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  • Writer's pictureEugenia Sestini

Making up words

Updated: Feb 27, 2020

Every once in a while I’m reading a story with a word I cannot recognize. I ask my students, and they always know what it means… because they made up the word. Most times they don’t know they have made it up, they are pretty sure the word exists, because it sounds like another word, so for example, if a lion is very loud he may be roarful, or a baby mouse may be a mouselet (works for piglet and owlet, right?).

I love when this happens, whether it’s intentional or not. It shows that children are paying attention around them, producing words out of thin air. They are trying. It’s not about neglecting proper word formation; instead, it’s about teaching children how words are made so that they can then use their imagination to come up with their own words for fictional stories.

And sometimes there is no right word. So we need to make it up ourselves. Roald Dahl (famous for books such as Matilda andCharlie and the Chocolate Factory) was always making up words.

While a part of teaching writing involves expanding children’s vocabulary, I think we could also try to have some fun and create our own dictionaries for a specific story. Some topics or genres lend themselves better than others for this, but we can always give it a try.

Prefixes and suffixes

If you need a little help to create new words, you can try using prefixes and suffixes.

Common prefixes (attached to the front of a root word) include:

pre- (pre-school)

mis- (misspell)

un- (undo)

re- (rewrite)

Suffixes (attached after the root word) include:

-ful (colorful)

-less (helpless)

-ous (curious)

-ness (happiness)

You can take a word and add a suffix or prefix that is not normally associated with it to create a new word.

What did you come up with?

Blends (or portmanteau words, if you’re feeling fancy)

Another technique could be to just take two words and combine them, usually leaving out some letters. Blends have been used for a long time, but they have become more popular in recent years.

Common blends include breakfast + lunch (brunch), electronic + mail (e-mail), and biographical + picture (biopic).

If you come up with a few new words, why not try and include them in a story?

Happy writing!

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