Language Arts St Robert’s Newtown


There is another way to form words in English that doesn’t involve adding affixes to bases. Instead, when two bases are put together, they form a compound.

It’s a good idea to point this out and also an interesting exercise to watch compounding over time.

Humans lean towards economy when they communicate, for example, acronyms and abbreviations are everywhere. There isn’t a school day that goes by where educators didn’t shorten their terms for the sake fo communication economy:

“I’ve just spoken to the AP about Johnny’s ILP” etc. etc.

New words are born for new concepts, and sometimes we have to associate words in order to communicate about these concepts. It saves us having to invent completely new words. German is particularly adept at this and actually goes as far as leaving no spaces between words when new words are formed. The wonderful Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, meaning “the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labeling of beef”, has now been de-commissioned since the European Mad Cow no longer troubles the German government. It demonstrates the point quite well though.

In English, compound words often begin as two separate words (tennis racquet). Sometimes, they start to lean towards each other by virtue of a hyphen (trick-shot) and indeed, if their adjacent borders are friendly to one another in sound and/or meaning, they often become one word (trickshot but not so much dogs-expo).

In fact, all compound words are formed in this way. Some sequences of words have a different meaning when brought together than when they are apart (apart is an example). This can cause confusion in some quarters and outrage in others. Take the words every and day. When they are adjacent in a sentence they mean ‘on all days’, but when together they mean ‘ordinary’. Does anyone else feel a pang of righteous pique when they see signs like “Breakfast served everyday”? Really? What do I have to do to get a special breakfast around here?

This is happening quite frequently these days with words like every and any. This change threatens to offend many, but change will continue nevertheless. Or is it never the less?

Course Navigation