

According to the part of speech classification, suffixes are divided into:

- noun-forming suffixes: -er (criticizer), -dom (officialdom), -ism (ageism),

- adjective-forming suffixes: -able (breathable), -less (symptomless), -ous (prestigious),

- verb-forming suffixes -ize (computerize), -ify (micrify), - en (shorten),

- adverb-forming suffixes: -ly (singly), -ward (tableward), -wise (jetwise),

- numeral-forming suffixes: -teen (sixteen), -ty (seventy), -fold (twofold).

Semantic classification arranges suffixes in accordance with the lexical meaning of the stem. For example, noun-forming suffixes can denote:

-the agent of the action: -er (experimenter), -ist (taxist), -ent (student),

-nationality: -ian (Russian), -ese (Japanese), - ish (English),

-collectivity: - ry (peasantry), -ship (readership), - ati (literati),

-diminutiveness: -ie (horsie), -ling (gooseling), -y (hanky) etc.

Classification of suffixes according to lexico-grammatical character of the stem supposes that suffixes can be added to certain groups of stems:

-suffixes added to verbal stems: -er (commuter), -able (flyable), -ing (suffering),

-suffixes added to noun stems: -ess (smogless), -ful (roomful), -nik (filmnik),

-suffixes added to adjective stems: -ly (pinkly), -ish (longish), -ness (clannishness).

Classification of suffixes according to their origin allows to distinguish:

-native (Germanic) suffixes: -er (teacher), -ed (talented), -teen (sixteen),

-Romanic suffixes: -age (carriage), -ment (development), -ate (dictate),

-Greek suffixes: -ize (organize), - ism (capitalism), -ist (racist) etc.

The term borrowed affixes  is not very exact as affixes are never borrowed as suffixes, but only as parts of borrowed words. To enter the morphological system of the English language a borrowed affix, both a suffix and a prefix, must satisfy certain conditions. The borrowing of an affix is possible only:

-if the the number of words containing this affix is considerable,

-if its meaning and function are definite and clear,

-if its structural pattern corresponds to the structural patterns already existing in the language.

Productivity classification of affixes points out the following groups:

-productive: -ly (wetly), -ize (specialize), -er (dancer),

-semi-productive: -eer (profiteer), -ward (skyward), -ette (kitchenette),

-non-productive: -ard (drunkard), -th (length) etc.

According to the structure suffixes are divided into:

-simple: -er (speaker), -ist (dramatist),

compound: -ical (ironical), -ation (formation), -manship (sportsmanship), -ably / ibly (terribly, reasonably) etc.

Some suffixes can be polysemantic. For example, -er can form nouns with the following meanings: an agent or a doer of the action expressed by the stem (porter), a profession or an occupation (baker), a device or a tool (transmitter).

There are also disputable cases whether we have a suffix or a root in the structure of a word. In such cases these disputable morphemes are called semi-affixes. Words with semi-affixes can be classified either as affixed words or as compound words. For example: -gate (Irangate), -burger (cheeseburger), -aholic (workaholic), -man (postman) etc.


Prefixation is the formation of words by means of adding a prefix to the stem. In English it is characteristic for forming verbs.

Prefixes are more independent than suffixes. Prefixes can be classified according to the nature of words in which they are used. Prefixes used in notional words are proper prefixes, they are bound morphemes: unhappy, rewrite, antiwar etc. Prefixes used in functional words are semi-bound morphemes because they are met in the language as words: overhead – over the table.

The main function of prefixes in English is to change the lexical meaning of the same part of speech. But some prefixes can form one part of speech from another. They are en / em-, a-, pre-, non-, anti- etc. For example the prefix be- forms verbs with adjective stems, and noun stems: to belittle, to befriend, to bemadam.

Prefixes can be classified according to different principles:

1. Semantic classification:

-prefixes of negative meaning: in- (invaluable), non- (non-person, non-book, nonformal), un- (unfree),

-prefixes denoting repetition or reversative actions: de- (decolonize), dis-(disconnect), un- (unpack),

-prefixes denoting time, space, degree: inter- (interplanetary), hyper- (hypertension), pre- (preelection), ex- (ex-student) etc.

2. Origin of prefixes:

-native (Germanic): under- (undernourish), over- (overfeed),

-Romanic: in- (inactive), de- (demobilize), re- (redo),

-Greek: sym- (sympathy), hyper- (hypertension) etc.

    When we analyze such words as adverb, accompany where we can find the root of the word verb, company, we may treat ad-, ac- as prefixes though they were never used as prefixes to form new words in English and were borrowed from Romanic languages together with words. In such cases we can treat them as affixed words. But some scientists treat them as simple words.

Another group of words with a disputable structure are such as contain, retain, detain or conceive, receive, deceive where we can see that con- and de- act as prefixes and tain-, ceive- can be understood as roots. But in English these combinations of sounds have no lexical meaning and are called pseudo-morphemes. Some scientists treat such words as simple words, others as affixed words.

There are some prefixes which can be treated as root morphemes by some scientists. For example after- in the word afternoon. American lexicographers treat such words as compound words, British lexicographers treat them as affixed ones.


2. Сomposition is the way of wordbuilding when a word is formed by joining two or more stems to form one word. The structural unity of a compound word depends on the following factors:

 - the unity of stress,

- spelling,

- semantic unity,

- unity of morphological and syntactical functioning.

These are characteristics of compounds in all languages. For English some of these factors are not reliable. As a rule, English compounds have one uniting stress on the first component: hat-cover, best-seller. We can also have a double stress in English compouns, with the main stress on the first component and with a secondary stress on the second component: blood-vessel. The main stress can also be on the second component: snow-white, sky-blue. Besides, the stress may be phonological and help to differentiate the meaning of compounds: overwork – overwork, bookcase – bookcase.

Spelling in English compounds is not reliable as well. English compounds can have different spelling even in the same text: war-ship can be spelt through a hyphen, with a break or solidly.

The semantic unity of English compounds may be different. There are compounds in which the meaning of the whole is not a sum of meanings of its components: ghostwrite, skinhead, braindrain. There are componds the meaning of which is deduced from the meaning of the components: to blood-transfuse, airbus, astrodynamics.

English compounds have the unity of morphological and syntactical functioning. They are used in a a sentence as one part of it and only one component changes grammatically: These girls are chatter-boxes. The compound chatter-boxes is a predicative here and only the second component changes grammatically.

There are two characteristic features of English compounds:

- both components in an English compound are free stems. They can be used as words with a distinctive meaning of theit own. The sound pattern will be the same except for the stresses: green-house – теплица and green house – дом, выкрашенный в зеленый цвет;

- English compouns have mostly a two-stem pattern: railroad, homework.

Compounds in English can be formed not only by means of composition but also by means of:

-reduplication: too-too – sentimental, toy-boy – gigolo, shock-frock – bare-bosomed cocktail dress;

-conversion from word-groups: to micky-mouse, can-do, make-up;

-back formation from compound nouns or word-groups: to baby-sit from baby-sitter, to fingerprint from finger-printing;

-analogy: lie-in on the analogy with sit-in, brawn-drain on the analogy with brain-drain;

contrast: brain-gain in contrast to brain-drain.

There are different classifications of English compounds:

1. According to the parts of speech compounds are subdivided into:

- nouns: baby-moon, globe-trotter;

- adjectives: free-for-all, power-happy;

- verbs: to henpeck, to honeymoon;

- adverbs: downdeep, headfirst;

- prepositions: into, within;

- numerals: fifty-five.

2. According to the way components are joined together compounds are subdivided into:

- neutral, which are formed by joining together two stems without any joining morphemes: ball-point, to window-shop;

- morphological where components are joined by a linking element: astrospace, handicraft, sportsman;

- syntactical where the components are joined by means of stems: here-and-now, free-for-all, do-or-die.

3.According to their structure compounds are subdivided into:

-compound words which consist of two stems: job-hunt, train-sick, tip-top;

- compound-affixed words, where besides the stems we have affixes: ear-minded, autotimer;

-compound words consisting of three or more stems: singer-songwriter, eggshell-thin;

-compound-shortened words: V-day, intervision.

4.According to the relations between the components compound words are subdivided into:

- subordinative compounds where one of the components is the semantic centre and the structural centre and the second component is subordinate. These subordinative relations can be different. For example, they can be comparative : honey-sweet, goldfish; time relations: summer-house, spring-fresh; sex-relations: she-dog, he-goat, Tom-cat etc.

-coordinative compounds where both components are semantically independent: no-no, Anglo-Saxon, secretary-stenographer etc.

5. According to the order of the components compounds are divided into compounds with direct order: killjoy and compounds with indirect order: nuclear-free, rope-ripe etc.

6. According to the meaning of the whole compound we can point out idiomatic and non-idiomatic compounds. Compounds may be very different in meaning from the corresponding free phrase. Such compounds are calles idiomatic: a blackboard – a black board, a tall boy – a tallboy, a blue bell – a bluebell. Compounds which are not different in their meaning from corresponding free phrases are called non-idiomatic: swimming-pool, speedometer, airmail etc.


Lecture # 5




7. Main ways of wordbuilding in English:

a) conversion,

b) abbreviation.

     2. Secondary ways of wordbuilding.



4. Дубенец Э.М. Современный английский язык. С. 26 – 74.

5. Антрушина Г.Б. Лексикология английского языка. С. 78 – 128.

6. I.V. Arnold. The English word. P. 90 – 165.


         Conversion is a characteristic feature of the English wordbuilding system. It is also called affixless derivation or zero-suffixation but it is not quite correct because there are other types of wordbuilding in which new words are also formed without affixes: compounds, contracted words, sound-imitation words etc. The term conversion first appeared in the book by Henry Sweet New English Grammar in 1891. Conversion is very productive way of worldbuilding. Its productivity is encouraged by the analytical structure of Modern Englisg which facilitates processes of making words of one category of part of speech from words of another. A great number of one-syllable words is also a factor in favour of conversion. Such words are more mobile and flexible than polysyllabic words.

         Conversion is treated differently by different scientists. A.И. Смирницкий treats conversion as a morphological way of forming words when one part of speech is formed from another part of speech by changing its paradigm. For example, to form the verb to dial from the noun dial we change the paradigm of the noun a dial – dials for the paradigm of a regular verb I dial, he dials, dialed, dialing. A. Marchand treats conversion as a morphological-syntactical wordbuilding because we have not only the change of the paradigm, but also the change of the syntactical function. For example, in the sentence I need some good paper for my room the noun paper is an object in the sentence. In the sentence I paper my room every year the verb paper is the predicate in the sentence.

A word made by conversion has a different meaning from the meaning of the word from which it was made. Though both meaning can be associated. There are some regularities in these associations:

-the noun is the name of a tool or instrument, the verb denotes an action performed by the tool: to pencil, to nail, to pin;

-the noun is the name of an animal, the verb denotes an action or aspect of behaviour typical of this animal: to ape, to wolf, to fox;

-the name of a part of the human body – an action performed by it: to nose, to shoulder, to elbow;

-the name of a profession or occupation – an activity typical of it: to nurse, to maid, to groom;

-the name of a place – the process of occupying the place or of putting smth / smb in it: to room, to cage, to table;

-the name of a container – the act of putting smth within the container: to pocket, to bottle, to can;

-the name of a meal – the process of taking it: to lunch, to supper, to dinner.

In cases of conversion we have a question: which word is primary and which is converted from it? There are three approaches to this problem.

1.If the lexical meaning of the root morpheme and the lexico-grammatical meaning of the stem coincide the word is primary. For example, in cases pen – to pen, father – to father the nouns are names of an object and a living being. In the nouns pen and father the lexical meaning of the root and the lexico-grammatical meanings of the stems coincide. The verbs to pen and to father denote an action, a process. The lexico-grammatical meanings of the stems do not coincide with the lexical meanings of the roots. The verbs have a complex semantic structure and they were converted from nouns.

      2. If we compare a converted pair with a synonymic word pair which was formed by means of suffixation we can find out which of the pair is primary. This criterion can be applied only to nouns converted from verbs. For example, chat as a noun and chat as a verb can be compared with conversation – converse.

       3. We must take a word-cluster of relative words to which the converted pair belongs. If the root stem of the word-cluster has suffixes added to a noun stem, the noun is primary in the converted pair. For example, in the word-cluster hand n., hand v., handy, handful the affixed words have suffixes added to a noun stem, that is why the noun is primary and the verb is converted from it. In the word-cluster dance n., dance v., dancer, dancing we see that the primary word is a verb and the noun is converted from it.

What is relationship between conversion and substantivation? Some scientists refer substantivation of adjectives to conversion. But most scientists do not, because in cases of substantivation of adjectives we have quite different changes in the language. Substantivation is the result of syntactical shortening when a word combination with a semantically strong attribute loses its semantically weak noun: a grown-up person is shortened to a grown up. In cases of substantivation the attribute takes the paradigm of a countable noun: a criminal, criminals, a criminal’s, crimiunals’. There are also two types of partly substantivized adjectives:

c) those which have only the plural form and have the meaning of collective nouns: sweets, news, empties, finals, greens;

b) those which have only the singular form and are used with the definite article. They also have the meaning of collective nouns and denote a class, a nationality, a group of people etc.: the rich, the English, the dead.

These words are called partly substantivized because they do not get a new paradigm. Besides, they keep some properties of adjectives, they can be modified by adverbs: the enormously rich, the very unfortunate, the extravagantly jealous.

There is one more problem connected with convertion in English. In English there are a lot of word combinations of the type stone wall. For example: time table, homework, price rise, language teacher etc. If he first component of such units is an adjective converted from a noun, combinations of this type are free word-groups of the structure adjective + nouns. This point of view is proved by O. Yespersen by the following facts:

1. The word stone denotes some quality of the object named by the word wall.

2. The word stone stands before the word it modifies as adjectives do.

3. The word stone is used in the singular though its meaning may be plural, and adjectives in English have no plural form.

4. There are some cases when the first component is used in the comparative or the superlative degree, and adjectives can have degrees of comparison: the bottomest end of the scale.

5. The first component can have an adverb which characterizes it, and adjectives are characterized by adverbs: a purely family gathering.

6. The first component can be used in the same syntactical function with a proper adjective to characterize the same noun: lonely bare stone houses.

7. After the first component the pronoun one can be used instead of a noun: I shall not put on a silk dress, I shall put on a cotton one.

  But other scientists say that these criteria are not characteristic of the majority of such units. They consider the first conponent of such units to be a noun in the function of an attribute because in Midern English almost all parts of speech and even word-groups and sentences can be used in the function of an attribute. For example: the then president (an adverb in the function of an attribute), out-of-the-way villages (a word-group in the function of an attribute), a devil-may-care speed (a sentence in the function of an attribute).

There are different semantic relations between the components of such combinations:

-time relation: evening paper,

-space relation: top floor,

-qualitative relations: winter apples,

-cause relations: war orphan etc.


In the process of communication words and word-groups can be shortened. The causes of shortening can be linguistic and extra-linguistic. By extra-linguistic causes changes in the life of people are meant. In Modern English many new abbreviations are formed because the tempo of life is increasing and it becomes necessary to give more and more information in the shortest possible time. There are also linguistic causes of abbreviating words and word-groups. Among them are: demand of rhythm, which is satisfied by monosyllabic words and shortening of borrowings from other languages.

There are two main types of shortenings: graphical and lexical.

Graphical abbreviations are the result of shortening of words and word-groups only in written speech while orally the corresponding full forms are used. They are used for the economy of space and effort in writing.

The oldest group of graphical abbreviations in English is of Latin origin. In these abbreviations in the spelling Latin words are shortened while orally the corresponding English equivalents are pronounced in the full form. For example: a.m. – in the morning (ante meridiem), No – number (numero), i.e. – that is (id est), p.a. – a year (per annum), lb – pound (libra) etc.

In some cases initial letters are pronounced: a.m., p.m.

Some graphical abbreviations of Latin origin have different English equivalents in different contexts: p. m. can be pronounced in the afternoon (post meridiem) and after death (post mortem).

Graphical abbreviations of native origin represent several semantic groups:

- days of the week: Mon – Monday, Tue – Tuesday,

- names of months: Apr – April, Aug – August,

- names of address: Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr,

- military ranks: capt – captain, col – colonel, sgt – sergeant,

- scientific degrees: BA – Bachelor of Arts, DM – Doctor of Medicine,

- units of time, length, weight: f / ft – foot / feet, in. – inch, mg. – milligram etc.

The reading of some graphical abbreviations depends on the context. For example: m can be read as male, married, masculine, metre, mile, million, minute.

Lexical abbreviations

Lexical abbreviaion consists in clipping a part of a word. As a result we get a new lexical unit where either the lexical meaning or the style is different from the full form of the word. For example: in such cases as fantasy and fancy, fence and defence we have different lexical meanings. In such cases as laboratory and lab, we have different styles.

Lexical abbreviaion does not change the part-of-speech meaning, it produces words belonging to the same part of speech as the primary words. For example: professor is a noun, prof is also a noun.

Abbreviated are usually nouns, verbs and adjectives. Pronouns, numerals, interjections, conjunctions are, as a rule, not abbreviated.

Lexical abbreviations are classified according to the part of the word which is clipped. Mostly the end of the word is clipped, because the beginning of the word in most cases is the root and expresses the lexical meaning of the word. This type of abbreviation is called apocope: disco, expo, intro etc.

If the beginning of the word is clipped we have apheresis: chute – parachute, versity – university, copter – helicopter etc.

Sometimes the middle of the word is clipped, such abbreviations are called syncope: mart – market, fanzine – fan magazine etc.

We may also have a combination of apocope with apheresis, when the beginning and the end of the word are clipped: tec – detective, van – avanguard etc.

2. There are also secondary ways of wordbuilding in English: sound interchange, stress interchange, sound imitation, blending, back formation. These ways of wordbuilding are not productive in Modern English.

Sound interchange is the way of wordbuilding when some sounds are changed to form a new word. For example: strike – stroke, sing – song, blood – to bleed, hot – to heat etc. It was productive in Old English and can be met in other Indo-European languages.

Stress interchange can be mostly met in verbs and nouns of Romanic origin. Nouns have the stress on the first syllable and verbs – on the last syllable. For example: to conflict – conflict, to export – export, to accent – accent etc. However, this is not regular. There are borrowed nouns and verbs with the stress on the first syllable. For example: focus, exile, preface, program, triumph etc. There are also a large group of loan words that retain the stress on the second syllable both in verbs and nouns. For example: advance, escape, attack, defeat, concern, amount, research etc.

Sound imitation is the way of wordbuilding when a word is formed by imitating different sounds. There are some semantic groups of words formed by means of sound imitation:

-sounds produced by human beings: to whisper, to giggle, to sneeze etc,

-sounds produced by animals: to hiss, to bark, to moo, to buzz etc,

-sounds produced by nature: to tinkle, to ding-dong, to buble, to splash etc.

Blends are words formed from a word-group or two synonyms. In blends two ways of wordbuilding are combined: abbreviation and composition. To form a blend we clip the end of the first component and the beginning of the second component. For example: smog is formed from smoke + fog, slanguage is formed from slang + language, gasohol is formed from gasoline + alcohol.

Mostly blends are formed from a word-group. For example: cinemaddict (cinema addict), dramedy (drama comedy), magalog (magazine catalogue), slimnastics (slimming gymnastics) etc.

Back formation is the way of word-building when a word is formed by dropping the final morpheme to form a new word. It is opposite to suffixation, that is why it is called back formation. At first it appeared in the language as a result of misunderstanding the structure of a borrowed word. It is typical of English to form nouns denoting the agent of the action by adding the suffix –er to a verb stem: speak – speaker, teach – teacher.  So when the French word beggar was borrowed into English the final syllable ar was pronounced in the same way as the English -er.  Soon Englishmen formed the verb beg by dropping the end of the noun. Other examples are: to accreditate (accreditation), to bach (bachelor), to collocate (collocation), to compute (computer), to televise (television) etc.




Lecture # 6


1. Meaning of a word.

2. Semantic structure of the word.

3. Polysemy.

4. Main types of lexical meanings of the word.


1. The linguistic science at present is not able to put forward a definition of meaning which is conclusive. But the fact is that the very function of the word as a unit of communication is made possible by its possessing a meaning. So, among the various characteristics of the word the meaning is the most important.

Generally speaking meaning can be more or less described as a component of the word through which a concept is communicated. Concepts are mental phenomena.

By referent we understand objects, qualities, actions, abstract notions denoted by the word. By symbol is meant the word. Thought or reference is concept. The dotted line suggests that there is no immediate relation between word and referent. It is established only through the concept.

The mechanism by which concepts, that is mental phenomena, are converted into words, that is linguistic phenomena, and the reverse process by which a heard or a printed word is converted into a mental picture are not yet understood.

The branch of linguistics which specialises in the study of meaning is called semantics. This term is ambiguous. It can stand for the expressive aspect of language in general and for the meaning of particular words. That is why very often the study of meaning of words is called semasiology.

2. The modern approach to semantics or semasiology is based on the assumption that the meaning of the word presents a structure which is called the semantic structure of the word. When analysing the semantic structure of a word, it is necessary to distinguish between two levels of analysis.

On the first level the semantic structure of a word is treated as a system of meanings.

As we see, meaning 1 dominates over meanings 2, 3, 4, 5. Meaning 1 is called the main meaning, meanings 2, 3, 4, 5 are called secondary meanings. All the meanings, main and secondary ones, may be associated with each other very differently. They may be associated through the main meaning or through one of the secondary meanings or else through all meanings. But some semantic structures are arranged on a different principle. For example, in the semantic structure of the word dull it is not possible to find the main meaning which organizes secondary meanings. The centre holding together the semantic structure of this word is not one of the meanings but a certain component that can be easily singled out within each separate meaning. And this brings us to the second level of analysis of the semantic structure of a word.

At the second level of analysis each separate meaning may be represented as sets of semantic components. These components are not part of the vocabulary but rather theoretical elements. The study of semantic components of each separate meaning is the aim of componential analysis. Componential analysis is one of the modern methods of semantic research.

Thus, the semantic structure of the word is not just a system of meanings, for each separate meaning is subject to further subdivision and possesses an inner structure of its own. The semantic structure of a word should be investigated at both levels: the level of different meanings and at the level of semantic components within each separated meaning. For the words with one meaning the first level is excluded.

Semantic components may be of different types. The leading semantic component in the semantic structure of a word is called denotative or referential component. The denotative component expresses the conceptual content of a word. For example, the denotative component of the English verbs to glare, to glance, to look is to look. But in such a way the meanings of these verbs will be described only partially and incompletely. To have a full picture of the meaning of each verb, it is necessary to add some other semantic components. They are called connotative components or just connotations.

Then the verb to glare may be described as the denotative component to look + a connotative component steadily, lastingly + a connotative component in anger, rage, etc.  The connotative component steadily, lastingly introduces connotation of duration. The connotative component in anger, rage, etc. introduces emotive connotation.

The verb to glance consists of the denotative component to look and a connotative component briefly, passingly. The connotative component introduces connotation of duration.

The verb to look has only the denotative component look.

So, the word may have no connotation, one connotation or several connotations. Connotations may be of different types: emotive, evoluative, stylistic, of duration, of cause, of manner. We shall discuss them while speaking about synonymy.

3. It is generally known that most words have several meanings. A word possessing several meanings is called polysemantic. The ability of words to have more than one meaning is described by the term polysemy. Polysemy is not an anomaly. Most English words are polysemantic. The expressive resources of a language depend on the degree to which polysemy has developed in the language. One may think that if there is a need to apply to one word several meanings, it means that the language lacks in words. But it is exactly the opposite. If each word is capable to convey more than one concept, for example, two concepts, then the expressive potential of the whole vocabulary of any language increases twofold. A well-developed polysemy is not a drawback but an advantage in a language.

On the other hand, the number of sound combinations that human speech organs can produce is limited. At a certain stage of language development the production of new words by morphological means becomes limited. Polysemy becomes important in providing the means for enriching the vocabulary.

The system of meanings of a polysemantic word develops gradually, mostly over the centuries. The complicated process of polysemy development involve both the appearance of new meanings and the loss of old ones. The general tendency with English vocabulary at the modern stage of its history is to increase the total number of its meanings.



       5. Linguistic literature abounds in classifications of types of lexical meaning. The following classification reflects relationships existing between different meanings of a word at the same period of time. For example, the word screen is in its direct meaning when it names a piece of furniture used to hide something or protect somebody. The meaning is figurative when the word is applied to anything which protects by hiding, as in smoke screen. We define this meaning as figurative comparing it to the first that we call direct. The meaning a piece of furniture of the word screen is at the same time the main meaning of this word. The main meaning is that which possesses the highest frequency at the present stage of vocabulary development. All the other meanings of the word screen are secondary meanings. The meaning a piece of furniture is concrete in comparison with the abstract meaning the word screen has in the following combinations: screen actor, screen star, screen version etc.

The meanings can be classified not only by comparing them inside the semantic structure of the word but according to the style and sphere of language in which they may occur. All the meanings are classified into stylistically neutral and stylistically coloured. Stylistically coloured meanings may be subdivided into bookish and colloquial. Bookish ones may be general, poetical, scientific. Colloquial ones may be literary colloquial, familiar colloquial, slang.

From a historical point of view the meaning may be:

-etymological, that is the earliest known meaning,

-archaic, that is the meaning superseded at present by a newer one but still remaining in certain collocations;

-obsolete, that is gone out of use;

-present-day meaning, that is the most frequent in the present-day language;

-original meaning serving as basis for the derived ones.

Certain meanings can be realized only in a given phraseological unit, they are called phraseologically bound meanings and they are opposed to free meanings.

Prototypical meaning is believed to be readily translatable into other languages. Peripheral meanings are least translatable.

It is very important to underline that one and the same meaning can at once belong, in accordance with different points, to different groups of meanings.


Lecture # 7

Semantic changes


1. Causes of semantic changes.

2. Main ways of semantic changes: specialization, generalization, metaphor, metonymy.

3. Secondary ways of semantic changes: elevation, degradation, hyperbole, litotes.


9. Антрушина Г.Б., Афанасьева О.В., Морозова Н.Н. Лексикология английского языка: Учеб. пособие для студентов. – М.: Дрофа, 1999. – 288 с.

10. Арнольд И.В. Лексикология современного английского языка: Учеб. для ин-тов и фак. иностр. яз. – М.: ВШ, 1986. – 295 с.

11. Гвишиани Н.Б. Современный английский язык: Лексикология (новый курс для филологических факультетов университетов). – М.: МГУ, 2000. – 221 с.

12. Дубенец Э.М. Современный английский язык. Лексикология: Пособие для студентов гуманитарных вузов. – М. / СПб.: ГЛОССА / КАРО, 2004. – 192 с.


Causes of semantic changes

The meaning of a word can change in the course of time. Changes of lexical meanings can be proved by comparing contextx of different times. Transfer of the meaning is called lexico-semantic wordbuilding. In such cases the outer aspect of a word does not change.

The causes of semantic changes can be extra-linguistic and linguistic. For example: the change of the lexical meaning of the noun pen was due to extra-linguistic causes. Primarily pen comes back to the Latin word penna (a feather of the bird). As people wrote with goose pens the name was transferred to steel pens which were later on used for writing. Still later any instrument for writing was called a pen.

Causes of semantic changes can be linguistic. For example: the noun tide in Old English denoted time, season, hour. When the French words time, season, hour (temps, saison, heur) were borrowed into English they ousted the word tide in these meanings. It was specialized and now means regular rise and fall of the sea caused by attraction of the moon.

The meaning of a word can also change due to the ellipsis. For example: the word-group a train of carriages had the meaning of a row of carriages. Later on the component of carriages was dropped and the noun train changed its meaning. It is used now in the function and with the meaning of the whole word-group.

Semantic changes have been classified by different scientists. The most complete classification was suggested by a German scientist Herman Paul in his book ‘Принципы истории языка’. This classification is based on the logical principle. He distinguishes:

a) two main ways where the semantic change is gradual (specialization and generalization),

b) two main ways where the semantic change is momentary (metaphor and metonymy),

c) two secondary ways where the semantic change is gradual (elevation and degradation),

d) two secondary ways where the semantic change is momentary (hyperbole and litotes).


It is a gradual process when a word passes from a general sphere to some special sphere of communicaton. For example: the word case has a general meaning circumstances in which a person or a thing is. It is specialized in its meaning when used in law (a lawsuit), in grammar (a form in the paradigm of a noun), in medecine (a patient, an illness). The difference between these meanings is revealed in the context.

The meaning of a word can specialize when it remains in the general usage. It happens in the case of the conflict between two synonyms when one of them must specialize in its meaning to remain in the language. For example: the word meat had the meaning food and this meaning is preserved in the compound sweetmeats. The meaning edible flesh was formed when the word food, the synonym of the word meat won in the conflict of absolute synonyms.

Another example: the English verb to starve was specialized in its meaning after the Scandinavian word to die was borrowed into English. The word to die became the general verb with this meaning because in English there were the noun death and the adjective dead beginning with the same consonant d. The verb to starve got the meaning to die of hunger.

One more way of specialization is the formation of proper names from common nouns. For example: Oxford – a university town in England which was built near the place where oxen could ford the river. The Tower originally meant a fortress and palace, later – a prison, now – a museum.


It is a process contrary to specialization when the meaning of a word becomes more general in the course of time. For example: the word ready meant prepared for a ride. Now its meaning is prepared for anything. The word journey was borrowed from French with the meaning one day trip as jour means a day in French. Now it means a trip of any duration.


It is transfer of the meaning on the basis of comparison. Metaphor can be based on different types of similarity:

· similarity of shape: head (of a cabbage), bottleneck, teeth (of a saw, a comb);

· similarity of position: foot (of a page, of a mountain), head (of a procession);

· similarity of function, behaviour: a whip (an official in the British Parliament whose duty is to see that members were present at the voting), a bookworm (a person who is fond of books);

· similarity of colour: orange, hazel, chestnut.

In some cases we have a complex similarity. For example: the leg of a table has a similarity to a human leg in its shape, position and function.

Many metaphors are based on parts of a human body: an eye of a needle, arms and mouth of a river, head of an army.

A special type of metaphor is when proper names become common nouns: vandals – destructive people, a Don Juan – a lover of many women etc.


It is a transfer of the meaning on the basis of contiguity. There are different types of metonymy:

· the material of which an object is made may become the name of an object: a glass, an iron etc;

· the name of the place may become the name of the people or of an object placed there: the House (members of Parliament), the White House (the Administration of the USA) etc;

· names of musical instruments may become names of musicians when they are united in an orchestra: the violin, the piano etc;

· the name of some person may become a common noun: boycott was originally the name of an Irish family who were so much disliked by their neighbours that they did not mix with them;

· names of inventors very often become terms to denote things they invented: watt, om, kalashnikov etc;

· geographical names can become common nouns: china (porcelain), astrakhan (a sheep fur), holland (linen fabrics) etc.

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