Back formation

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Back formation is a type of word formation in which a word is assumed to have a morphological structure (for instance, a root and an affix) that it did not originally have and is then decomposed. Often monomorphemic words are decomposed into a root and a affix if the language has a productive affix with the same phonological form as a part of the word that underwent back formation.


The process can be schematically represented as follows:

  • Initial morphological structure: (abcdef)stem; the language also has a productive affix with the form (ef).
  • Morphological structure after back formation: (abcd)stem(ef)suffix.

For example, edit is a result of backformation from editor, sculpt from sculptor (decomposed as having the productive suffixes –or or –er used to build words denoting a person who performs the action denoted by a verb).



  • Campbell, Lyle & Mauricio J. Mixco. 2007. A Glossary of Historical Linguistics. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Other languages

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