Derivation (linguistics)

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Derivation or German also derivative is in the linguistics the name given to a method of word formation . Here, new forms are created from lexical morphemes ( lexemes / basic morphemes ) and affixes ( grammatical morphemes), which themselves do not necessarily have to be lexemes, but in most cases they are. The process of their formation is called derivation. The result is called derivative [um] , derivative [um] or German derived word or derivation . Together with the composition (composition), the derivation is the most important word formation tool in the German language .

Examples of derivatives:

  1. Freedom
  2. makeable
  3. understand
  4. incomprehensible (derived words (understandable) can also be derived again themselves)
  5. Derivation

Differentiation from other word formation types and classification

The Derivation different from the composition ( composition ) in that in the latter case at least two words ( Grundmorpheme ) an independent lexical meaning , possess while only one word exists in the Derivation whose appendages (affixes) no specific (but an abstract) lexical meaning to have.

  • Example a derivative: free-nessfree is lexeme (adjective), standardized has abstract lexical meaning, namely, a state of being. Total word: noun
  • Example of a compound word : house-wallhouse is a lexeme (noun), wall is a lexeme (noun). Total word: noun

Differences to flexion are that of derivation

  1. a new word (lexeme) and not just a new word form is created: usable (adjective) versus us-t (verb, 3rd person singular present of need ),
  2. the part of speech can change ( adjective , noun ),
  3. never all theoretically possible Grundmorpheme are recognized: there is no * Noise-ung to noise (s) , no * Indoor-ung to floating (s) .

Some researchers also count parts of the conversion as derivation. In lexical (also: morphological) conversion or ablaut formation (sometimes also: implicit derivation or conversion), for example, the category, i.e. H. the part of speech of a basic morpheme changed so that the word stems and its meaning are changed:

  • believe (n) (verb) → belief (noun): inner attitude of a person (lexical conversion); However, the case is appropriate as a derivative of the verb to a noun with the Ableitungsmorphem -e described
  • shoot (en) (verb) → shot (noun): the individual event, the individual process (ablaut formation)

Other expected Präfixbildungen, also called Präfigierungen, not to ( write-be , speak off ).

Depending on the grammatical theory, the following three groups of word formations can be counted as derivation:

  1. the explicit derivation (this article is limited to this) with suffixation, prefixation and circumfigation: formation through affixes ( manmasculine , beautifulun-beautiful , run (s)run-up ),
    • as a special case, the motion (= movement : change of gender through explicit derivation) also belongs to it ( kingking-in , widow-ewidower ),
  2. the implicit derivation: sometimes also called formation through ablaut formation without affixes ( k ü ss (en)kiss ),
  3. Conversion: education by changing parts of speech alone, d. H. Recategorization ( run (s)(the) run ). In some grammars, implicit derivation is also called conversion through ablaut formation. Reason: in both there is a recategorization, i. H. a change of word type takes place.

Components of a derivative

Morphological components

Each derivative consists of a complement and a head in morphological terms . The head determines the grammatical properties of the derivative. The easiest way to explain this is with the example of suffixation, i.e. the addition of certain word endings :

Example freedom :

  • Head of the derivative, the suffix is integrated which determines the grammar of the word (noun, femininum): Free-ness, the
  • Complement is free

Semantic components

In semantic terms, relating to the meaning of the word, a derivative consists of a core and a modifier. The core determines the basic meaning of the derivative, while the modifier only changes it.

Example freedom :

  • The core of the derivative is free .

Substitution test: Replace freely with synonyms such as unbound and complete the derivation. The meaning should not change (big): unbound + nessunbound

  • Modifier uniform says it this to be a abstraction is, so the idea of being free.

Types of (explicit) derivatives

From a morphological point of view, derivatives in German can be classified according to the type of their affiliation, i.e. H. of the additions to a basic morpheme. As affixes knows the German: suffixes, prefixes , and infix Zirkumfixe. Only suffixes, prefixes and circumfixes play a role for derivation if the prefixing is counted among the derivatives. The associated word formation types are called

  1. Suffixes → suffixation
  2. Prefixes → prefixing
  3. Circumfixes → circumfigings


Suffixing is the term used to add suffixes ("endings") to word stems. Many suffixes determine the part of speech ( also the gender for nouns ). The following list should provide an overview with examples:

a) Nominal suffixes : -heit , -keit , -tät. -ung (nonchalance, the; rivalry, the)
b) Adjective suffixes: -bar , -lich. -sam (tangible, lovely, silent)
c) Verb suffixes: -el-. -ier- (simmer, ratify). On the other hand, -en is not a derivative suffix in verbs, as it is the inflected suffix of the infinitive.

The list shows that derivatives on -bar or -sam always result in adjectives and those on -heit , -keit and -tät always result in feminine nouns. Their feminine gender stems from the fact that in German one was and is inclined to regard abstracts as feminine. Some suffixes only combine with basic morphemes that have certain properties. The suffix -ung, for example, is almost exclusively attached to verb stems (reading-ung to read, pattern-ung to pattern, consider-ung to look at). The verb zu Zeitung no longer exists today.


As already mentioned, the preference for a derivation type is controversial. The reason for this is the opinion that affixes, including prefixes, must not have an independent lexical meaning. In the case of escape with ent as an inseparable prefix, this does not pose a problem. Just as unproblematic:

  • bes , er , mis- , un- , ver- and zer- and several borrowed prefixes like a- (areligious)

However, problems arise in cases in which certain prepositions are prefixed, which occur as particles independently as a word and then have a lexical meaning:

  • go past, reach down, drive around (meaning around)

That is why some linguists consider final prefixations to be among the compositions, at least not among the derivatives.

A distinction is made between three types of prefixing verbs:

  1. Prefix verb : be-'fahren , auf-'züge , ver-'laufen . Trunk-stressed, d. H. The accent is on the verb stem
  2. Particle prefix verb : um-'fahren , um-'lauf . Still trunk-emphasized, d. H. The accent is on the verb stem
  3. Particle verb: 'um -fahren , ' um-run . Particle-heavy, d. H. Stress is on the syllable preceding the verb stem. The particle completely changes the meaning of the basic morphem: 'to drive around does not mean to drive around something , but exactly the opposite of driving over something ,


In circumfigation, a basic morpheme is expanded by an affix at both the beginning and the end. Since these two affixes always appear together, they are called circumfixes with one term. Circumfiguration is a very peculiar phenomenon to German as far as word formation is concerned (but not inflection). The newly created forms are called parasynthetics. Examples and types of circumfigings are:

  • Type V → N: Ge-Hup-e, Ge-distort-e: Vst → Ge + Vst + e
  • Type N → adj / pseudoparticiple: be-brill-t, be-reif-t: N → be + N-en + t

(with Vst = verb stem, V = verb, N = noun)


  • Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics. 3rd updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 .
  • DUDEN: The grammar. 7., completely reworked. u. exp. Edition. ed. v. Dudenred. Mannheim et al. 2005, ISBN 3-411-04047-5 .
  • G. Helbig, J. Buscha: German grammar. Berlin et al. 2001, ISBN 3-468-49493-9 .
  • A. Linke, M. Nussbaumer, PR Portmann: Study book linguistics. 4th edition. Tübingen 2001, ISBN 3-484-31121-5 .
  • Johannes Volmert (Hrsg.): Basic course in linguistics: an introduction to linguistics for teacher training courses. 4th edition. Fink, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-8252-1879-1 .

Web links