Word formation

In linguistics, word formation is the creation of a new word. Word formation is sometimes contrasted with semantic change, which is a change in a single word's meaning. The boundary between word formation and semantic change can be difficult to define as a new use of an old word can be seen as a new word derived from an old one and identical to it in form. See 'conversion'.


There are a number of methods of word formation.





A lexical blend is a complex word typically made of two word fragments. Some examples are smog, which comes from smoke and fog, and brunch, from breakfast and lunch.



A calque is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word or root-for-root translation. For example, the English phrase to lose face is a calque from the Chinese "丟臉/丢脸".

A subcategory of calques is the semantic loan, that is, the extension of the meaning of a word to include new, foreign meanings.


A neologism is a process of forming a new word by coining such as quark.

Subcategories of neologisms include:

  • The eponym, a proper noun that becomes commonly used for an idea it is associated with, usually by changing its part of speech, like Xerox, Orwellian, and Stentorian
  • The loanword, a word borrowed from another language, as cliché is from French or loot from Hindi
  • An onomatopoeic word, a word which imitates natural sounds, like the bird name cuckoo
  • Formation using phono-semantic matching, that is, matching a foreign word with a phonetically and semantically similar, pre-existing native word or root



  • Hadumod Bussmann (1996), Routledge Dictionary of Language and Linguistics, London: Routledge.
  • Ein internationales Handbuch zur Natur und Struktur von Wörtern und Wortschätzen, [Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft 21], Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, vol. 1, pp. 1142-1178.
  • Ghil'ad Zuckermann (2003). Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan. (Palgrave Studies in Language History and Language Change). ISBN 978-1-4039-3869-5.

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