combining form

noun

Definition of combining form

: a linguistic form that occurs only in compounds or derivatives and can be distinguished descriptively from an affix by its ability to occur as one immediate constituent of a form whose only other immediate constituent is an affix (such as cephal- in cephalic) or by its being derived from an independent word (such as electro- representing electric in electromagnet or para- representing parachute in paratrooper) or can be distinguished historically from an affix by the fact that it is borrowed from another language in which it is descriptively a word or a combining form (such as French mal giving English mal- in malodorous)

What are prefixes, suffixes, and combining forms?

Prefixes and suffixes are both kinds of affixes. That is, they are word parts that attach to the beginning or end of a word or word base (a word stripped down to its simplest form) to produce a related word or an inflectional form of a word. Examples are in- in informal and both re- and -ing in reporting.

A third kind of affix is called an infix. Infixes are inserted into a word or word base. English uses very few infixes, but a couple examples are the plural-making s in words like cupsful and passersby, and various swear words, like damn in informal constructions like guaran-damn-tee.

A combining form is a form of a word that only appears as part of another word. There are a number of kinds of combining forms, each classified by what kind of word results when the form is used. For example, -wise in clockwise is an adverb combining form; -like in birdlike is an adjective combining form; -graph in photograph is a noun combining form; and -lyze in electrolyze is a verb combining form.

Combining forms are similar to affixes but can have a bit more lexical substance to them. Unlike affixes, combining forms are substantial enough to form a word simply by connecting to an affix, such as when the combining form cephal- joins with the suffix -ic to form cephalic. A combining form can also differ from an affix in its being derived from an independent word. For example, para- is a combining form in the word paratrooper because in that word it represents the word parachute. Para- is a prefix, however, in the words paranormal and paramedic. A combining form can also be distinguished historically from an affix by the fact that it is borrowed from another language in which it is descriptively a word or a combining form, such as the French mal giving English the mal- in malfunction.

First Known Use of combining form

1884, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of combining form was in 1884

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Dictionary Entries Near combining form

combing wool

combining form

combining weight

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Cite this Entry

“Combining form.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/combining%20form. Accessed 24 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for combining form

combining form

noun

English Language Learners Definition of combining form

: a form of a word (such as electro- in electromagnetic or mal- in malodorous) that only occurs as a part of other words

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