In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Derivational Morphology

  • Introduction
  • General Textbooks
  • Textbooks Specifically Focusing on English
  • Reference Resources
  • Journals
  • Bibliographies
  • Defining Derivation
  • Formal Means of Derivation
  • Typology and Derivation in the Languages of the World
  • Productivity, Blocking, and Competition
  • Affix Ordering
  • Bracketing Paradoxes
  • Headedness
  • Lexical Integrity and Syntactic versus Lexical Analysis
  • Psycholinguistic Issues, Processing, Acquisition

Linguistics Derivational Morphology
Rochelle Lieber
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0043


Derivational morphology is concerned with forming new lexemes, that is, words that differ either in syntactic category (part of speech) or in meaning from their bases. Derivation is typically contrasted with inflection, which is the modification of words to fit into different grammatical contexts. Words formed by derivation are complex in the sense that they typically have a base or root that has been modified in some systematic way to form a new word. The most widespread of techniques for derivation is affixation, the addition of prefixes, suffixes, infixes, circumfixes, and so on, but new words are often formed by other means such as reduplication, internal modification or rearrangement of consonants and vowels, or by subtraction of segments. Languages frequently have means of derivation that form agents, patients, or locations from verbs or other syntactic categories, or verbs of various sorts from nouns or adjectives. Adjectives may be formed from either nouns or verbs. Words may also undergo derivation that does not change their category but rather modifies their meaning, maintaining category. So, adjectives, nouns, or verbs may be negated, concrete nouns can be made abstracts or collectives, verbs may be made transitive or causative. Most general reference works on morphology treat derivation alongside inflection, so the reader is referred for additional resources to the Oxford Bibliographies in Linguistics article Morphology.

General Textbooks

Any general textbook on morphology will treat derivation. All of the texts in this section give good basic introductions to the topic. Aronoff and Fudeman 2022 and Lieber 2022 are geared toward undergraduate students who do not have an extensive background in linguistics. The other texts are more advanced and treat matters of theory that concern derivation in more depth. Spencer 1991 is an excellent theoretical introduction, but it is out of date at this point.

  • Aronoff, M., and K. Fudeman. 2022. What is morphology? 3d ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    A clear and comprehensive introductory work, with good exercises. Matters concerning derivation are spread across a number of chapters.

  • Bauer, L. 2003. Introducing linguistic morphology. 2d ed. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781474464284

    Basics concerning derivation are concentrated in the beginning chapters of the book, with theoretical issues postponed to later in the text.

  • Booij, G. 2012. The grammar of words: An introduction to linguistic morphology. 3d ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199226245.001.0001

    A more advanced text, this work has a single concise chapter devoted solely to derivation, but derivation figures in many of the theoretical debates discussed elsewhere.

  • Haspelmath, M., and A. Sims. 2010. Understanding morphology. 2d ed. London: Hodder Education.

    Like Booij 2012, this is intended for more advanced students.

  • Katamba, F., and J. Stonham. 2006. Morphology. 2d ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-137-11131-9

    Extensive treatment of derivation, especially in its relation to matters concerning phonology.

  • Lieber, R. 2022. Introducing morphology. 3d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Concentrates on analysis, postponing matters of theory to the end, and has two chapters devoted to derivational morphology.

  • Spencer, A. 1991. Morphological theory: An introduction to word structure in generative grammar. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Now considerably dated, this text nevertheless gives an excellent overview of the theoretical debates that were important in the first two decades of generative morphology.

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