View table of contents for this book View table of contents for LinguaLinksLibrary Go to LinguaLinks home page

What is derivation?



Derivation is the formation of a new word or inflectable stem from another word or stem. It typically occurs by the addition of an affix.


The derived word is often of a different word class from the original. It may thus take the inflectional affixes of the new word class.


In contrast to inflection, derivation

  • is not obligatory
  • typically produces a greater change of meaning from the original form, and
  • is more likely to result in a form which has a somewhat idiosyncratic meaning.
  • often changes the grammatical category of a root
Examples (English)
  • Kindness is derived from kind.
  • Joyful is derived from joy.
  • Amazement is derived from amaze.
  • Speaker is derived from speak.
  • National is derived from nation.

Derivational operations

  • tend to be idiosyncratic and non-productive
  • do not occur in well-defined 'paradigms,' and
  • are 'optional' insofar as they

    • shape the basic semantic content of roots and
    • are not governed by some other syntactic operation or element.
  Here are some kinds of derivation:

Here are some kinds of derivational operations:

  • Operations that change the grammatical category of a root

    Example: Nominalization (English)

    Verbs and adjectives can be turned into nouns: amaze >amazement, speak >speaker, perform >performance, soft >softness, warm >warmth

  • Operations that change the valence (transitivity) of a root, and

    Example: Causation (Swahili)

    kula 'to eat' > kulisha, 'to feed'

  Derivation is a kind of
See also

Crystal 1985 89


Mish 1991 342


Hartmann and Stork 1972 62


Bybee 1985 81–82, 99


Payne, T. 1997a 25–26

Context for this page:

Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 5.0 published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 2003. [Ordering information.]

Page content last modified: 5 January 2004

© 2004 SIL International