word family

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

These six words are all members of the same word family, with word as the common base.

A group of words that share a common base to which different prefixes and suffixes are added. For example, members of the word family based on the headword work include rework, worker, working, workshop, and workmanship, among others. 

According to Birgit Umbreit, "[L]anguage users are able to analyze complex words and to establish synchronic relations between words both formally and semantically because they have an implicit or even explicit knowledge of word-family organization."*

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations:

  • "The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground."
  • Teaching Word Families
    "Gouden, Nation and Read (1990) counted the number of word families in Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1963)... [and] found that the dictionary contained about 54,000 word families. This is a huge number of items (remember that each word family contains several words), and so we as teachers must give up on the idea of ever teaching all of them to our students in a classroom situation..."
  • The Concept of Transparency
    "[M]ost linguists agree that word families should be transparent, in that learning a new item related to one already known should involve a minimum of learning burden...For instance, if a learner knows govern and is familiar with the prefix mis-, then misgovern requires little if any additional learning (Goulden et al., 1990). Derivations that do not meet the transparency criteria are not included in a word family but given separate listings; for instance business (busy)..."

    * Birgit Umbreit, "Does love come from to love or to love from love? Why lexical motivation has to be regarded as bidirectional." Cognitive Perspectives on Word Formation, ed. by Alexander Onysko and  Sascha Michel (Walter de Gruyter, 2010).


    Gilbert K. Chesterton

    Norbert Schmitt, Vocabulary in Language Teaching.

    Cambridge University Press, 2000

    Frank E Daulton, Japan's Built-in Lexicon of English-based Loanwords. Multilingual Matters, 2008

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    Nordquist, Richard. "word family." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2017, thoughtco.com/word-family-1692609. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 5). word family. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/word-family-1692609 Nordquist, Richard. "word family." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/word-family-1692609 (accessed May 28, 2018).