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Back-formation is a type of word formation by analogy. Back-formation occurs when speakers of a language assign a regular derivational structure to a word, although a part of this structure, namely the base, did not previously exist. If this new base becomes a word of the language, it is called a back-formation.


Speakers of English have reinterpreted the root compound baby-sitter as being a synthetic compound, i.e. consisting of the base baby-sit and the suffix -er, and on the basis of this noun they have coined the verb to baby-sit. Another example is self-destruct from self-destruction.


In the literature, the existence of back-formation is taken as evidence for a word-based morphology.


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Aronoff, Mark 1978. Language and Perception. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 61-72. Harvard University Press.
  • Booij, G. 1989. Complex verbs and the theory of level-ordering. In Yearbook of morphology 1989, Booij and Van Marle (eds.), 21-30. Dordrecht: Foris.
  • Marchand, H. 1969. The Categories and Types of Present-day English Word-Formation. München: Beck.
  • Scalise, S. 1984. Generative Morphology. Dordrecht: Foris.
  • Spencer, A. 1991. Morphological Theory. Oxford: Blackwell.