Deriving Words in English (Lexicalization)

When you are learning English, you’ll probably end up with moments where your current English vocabulary is insufficient. After years of work to learn tenses and other grammar rules and finally saying, “I have learned it”, you might feel disappointed since you do know the meaning of certain words even though you understand the sentence structures. Although years past, it might not be possible to learn all English words. But with some tips, you can easily understand most of the words when you see or hear them for the first time. To do that, you need to learn various suffixes, prefixes and their usage purpose. Here are some tips to rapidly improve your English vocabulary and increase your ability to deriving words in English, understand the texts and talks.

Affixes to Lexicalizing in English

Although there are suffixes in the English language, the majority of the affixes are used as prefixes. Therefore, you need to use prefixes to drive new words in English.


As you can see in the “operate – cooperate” example, the word operate that is used as “to make it work” transforms into “to work together” when “co” prefix is added.

Founder – co-founder

Existence – co-existence


Coup – contra coup. Attack – counter-attack. As in this example, you can use the “counter” word for representing the opposition.


Hydration – dehydration

Motivation – demotivation


Connect – disconnect:


Legal – illegal.

Like “il-” prefix, “im-” prefix can also be used for similar purposes. “Mortal – immortal” can be given as an example of this usage. Another prefix that can be used in this manner is “un-”. For example; “usual – unusual”.


National – international


Understood – misunderstood

Leading – misleading

Perception – misperception


Cultural – multicultural

Lateral – multilateral


Governmental – non-governmental


Perform – outperform

Live – outlive


Thinking – overthinking


Apocalyptic – post-apocalyptic

Production – post-production

Operation – post-operation


Mature – premature

Service – preservice


Incarnation – reincarnation

Iteration – reiteration


Title – subtitle

Atomic – subatomic

Tropical – sub-tropical

African – sub-African


Market – supermarket.


Serial – uniserial.

Generally, “mono-” prefix has a similar function. For example; “lingual – monolingual”.


Pressure – underpressure

Estimate – underestimate

Lexicalizing with Suffixed in English

Although suffixes are not common in the English language, you can lexicalize some new words.


In general, -er suffix is used for an individual that completes an act in the English language. For example; “teach – teacher”.


Although -ian suffix is used similarly to -er suffix, this suffix is mainly used for defining specific occupations. For example; “optic – optician”.


You can use -ment suffix for showing the name form of a verb. For example; “improve – improvement”.


You can use -ism suffix often for expressing thought movements. For example; “real – realism”.


Again, -ist suffix in the English language is used for defining the individuals in thought movements. For example; “realism – realist”.

Affixes Used in English to Derive Verbs from Names

In the English language, some words with a suffix turn that words into action or verb instead of giving that word a new meaning.


False – falsify


Modern – modernize

Affixes Used in English to Derive Adjectives from Names

Some suffixes in the English language turn certain words into adjectives. When you know these suffixes, you can easily understand most of the adjectives.


-ic suffix in the English language is used to give the meaning of recalling or resembling. For example; “idiot – idiotic”, “period – periodic”.


-proof suffix adds a resistance property to the word and it is used similar to -resistant. “Bullet – bulletproof” or “water – water-resistant” can be given as examples.


-free suffix makes the word ineffective and this suffix is popular in the English language. For example; “alcohol – alcohol-free”.


-less suffix shows that the word does not exist and this suffix generally has a negative effect on contrary to -free. For example; “hope – hopeless”.

Using English Words As Both Names and Verbs: Conversion:

Some verbs in the English language can be used as both names and verbs without any affix. For example, while “text” is the name, “texting” is the verb form of this word. Generally, “up” and “down” affixes can transform the words into different meanings by making them into “phrasal verbs”.

Deriving New Words By Combining Different Word Roots in English Compounding:

“Compounding” is the combination of all tips to derive new words in English. For example, when you combine two different words like “baby” and “sitting”, you will end up with “babysitting”. Similarly, when you combine two different words like “heart” and “breaking”, you will have “heart-breaking”.

Words Derived from Irregular Verbs in English

Irregular verbs that might not be seen in other languages are commonly used in the English language. While there is no other alternative to learn irregular verbs than memorizing, you can use these verbs for various purposes once you memorize them. As you can use irregular verbs as the third form of English verbs, you can also use them to derive new words or understand the meaning of derived words. For example, you can combine “break” and “chair” words to have “broken chair”. Similarly, you can use the present tense in English to derive new words. You can have “bodybuilding” by combining “body” and “building” words.

In addition to all these methods, the majority of words in the English language including technology, decoration, clothing and food are unchanged in many other languages. If you are unsure about the meanings of these common words, you can think of what that word makes you recall. Although this tactic cannot be interpreted as “similar words in English and other languages always have the same meaning”, it can save you in some instances.

Of course, you need to practice to make all these permanent. With English Ninjas platform, you can practice with native English speaking tutors anytime, anywhere, on any topic and on any device.

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