Grammar: Combining Form

Posted July 4, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

In exploring the Word Confusions, I kept coming across a note in brackets about the word being [as modifier], so I thought I’d explore some more. God knows lexicographers and grammarians love to come up with minute categorizations for everything in the universe that has to do with the English language.

And that’s what they’re doing here. They can’t even decide what a true combined form is. I suspect it’s most useful as a way to categorize one of the different ways a noun can be used.

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle? If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page and consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.

Combining Forms
Credit to: Dictionary.com; Dieter Kastovsky
Definition: A word that is only part of a larger word (bound morpheme). While similar to an affix (a general term for infix, prefix, and suffix), a combining form creates a new word with its own meaning. Be warned, lexicographers still haven’t made a clear distinction between combined forms and affixes (Kastovsky).

There are two types of combined forms:

Most Common Use of Combined Forms
Noun Modifier
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the primary noun
  2. Blue indicates the noun modifier

bread roll

Also see noun modifier in Noun.

Types of Combined Forms
Compound Word Definition: A compound word can be open, hyphenated, or closed. They may be permanent or temporary, compound modifiers, or words formed with prefixes, and how they are treated can depend on whether they’re adjectives, adverbs, or nouns.
matter-of-fact
policeman
Revolutionary War
ax-wielding
Derivative Definition: A word created using an independent word with a single, restricted meaning.
Independent Word Derivation Examples
Anglo Anglo- Anglo-American
electricity electro- electromagnetic
electrocardiogram
para para- parachute
paragraph
paratrooper
paramedic
paraprofessional
mini mini- miniskirt
wide -wide worldwide
citywide
nationwide
statewide
systemwide

Use a hyphen after a proper noun:
Chicago-wide

Use a hyphen after words of 3+ syllables:
university-wide

proof -proof fireproof
100-proof
waterproof
man -man headman
laundryman
huntsman
sportsman
superman
woodcraftsman
circum circum- circumambulate
circumflex
circumcise
circumstantial
hyper hyper- hyperactive
hyperacid
hyperalert
hyperaware
land -land Greenland
crashland
wasteland
dreamland
rangeland
upland
Combined with an Affix Definition: Different from an affix because it is a part of a word that combines with an affix, as one cannot create a word by combining affixes, i.e., there is no such word combining pro- + -ic.
Combining Form Added To Affix Turns Into Combined Word
cephal- + -ic = cephalic
Iceland + -ic = Icelandic
argue + -ment = argument
private + -acy = privacy
region + -al = regional
new + a- = anew
climax + anti- = anticlimax
spatter + be- = bespatter
attack + counter- = counterattack
Borrowed From Another Language Definition: An independent or combined-form word borrowed from another language.
Descriptive Word


Combined Form
(indicated by a hyphen)
Country of Origin Defined As Examples
mal French badly malady
malodorous
malnourishment
malfunction
micro- Greek extremely small microbiology
microcomputer
microprocessor
microcosm
microscopic
photo- Greek light photosynthesis
photolithography
photobiology
photography
kako- Greek bad, unpleasant, incorrect cacography
cacophony
-graphy Latin from Greek writing biography
hagiography
photography
stenography
bio- Greek life biography
biology
biophysics
biotechnology

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