Word Formation Examples & Exercises

These word formation examples show how English words change form. They demonstrate the use of many of the word endings in the List of Suffixes with examples from a number of word families.

Study the various related words in each family. Then check your understanding of how to use those words with a gapfill exercise.

Detailed Word Formation Examples

To emphasize means to call attention to something or show that it is important. We can put emphasis on an idea by stressing its value or just by explaining it thoroughly. Speaking emphatically is stating something definitely (and often loudly), leaving no room for uncertainty.

To employ usually means to give a job to someone—to pay them for their work. The nouns are‘employment’ (or unemployment), employer for a person who gives jobs to people, and employeefor a person who receives work. Adjectives are employed (or unemployed) and (un)employable.

To neglect is to not find the time to do what needs to be done: to not maintain one’s business or property or take care of responsibilities. (If you neglect your garden, the grass and weeds will grow and it may become a jungle, or plants may die for lack of water.) Someone who often neglects parts of his or her job is negligent. His negligence can cause the company problems.

Tolerant is an adjective that means willing to accept different people or ideas. (Intolerant means unwilling to accept differences.) Its adverb is tolerantly. (In)tolerable means (un)bearable-- conditions a person can (or if negative cannot) tolerate. Its verb is to tolerate, and its nouns are toleration, tolerance, and intolerance.

To verify is to find out or prove if something is true. (It comes from French and Latin: true + make). We can make four adjectives from it: verifiable (something that can be checked and proved true) , unverifiable (something that cannot be proved), verified (something that has been checked or shown to be true)and unverified (something that has not.) There is also a noun: verification.

word formation: matching puzzle pieces for 'achieve' with 'ment'

More Word Formation Examples

Achievement is a noun meaning an accomplishment: having reached a goal. Can you guess the verb? (Hint: remove the noun-making suffix.) Take the verb (achieve) and add the suffix -er to get the noun for a person who achieves. (Add the prefix over- for a person who is too focused on achievement, or under- for a person who is not reaching his potential.) Add the suffix -able to the verb for one adjective, and add the negative prefix un- to that for a second adjective.

We can use the verb to excite to form three kinds of adjectives (with ‘–able,’ ’-ed,’ and ‘–ing’), and their negatives, as well as two adverbs (with ‘–ably’ and ‘-edly’), and one negative— ‘unexcitedly.’ (We can do the same with many other verbs.) Add ‘–ment’ to the verb for one noun, and ‘–ability’ for another. That’s 11 words made from excite—and if you understand suffixes you should be able to guess their meanings.

Just to spell it out, that’s the verb excite, adjectives excitable, excited, exciting, unexcitable, unexcited, unexciting, adverbs excitably, excitedly, unexcitedly, and the nouns excitement and excitability.

(Actually, there are quite a few more if you add forms of ‘overexcite.’ There is also the noun ‘excitation,’ which often refers to electrical current or nerve stimulation-- a cause, compared to ‘excitement,’ which is a condition.)

Adjectives formed with  -ing (the present participle) describe causes. Adjectives formed with -ed describe the feelings they cause.Examples: An exciting trip makes a child excited. People are (unsurprisingly!) surprised by surprising news. Boring teachers often have bored students, and terrifying experiences leave people terrified.

The verb (or noun) help´ demonstrates two other common adjective endings, and the adverbs and nouns that can be made from them. Helpless means without help; helpful means giving a lot of help (“full” of help.) From these we get the adverbs helplessly or helpfully and the nouns helplessness orhelpfulness. (A man with a broken arm looked on helplessly as his friend tried to lift a heavy box. He appreciated the helpfulness of his neighbor, who picked up the other end of the box.)

Similar word builder formations: thought> thoughtful> thoughtfully or thoughtfulness or thought> thoughtless> thoughtlessly.  Meaning> meaningful (and meaningfully) or meaningless. Rest> restful or restless> restlessly or restlessness. Sleep> sleepless> sleeplessly, tire>tired or tireless> tirelessly,word>wordless> wordlessly, etc.

Word Formation (Gapfill) Exercises

Fill in each gap by typing in the best word from the word family listed for each number. For #1. use forms of ‘excite’, 2. achieve, 3. surprise, 4. tolerate, 5. rest, 6. employ, 7. help, 8. emphasize, 9.neglect, 10 tire. 

(Look at the word formation examples above if you are not sure which form to use.) Then press “check” to see if your answers are correct. If not, try again. Be sure to check your spellings.

Example: 1. Calm people like Jane are not usually excitable, but she chattered excitedly about her new boyfriend.

2. He’s a real . He gets upset if he gets 99% on a test!

3A. Many people like , but they don’t like to be by an unexpected test.

3B. A (unexpectedly) large percentage of patients at the new hospital chose private rooms.

4. My brother believes it’s important to be , or at least respectful, of other people’s beliefs. . He is willing to listen to people even when he disagrees with them. He says many wars have been caused by religious .

5. The candidate was so excited that he paced the floor as the TV reported the election results.

6. Multi-national corporations thousands of people in many countries. Their may live in different countries and speak different languages. Often the companies will have offices in all the cities where they have large branches.

7. Many people object to giving money to jobless people because they believe it encourages rather than hard work. They feel it is more to provide job training so unemployed people can get jobs and can earn money to themselves.

8. When I got a job in Quality Control, the factory foreman told us , “If you’re careless, people may die. Don’t ever forget that!” He that we needed to check for problems at every step of the process, not just at the end.

9. It’s possible that the severity of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago was partly due to regulators’ . They didn’t require BP to have an action plan for unexpected breakdowns.)

10. If you believe an issue is important, vote for the candidate who will work to achieve the results you want.

To review basic word formation principles, see List of SuffixesList of Prefixes, and Word Families.

For more word formation exercises, see Word Family Practice.

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