Vocabulary

How New English Words are Born (Part 2)

The ability of English to evolve constantly as a language can be put down to several factors, one being that native speakers of the language relish playing with it, resulting in new vocabulary being invented all the time.

Of course, not all new words make it into the dictionary; nor do they manage to stay put if they get listed, for that matter. In a previous post we spoke about some ways in which new English words are born; here are some more ways in which new words enter the English language. 

3. Blending

Blending is the process of creating a new word, called a blend or portmanteau word, by combining parts of existing words. This method of coining new words by putting together the beginning of one word and the end of another has been around for centuries now. Even though there are no hard and fast rules about how to form a blend, it is noticeable that at least one of the words involved in the fusion has something chopped off it. Here are some examples of blends.

BlendCombination of
brunchbreakfast + lunch
smogsmoke + fog
flexitarianflexible + vegetarian
freemiumfree + premium

4. Conversion

This refers to the method of changing a word from one word class (e.g. noun, verb, adjective, adverb) to another. To put it another way, a new word can be formed by simply changing the grammatical function of an existing word. So, the next time you say that you will email or download something, think about this: you are using English words that originally began life as nouns. 

Here are some more nouns that later became verbs: friend, bomb, email, text, elbow, blog, lace, chair, drink, divorce, intern, model, voice.

5. Back-formation

When we form words with back-formation, we chop off a part of an already existing word that is considered to be an affix. This method is most commonly employed to make verbs out of nouns. 

Back-formationExisting word
absorbabsorption
babysitbabysitter
burgleburglar
editeditor

6. Loanwords

Perhaps the most straightforward way to create new words is to borrow them from other languages. Over the years, English has borrowed generously from other languages, some of which are Latin, French, German, Japanese, Spanish and Hindi. When English speakers come across a word in a foreign language that describe something that they don’t yet have a word for, they tend to borrow it. Here are some popular loanwords:

LoanwordLanguage borrowed from
pandaNepali
kindergartenGerman
shampooHindi
caféFrench
platonicGreek
karaokeJapanese

Do not forget to read the final part in this series if you wish to know about some more methods of inventing new words.

Visit the British Council’s Learn English website.

How New English Words are Born (Part 1)

English has to be the most dynamic language around, forever evolving and adapting to the needs of its users. Year by year a great number of words enter the language, while some others leave. The marked rate at which English has expanded in recent years is a good indication that it has managed to keep pace with changing times and technology.

Having a basic understanding of how new words are created can be handy. If you know how new words enter the language, you will be better placed to identify strategies to help you cope with new language. Let us take a closer look at some ways in which new English words are born:

1. Affixation

A letter or a group of letters, known as an affix, can be added to the beginning or end of a word to make new words that express new ideas. This method of using a prefix (affix added at the beginning) or suffix (affix added at the end) to create new words is called affixation.  

PrefixMeaningExample
micro-extremely smallmicrobe, microscope
post-afterpostgraduate, postnatal
tri-threetriangle, tricycle
re-againreconsider, rewrite
SuffixMeaningExample
-doma state of beingboredom, martyrdom
-er / -ora person whoexplorer, narrator
-ismdoctrine / beliefBuddhism, communism
-nessa state of beinggoodness, sadness

As you can see, it isn’t too difficult to work out the meaning of such words, as prefixes and suffixes are often attached to words that already have known definitions. However, prefixes don’t usually change the word class of the words they modify (e.g. cycle, tricycle → noun), whereas suffixes often change the form entirely (e.g. explore → verb, explorer → noun). 

2. Compounding

Compounding is the process of making up a fresh word by joining two or more independent words. Although compounds are found in all word classes, the most common types are nouns. Here are some examples:

NounsVerbsAdjectivesAdverbs
bus stopbabysitheartbreakingnevertheless
rock bandchain-smokesugar-freeself-consciously

When existing words are combined to form a compound, it could sometimes carry a meaning that is different to what the individual parts convey. The noun fur baby, for instance, refers to a person’s pet animal with fur, such as a cat or dog, especially when it receives the kind of love and attention that a child would receive from its parent. 

The next couple of parts in this series will introduce you to more types of word formation.

Visit the British Council’s Learn English website.

Using Current Affairs to Develop IELTS Vocabulary (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this blog series, we identified the benefits of building your IELTS vocabulary and why it may be a good idea for test takers to form a keen interest in current affairs.

Remember, though, that keeping abreast of the latest news will not automatically turn you into a wordsmith.  

How to boost your IELTS vocabulary

Here is some advice to help you build sufficient vocabulary for the test.

  • Do not learn words in isolation

There is enough evidence to underline the fact that it is a lot more rewarding to learn words in chunks than in isolation. Collocation is an area that your Examiner will rate you on, which means your grasp of the relationship between words is important. When you spot a new word that you would like to learn, look for other words that collocate with it. That way, you will get more bang for your buck!

  • Be on the lookout for useful language

News stories are normally full of catchy vocabulary. You may be tempted to learn a new word or phrase that appears fancy, but always ask yourself this first – will it help you in the IELTS test? If the answer is a no, move on without hesitation. 

  • Organise the vocabulary you wish to learn

Motivate the learner in you; record new vocabulary in a way that makes learning easy and structured. If you are new to this, a quick Google search should fetch you more ideas than you would possibly need.

  • Discover activities that can help you use new language

While it is important that you record new vocabulary diligently, you IELTS band scores will depend mostly on your active vocabulary, i.e. words you can use when you speak or write. Search online for activities that might help you retain new vocabulary better.

  • Find news stories that interest you

Do not feel pressured to follow trending news stories. Instead, choose topics that are appealing so that you do not lose interest midway. That said, always have one eye on news items related to common IELTS topics so that you get rewarded for your efforts with a high IELTS band score on vocabulary. 

Lastly, remember to learn a little every day and have fun doing it. You are more likely to retain language that way.

Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary (Part 3)


Image courtesy of Jil Wright via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

So far in the series, we’ve spoke about four different ways to increase your word power: reading extensively, learning words in context, listening, and practising using new words. Here are two more tips to help build your vocabulary.

5. Keep a dictionary close at hand, always

When it comes to vocabulary building, an obvious place to start would be somewhere you are likely to encounter thousands of new words: a dictionary. If you don’t have one, invest in one, for a good dictionary is worth its weight in gold. Maybe you prefer to do things the old-fashioned way by consulting a printed, unabridged version. Or maybe you wish to have something more sophisticated, such as an app or online version. Whatever your choice, it hardly matters. The one thing that does is that you always have a dictionary close at hand while reading. Why? You are more likely to use it that way.

 

Apart from the meaning of a word, a dictionary also has alternative meanings, pronunciation, word origin, useful expressions and phrases featuring the word, collocations, and lots more. In short, it’s a treasure trove of information, so make the most of it.

 

6. Make it fun

Let’s face it, learning of any kind could be a pretty dreary affair after a while, even if you happen to be an eager beaver! So, try as best as you can to make vocabulary building a fun activity.  A game of Scrabble, for instance, is an enjoyable way of getting introduced to new lexis. If board games aren’t your thing, you can always play a spoken word game. A quick online search should get you a list of ideas. If you wish to push yourself, then try a crossword puzzle or perhaps an anagram. Crossword puzzles can be a right challenge, as creators are typically forced to use unusual words so that everything fits into the puzzles they design.

 

Remember, there’s no one perfect way to acquire an extensive vocabulary. Feel free to chop and change learning strategies so that you find out what works best for you.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

worth its weight in gold
Form : phrase
Meaning : very useful
Example : A good cookery book is worth its weight in gold.

 

unabridged
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes a book or article that has not been shortened in length
Example : I’ve seen the unabridged version of this play, and it is just too long.

 

close at hand
Form : phrase
Meaning : near
Example : Is there a hospital close at hand?

 

treasure trove
Form : noun
Meaning : describes something containing many useful things
Example : The encyclopedia is a treasure trove of information.

 

 

chop and change
Form : phrase
Meaning : to keep changing what you are doing
Example : Football coaches sometimes chop and change players to find the right balance.

Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Velaia (Paris Peking) via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In Part 1, we looked at two sure-shot ways to build your vocabulary: forming a reading habit and learning words in context. Here are some more suggestions to increase your word power.

 

3. Listen to natural speech

Want to learn new words and pronounce them right at the same time? Listening to lots of natural speech can be the answer. From a lexical point of view, it can introduce you to several new words within a specific context, making it easier for you to retain them in your memory. Should you choose to give this method a try, be sure to watch videos that come with transcript. That way, you get to listen to new vocabulary as well as see it. A good place to begin is TED Talks (www.ted.com), where there are plenty of short, powerful talks to choose from. When you watch a TED video, see to it that you read the transcript and jot down new vocabulary. You may also want to pay attention to how words are pronounced so that you say them just the right way.

 

4. Try using new words or risk losing them

Learning new vocabulary is one thing, but forming an ability to recall them when needed is something else. Not putting newly learnt words to immediate use could mean losing them in the long run, as they may no longer be fresh in your memory by then. One way of getting round this problem is to focus only on vocabulary that is personally relevant, as you are sure to have opportunities to use them at regular intervals. Keeping this in mind, before you decide to learn new lexis, ask yourself whether the word or phrase is something you would use in your day-to-day conversations. And make an effort only if the answer is a resounding yes! Your task doesn’t end there, though. Use the newly acquired word at the earliest opportunity. Once you’ve used it a few times, it usually sticks in your mind, becoming a part of your active vocabulary.

 

We’ll be back with more vocabulary tips in the next part.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

sure-shot
Form : adjective
Meaning : certain to be successful
Example : Continuous practice is a sure-shot way to improve your sporting skills.

 

transcript
Form : noun
Meaning : the words that someone says in written form
Example : The police have transcripts of all the telephone conversations made by the suspect.  

 

in the long run
Form : phrase
Meaning : at some time in the future
Example : Although expensive, new machinery will help us cut costs in the long run.

 

stick in your mind
Form : phrase
Meaning : stay in your memory for a long time
Example : He has won several tournaments, but his first ever final sticks in my mind.

 

Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary (Part 1)

Image courtesy of Thad Zajdowicz via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

One striking feature that sets proficient English speakers apart from those less competent is their lexical range. Quite often they exhibit a near-magical ability to summon just the right kind of word or phrase, with the result that they convey with precision what they wish to say.

Considering that words are the basic blocks using which we give and receive information, the broader your lexical range gets the easier it becomes to communicate. Here are some handy tips to expand your vocabulary.

1. Read regularly!

Anyone who has tried to work on their vocabulary must’ve had this advice time and again. After all, reading is the most obvious way to learn new vocabulary, because it exposes you to the same words and phrases at regular intervals. That said, building vocabulary may not be a priority when you are reading interesting stuff. So, note down unfamiliar words while reading. Afterwards pick out useful ones you wish to learn. Remember, reading can also provide reinforcement. When you come across vocabulary you’ve learnt recently, and you understand what it means, it is proof enough that you have learnt it well.

A confusion that many learners face is deciding what to read and what not to. While there are no hard and fast rules, see to it that you pick materials that interest you. And if that happens to be a lowbrow magazine on fashion, so be it. What’s important is to choose something you find enjoyable, with a view to possibly learning new words.

 

2. Learn vocabulary in context

Some learners make the mistake of learning vocabulary in isolation. In other words, they try to learn a random collection of new words off by heart. Instead, learn vocabulary in chunks or sentences so that a context begins to appear, helping you understand when and how the word can be used. The added benefit is that this way you get introduced to a lot of new words at the same time.

If done the right way, building vocabulary can be enjoyable and beneficial.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

reinforcement
Form : noun
Meaning : the act of making an idea stronger
Example : Jokes can sometimes be a reinforcement of gender stereotypes.

 

hard and fast
Form : phrase
Meaning : not able to be changed
Example : There are no hard and fast rules about how a film should end.

 

lowbrow
Form : adjective
Meaning : lacking serious cultural or artistic value
Example : Although his books are quite popular, critics consider them to be lowbrow literature. 

 

in isolation
Form : phrase
Meaning : separately
Example : Environmental damage cannot be considered in isolation, as it affects humans and animals.

 

by heart
Form : phrase
Meaning : to learn something so well that you are able to remember it without having to read it again
Example : Mike knows all the poems in his text book by heart. 

 

British vs American English (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Secabtien Wiertz via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the first part, we spoke of how Britons and Americans tend to spell and pronounce a lot of words differently. Here are some other ways in which UK and US English differ.

3. Vocabulary

This is arguably the most striking difference between the versions of English spoken on either side of the pond. Let’s do a quick comparison: in British English ‘you take the lift from a friend’s flat to the ground floor of the building’, while in American English ‘you take the elevator from a friend’s apartment to the first floor of the building’.

 

There are hundreds of such everyday things that are described using different terms. That said, Britons and Americans are generally able to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words from the context. On rare occasions, though, it could cause confusion. For example, the phrase ‘first floor’ can be found in both versions, but it carries a different meaning in each.

 

Here are some common examples of different words describing the same things:

 

British English American English
biscuit cookie
flat apartment
petrol gas
trousers pants
chips French fries
crisps potato chips
aubergine eggplant
mobile phone cell phone
torch flashlight
football soccer
the cinema the movies

 

4. Grammar

Like spelling, the way speakers of UK and US English use grammar can also be slightly different at times. For starters, Britons use question tags (a phrase added to the end of a sentence to turn it into a question; e.g. You don’t eat meat, do you?) a lot more than speakers of American English.

 

Here are some more grammatical differences:

 

British English American English
Preposition Are you in my team or his?

 

I’ll see you at the weekend.

Are you on my team or his?

 

I’ll see you on the weekend.

Tense Use of the present perfect to describe something that has happened recently

 

I’ve just had dinner.

Use of the past simple to describe something that has happened recently

 

I just had dinner.

Verb forms Some verbs are considered irregular

 

dream, dreamt, dreamt

learn, learnt, learnt

The same verbs are made regular

 

dream, dreamed, dreamed

learn, learned, learned

Collective nouns Collective nouns can be singular or plural

 

My team is / are in the lead.

Collective nouns are always singular

 

My team is in the lead.

 

 

All in all, these two versions of English have a lot more similarities than differences, so if you can understand one, the chances are that you’ll be able to understand the other too.

 

GLOSSARY

 

the pond
Form : noun
Meaning : an informal term for the Atlantic Ocean, which lies in between Britain and America
Example : This rock band is huge in Britain but relatively unknown on the other side of the pond. 

 

Pin It on Pinterest