List of derivation methods

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The purpose of this page is to collect a fairly comprehensive list of derivational morphology methods (e.g., affixes) which can be used to derive more vocabulary from existing roots. Several existing conlangs have extensive derivational morphology methods (e.g., Volapük, Esperanto, Ithkuil, Ladekwa, and many others), but as far as we can tell there is no comprehensive list comparing all their affix inventories, those of natural languages, and other possible ways to derive more words from roots.

Gary Shannon has made a start at a list of derivation functions (dead link).

Good sources would include the Ithkuil site, the Ladekwa site, the gjâ-zym-byn site, a list of Esperanto affixes, & ditto for Volapük and Ido. Rick Harrison's article on "Verb Aspect" (dead link) covers several possibilities for using aspect-marking to derive one verb/action word from another.

Other resources include these CONLANG mailing list threads:

And this konyalanguage mailing list thread, on semantic conversions between nouns, verbs, modifiers and adpositions:

And this list of types of noun-noun compounds by Ivan Derzhanski and John Cowan.

This list can't be exhaustive of the possibilities. For instance, in Hixkaryana several of the verb > noun patterns can involve tense distinctions; in addition to some of the affixes mentioned below there are others with the same basic meaning but a different tense. Esperanto does a limited amount of this with its tense/aspect distinctions in participles.

List of affixation semantic patterns Edit

Verb > Verb

Derivation pattern Example derivations Conlang and Natlang parallels
Opposite (reverse action) - agent and patient remain the same, action of the verb changes earn <==> spend

stretch <==> squeeze

borrow <==> repay

do <==> undo

emphasise <==> de-emphasise

English "un-", "de-"

Esperanto "mal-" Azjherben Ab.JPG

Opposite/passivization - agent and patient or experiencer and focus swap places to hit > to be hit by

to like > to be pleasing to

to see > be seen by

Ceqli "be-"
Opposite (complementary action) - swap agent of ditransitive verb with source/recipient, leaving patient the same

Or more simply, add 'back' (move > move back / return)

throw <==> catch

lend <==> borrow

give <==> receive

gjâ-zym-byn "-θaj"
Causative from other verb (increase transitivity, turn impersonal verb into agent-intransitive, intransitive verb into transitive, transitive into ditransitive) to rain > to water (plants, etc.)

to die > to kill

to have > to give

Navaho "-ł"

Maori "whaka-" Kele "te-"

Motion purpose: go somewhere in order to do VERB to buy > to go shopping Mandarin "lái-"
Scattering, chaosizing break > shatter

fall > fall apart

Volapük "dä-"
To VERB more than / to a greater degree than does NOUN be sold > outsell

perform > outperform

English "out-"
To ask to do VERB Arabic Form X (استفعل)

Noun > Noun

Derivation pattern Example derivations Conlang and Natlang parallels
Relationship > person which is in that relationship to someone else fatherhood > father

marriage > spouse

Volapük "mat" > "matan"
Place with lots of NOUN book > library

tree > forest house > city

Esperanto "-ej-"

gjâ-zym-byn "-ĵwa"

Augmentative big > huge

house > mansion

cat > lion

Hixkaryana "ymo"

English "mega-", "super-", "-zilla" Volapük "da-" and "le-" (different degrees) Esperanto "-eg" Japanese "dai-"

Pejorative man > scoundrel

child > brat

to talk > to gossip, to babble

conlang > lame relex of English

Hixkaryana "tho"

Volapük "lu-" Esperanto "-aĉ"

Relationships by marriage or remarriage derived from basic blood kinship terms sister > sister-in-law

son > stepson

English step-~, ~-in-law

Volapük "lü-" Esperanto "bo-" gjâ-zym-byn "-mla" (spouse of one's relative) and "-tôl" (relative of one's spouse)

NOUN is made from (not of) NOUN sucrose > caramel

coal > diamond

flour > bread

Finnish: -nen
Name of disease cause > name of disease caused by same amoeba > diarrhoea

Yersinia pestis > black plague

grass > hay fever

poison ivy > poison ivy

Part of the body > name of disease affecting it tonsil > tonsillitis

Adjective > Adjective

Derivation pattern Example derivations Conlang and Natlang parallels
Opposite (quality) happy > sad

clear > vague

English "un-"

French "des-"

Swedish "o-"

Volapük "ne-"

Esperanto "mal-"

Verb > Noun

Derivation pattern Example derivations Conlang and Natlang parallels
Person who is doing VERB at the moment (nominal participle) run > runner English "-er"

Esperanto "-anto" (also future "-onto" and past "-into")

Person who does VERB in company with someone else to travel > travel companion

to have sex > lover

to conspire > co-conspirator

Hixkaryana "-hɨyemɨ"

Greek "syn-" English "co-~-er/-or" Esperanto "kun-~-anto"

Person who does VERB habitually / as an amateur... conlang > conlanger English "-er"

Esperanto "-em-ul-" gjâ-zym-byn "-pja"

Person who does VERB professionally / is concerned with NOUN professionally play music > musician

teeth > dentist

English "-ist", "-er", "-or"

Esperanto "-ist-" gjâ-zym-byn "-tla"

Place where VERB is typically done to cook > kitchen

to sleep > bedroom

Hixkaryana "-toho"

Esperanto "-ej-" gjâ-zym-byn "-kô" Japanese "-sho", "-ba"

Time when VERB is typically done to sleep > night

to snow > winter

to work > workday

to rest > weekend, vacation?

Hixkaryana "-toho"
Payment received for something professional work > salary


murder > blood money

work > wages

Hixkaryana "-txhetɨ"
Tool used for doing VERB to write > writing-implement

to dig > shovel

Esperanto "-il"
Substance used for doing VERB to wash > soap

to write > ink, graphite, etc.

Esperanto "-ajx"

gjâ-zym-byn "-ha"

Body part/faculty used for doing VERB walk > legs and feet

think > mind or brain?

gjâ-zym-byn "-ŋĭw"
Thing or substance to which VERB is typically done to read > text

to eat > food

to think > ideas

gjâ-zym-byn "-kar"
Thing or substance resulting from VERB to cry > tears

to sweat (v.) > sweat (n.)

to lactate > milk

Hixkaryana "-nɨ-...-nɨ"

gjâ-zym-byn "-Φa"

NOUN = style or method of doing VERB fight > martial art

write > script, orthography

speak > language

Japanese "-kata"

Verb > Adjective

Derivation pattern Example derivations Conlang and Natlang parallels
ADJ tending to often do VERB / be ADJ think > thoughtful

forget > forgetful, absentminded

sad > depressed

English "-ful"

Esperanto "-em" Japanese "-nbō"

Noun > Verb

Derivation pattern Example derivations Conlang and Natlang parallels
VERB = to use NOUN in a typical way tongue > to lick

lips > to kiss

hammer (n.) > to hammer (v.)

English: zero-derivation with many tool words, a few body part words (e.g. finger)

Esperanto: simple "-o" > "-i" verb derivation in many cases, "-umi" in others

VERB = to have a NOUN Hixkaryana (need to look up exact suffixes used for this)
VERB = to seek NOUN Arabic Form X (استفعل)

Noun > Adjective

Derivation pattern Example derivations Conlang and Natlang parallels
ADJ pertaining to NOUN mind > mental

forest > arboreal

world > global, universal

Ido "-ala"

gjâ-zym-byn "-za" Japanese "-teki"

ADJ made of NOUN gold > golden

wood > wooden

gjâ-zym-byn "-na"
ADJ resembling, savoring of NOUN cat > catlike

mint > minty

English "-like", "-ish", "-y"

Esperanto "-eca", "-eska" gjâ-zym-byn "-tan" Japanese "-ppoi"

ADJ supplied with, having some/much NOUN money > solvent or rich

word > expressive or verbose

trash > messy

liquid > wet

English "-ful"

Volapük "-er" Esperanto -hava, -plena gjâ-zym-byn "-ža" having some amount of, "-da" having lots of

ADJ lacking or sparsely supplied with NOUN teeth > toothless

money > poor

water > dry or thirsty?

food > hungry

thing > empty

light > dark

Greek "a-"

English "-less" Esperanto "sen-~-a" gjâ-zym-byn "-ta" Japanese "mu-"

Adjective > Verb

Derivation pattern Example derivations Conlang and Natlang parallels
Causative (derive VERB "causing PATIENT to become ADJ") know > to teach

healthy > to heal

English "-ify"

Volapük "-ük"

Esperanto "-ig"

To turn COLOR red > redden English "-en"

Arabic Form IX (افعلّ)

Adjective > Noun

Derivation pattern Example derivations Conlang and Natlang parallels
Something that is ADJECTIVE white (color) > white (person)

perennial (adjective) > perennial (flowers)


Derivation pattern Example derivations Conlang and Natlang parallels
ADVERB = for the purpose of VERB Hixkaryana "-so"
ADVERB = while doing VERB Hixkaryana "-toko", "-wawo" (see Derbyshire 1979 for distinction)

Esperanto "-ante" Japanese "-nagara"

ADVERB = after doing VERB Hixkaryana "-txhe"

Esperanto "post-~-e"

List of compounding semantic patterns Edit

Compounding pattern Example derivations Conlang and Natlang parallels
HEAD which has quality MODIFIER young + person => child bluebird
a HEAD originating from MODIFIER society + language => natlang
individual + language => conlang
HEAD for the purpose/benefit of MODIFIER walk + organ => legs and feet
fly + organ => wings
baby food
refugee camp
to do verb HEAD to object MODIFIER babysit
an equal or roughly equal mixture of HEAD and MODIFIER materials sodium + chlorine => salt
fear + sadness => despair
a hybrid or combination of HEAD and MODIFIER horse + donkey => mule
human + horse => centaur
mostly HEAD with a little MODIFIER mixed in carbon + iron => steel
salt + water => saline
a HEAD made of MODIFIER material meat + cow => beef gjâ-zym-byn "ķârn-byj"

References Edit

  • Hixkaryana, Desmond C. Derbyshire. Lingua Descriptive Studies. North-Holland Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1979.

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