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Distinguished From Combinations Of Words English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1288 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Composition as a way of word-formation was very productive since Old English period and remains one of the most active types of word-building in Modern English. More than one third of neologisms in English are compound words.

The goal of this research is to investigate what is a compound word, how it is built and how it can be distinguished from combinations of words.

Enabling Objectives:

to study the theory of the topic;

to analyze gathered information;

to draw relevant conclusions

The hypothesis of the given work is that compounds play enormous role in English word formation.

The methods of research

Theoretical method (reading and analysing the theory of the word-formation in English language, composition);

Practical method (searching compounds in Old English, and using

Review of the literature :

All the materials used by the author while doing this research were theoretical.

Compounds and their criteria

“Compound words are words consisting of at least two stems which occur in the language as free forms” (Арнольд 1986:108). There are compound words among all notional parts of speech, but mostly among nouns and adjectives: synchronic word-formation system of English has a nominal character.

Compound words are inseparable vocabulary units which are formally and semantically dependent on their components and relations between them.

In Old English domineering structural patters of composition were: noun + noun, adjective + noun, noun + adjective. Here are some examples:

Ä«s (ice, noun) + ceald (cold, adjective) = Ä«s-ceald (ice-cold, compound) [Online 1]

In Middle English period compound nouns were numerous, for example tablecloth, penknife. New compounds consisted of preposition

All the existing classifications of compound words represent a modified classification of Old Sanskrit Grammar where nominative compound words are subdivided into copulative (woman-doctor), determinative (air-mail) and exocentric (cut-throat) which are not typical of the English language.

“As English compounds consist of free forms it is difficult to distinguish them from” combinations of words. [Online 2] What is the difference between a slow coach and a slowcoach? There are several criteria which can help to differentiate between them.

1.. Phonological criterion. Almost all compounds with a few exceptions always show a high stress on the first element. Compound adjectives are doubled-stressed: ‘easy-‘going, “snow-‘white.

2. Morphological criterion. Criterion of Formal Integrity was introduced by

A.I. Smirnitsky. Comparing “shipwreck” and “wreck of a ship” with identical sets of morphemes and identical meaning he states that they differ. A word is characterized by structural integrity which is absent in a word-combination. Grammatical formants are added to the whole compound not to every component: shipwrecks, shipwreck’s.

3. Syntactic criterion. We have no right to modify any component of a compound word or to change their order or to insert any word into its structure. L. Bloomfield points out that the word ‘black’ in the phrase ‘black birds’ can be modified by ‘very’, ‘very black birds’, but never in a compound ‘blackbirds’.

4. Graphical criterion. Compound words may have solid, hyphened and even separate spelling. The lack of uniformity in spelling makes this criterion insufficient and highly unreliable.

The historical development of compounds and their Classsification

Not all the compound words inherited by the vocabulary of English are preserved in the language in their primary form having undergone various phonetic changes, which reduced them to simple or root words. This process is called simplification of stems.

The form of a compound word and its pronounciation may be changed so that it is hardly recognizable. The following examples serve as illustration: woman = wifmann (Old English, woman person), husband = husbonda (Old English, master of the house, ‘bua’ – to dwell).

There are three ways to classify compound words.

1. Structural classification. “Structurally, compounds are distinguished as endocentric (bookcase, sunrise), exocentric (cut-throat, daredevil), buhuvrihi [1] (bigwig, greenhorn) and syntactic compounds” which correlate with phrases (baby-sitter) (Арнольд 1986 :123)

2. According to the type of composition compounds are divided into 3 groups:

a) Juxtaposition without linking elements (Арнольд 1986:123): heartache, bookcase, film-star.

b) Compounds with linking vowel and consonant (Арнольд 1986:123): Afro-American, speedometer, handicraft.

c) “Compounds with linking elements represented by preposition and conjunction stems” (Арнольд 1986:123): bread-and-butter, father-in-law. There are also lexicalized phrases like (Арнольд 1986:123) forget-me-not, devil-may-care, dog-in-the-manger.

3. According to the structure of immediate constituents (later in the research IC) compounds are divided into four groups:

a) “Compounds consisting of simple stems” (Арнольд 1986:123): bottle-neck, stare-gaze;

b) Compounds where one IC is derived (Арнольд 1986:123): beef-eater;

c) Compounds where one IC is clipped: X-mas (Christmas) (Арнольд 1986:123);

d) Compounds where one IC is compound: wastepaper-basket (Арнольд 1986:123).

specific features of english compounds

The majority of English compounds consist of free forms where combining elements are rare and possess a regular two-stem pattern.

Any element playing an attributive function and standing before the main word may be united with it and form a compound word: two-year course, last-minute preparation.

Derivational compounds contain two free stems and suffix referring to the whole combination: blue-eyed. There are also a lot of nonce-words among them: save-your-own-soul-ism.

A special group of compounds is constituted by reduplicative compounds: reduplicative compounds proper, ablaut combinations and rhyme combinations.

New word-forming patterns in composition revealing the influence of extra-linguistic factors can be illustrated by such compounds as teach-in, phone-in, sit-in, etc. These combinations contain a connotation of public protest.

Compound words are frequent among nouns and adjectives but the existence of compound verbs in Modern English can be doubted. ‘To blacklist’, ‘to over-flow’ are often called compound verbs. However, for example, ‘to house-keep’, ‘to hitch-hike’ are created not by composition but by back-formation and conversion if treated diachronically.


To conclude the results of the research it is important to state that after having read and analyzed the theory of composition as a way of English word-formation the author of the research came to the conclusion that compounds have a long history and are one of the most popular ways of word-building in English language. It should be also mentioned that not a single criterion mentioned it the research is sufficient to establish whether we deal with a combination of words or a compound word.


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