5 Ways of Forming New English Words

English, just like any other living language, is dynamic. As civilizations progress, the language that people speak changes along with it. Intentionally or not, people invent new words every now and then to better express what they mean or just for the fun. Words like “adorkable,” (being socially inept in an endearing way) and “hangry” (being irritable as a result of hunger) have started becoming popular in both online and off-line conversations. Nouns like “Google” and “commute,” as well as adjectives like “clean” and “perfect” can now act as verbs. But how exactly are words created? The following is a list of how words are formed and added to the lexicon of a language.


A lot of us may think that there are plenty of English words that exist in this planet, but did you know that many of those came from other languages? They are called “borrowings,” “borrowed words,” or “loanwords.” For example, “chocolate,” which came to English after passing through Spanish, was initially xocolatl in modern-day Mexico’s Nahuatl language. “Entrepreneur” came from the French words entre, which means “between,” and preneur, which means “parts.” “Ninja,” which is used to describe a person who can move and attack silently without being seen, is actually a Japanese word that means “spy.” It is estimated that the origins of modern English can be broken down as follows: Latin, 29%; French, 29%; Germanic languages, 26%; Greek, 6%; other languages, 6%; and proper name derivations, 4%.


Whiteboard, paper clip, and keyboard: three words that can be found in almost any office space. These words have something else in common than being existent in a workplace: they are all compounds. Compounding is like putting two Lego blocks together—we combine two words, which may come from the same or different word class, to create a new one. Some examples are the nouns “toothpaste” (noun + noun) and “greenhouse” (adjective + noun), the verbs “freeze-dry” (verb + verb) and “overthrow” (adverb + verb), and the adjectives “blue-green” (adjective + adjective) and “online” (preposition + adjective). Compounds can be written as one word (e.g., rainfall), two hyphenated words (e.g., air-condition), or two separate words (e.g., brightly lit). If you are not sure how to write them, then you may want to use a dictionary or avail of proofreading services.


English speakers are indeed very creative when it comes to making up new words. Did you know that, aside from compounds, there are English words called “portmanteaus”? These are a type of blend words in which the beginning of one word is combined with the final part of another word. Some of the most common portmanteaus are “advertorial” (advertisement + editorial), “brunch” (breakfast + lunch), “motel” (motor + hotel), “newscast” (news + broadcast), and “smog” (smoke + fog). Aside from portmanteaus, there is another type of blend words, albeit less common, in the English language. These words are formed by taking the first part of one word and the first part of another word, and then merging them into one. Some examples are “cyborg” (cybernetic + organism), “modem” (modulator + demodulator), and “sitcom” (situation + comedy).

Functional shift

If you have read most of William Shakespeare’s works, you would know that one of the distinctive features of his writing is his use of functional shift. Also known as “zero derivation,” functional shift is a process of forming words by assigning an existing word to a different word class or syntactic category. For instance, in Act 3, Scene 6, of King Lear, Edgar comments: “He childed as I fathered.” Here, we can see that the nouns “child” and “father” have made a shift and became verbs. While some Grammar Nazis cannot abide the “verbing” of nouns and adjectives, an even greater number of English speakers believe that one of the best things about English is that we can use words so flexibly to better express ourselves and be easily understood. As a result, we can now see nouns like “butter,” “Google,” and “mail,” as well as adjectives like “clean,” “empty,” and “second” being used as verbs in everyday communication. So instead of saying “I sent you an e-mail,” you could say “I e-mailed you.” Isn’t that convenient?


Did you know that “edit” was actually formed from “editor”? This is an example of back-formation, which is the process of creating a new word by omitting actual or supposed affixes from an already existing one. W.F. Bolton, in his book A Living Language: The History and Structure of English, mentioned that back-formation continues to make a few contributions to language. For instance, “television” has given us “televise,” whereas “donation” has given us “donate.” In addition, the words “babysitter” and “stage manager” have provided us with “babysit” and “stage manage,” respectively. Some other examples of back-derivations may sound weird or even funny. In American English, “burgle” (which was back-formed from “burglar”) as well as “effuse,” “laze,” and “metamorphose” continue to have a jocular effect.

Coming up with new English words is fun. In fact, many lexicographers encourage us to continue doing so for us to better convey our ideas and get our meanings across. Like, wow, that could make us word ninjas, right? However, we should keep in mind that we are still bound to follow English grammar rules. Some word formations can possibly make our sentences sound silly, clunky, or even ridiculous. Just remember—language is supposed to make expressing ourselves easier, not harder! That is why it is essential to seek professional editing services before having your works published. Lexcode Inc., an ISO 9001:2015–certified translation company located at the heart of Makati, Philippines, offers proofreading, copyediting, substantive editing, and style guide editing services. They have a pool of skilled editors who can check the accuracy of foreign words and eliminate awkward functional shifts in your written documents, may they be advertorials, essays, manuals, and whatnot. So what are you waiting for? Call +63-2-553-3861 or e-mail [email protected] now.