Guide to Literary Terms

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What are the definitions of the types of words simple, compound and complex?

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A complex word is defined as a base word combined with a derivational element, such as an affix or a suffix. I.E, the word live + ly= lively. There are four origins that explain the formation of complex words.

  • GREEK origins- words are formed as a result of classical Greek and neo-Latin roots. These are the words that, when read in Greek, show a very similar structure as in English. Many medical and academic terms follow this model, for example  astigmatism, narcissism, dogmatism, magnetism.
  • ROMANCE origins- words that come from a Latin origin and whose structural composition is repetitive in English, Spanish, and French. For example, the word "im-possible", is the same in all three language. Words that end in -ion are also romance words that repeat their structure throughout these languages as well: direct+ion, precipitat+ion, durat+ion are examples of words that maintain their structure throughout the three languages and only differ slightly in spelling or the use of tildes. 
  • GERMANIC origins- this is the main origin of the English language and upon which most English words are based. For instance, the Proto-Germanic word "skapiz" means "ship". It is used as a suffix in modern English in complex words such as relation+ship, fellow+ship, for example. This structure is the same in English as it is in Norse, Dutch, High German and Old Saxon.
  • VERNACULAR-words with mixed, native principles of Latin, French, and Greek.
  • HYBRID- the combination of every origin in one same word or two different origins that keep the same structure as in English like un- words (Vernacular), cre- words (Latin). The complex word uncre+ative is a vernacular/Latin hybrid.

A compound word is a combination of two simple words. Differing from the complex word, the compound word does not acquire its definition from the addition of affixes. In the case of compound words, the union of the two simple words bring out an altogether different meaning than the words do in their original form. An example of compound words are:

  • bedroom
  • basketball
  • butterscotch
  • eyesore

Finally, a simple word is the basic word form with nothing added to it. A word such as "active" has a meaning of its own and has not been altered in any way. Now, for the word "active", a simple word, to become complex you would add an affix.

  • inter-active (Latin "inter"+ active)
  • active-ly (active + Vernacular "ly")
  • over-active (Proto-Germanic "uber"+active)
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