Derivation means the formation of a new word out of an old one by adding some prefix or suffix to it. Obviously, this is the commonest form of making new words. Many of the affixes were originally separate words but they are no longer treated as separate. They are added to other words to modify the meaning of the later. Thus, the meaning of women is modified by the addition of suffixes to it – womanly, womanise, womanhood, womanish, womanless.
The affixes can be divided into two classes – those of native and those of foreign origin. A great many words were formed by the addition of native affixes during the Anglo-Saxon period and many of them are still used to form new words. Some common suffixes like -ness, -less, -full, -y, -ish and prefixes un- and be- are extensively used. A much more brilliant destiny was reserved for one or two old English suffixes. In old English, the ending -isc (now -ish) was chiefly used to form adjection from names of places or nations as in Englisc (English), Scottisc (Scottish) and Londonisc (Londonish). In 1400 A.D, it began to be used to form adjectives denoting color as in greenish, yellowish and bluish. In Modern English, this is added to adjectives of one or two syllables to denote qualities – Foolish, bookish, feverish. The suffix representing the old English -lice was used in the period to form adverb of manner from Adjective. But since the 16th century, it began to be added to the original numeral to make adverbs such as firstly, secondly, thirdly, fourthly.
Since the close of old English period, the native machine was considered to be insufficient to new coinage and as a result, many French and Latin suffixes made inroads into the vocabulary. The suffix -ation fulfilled a real meaning of the language because the only native suffix -ing used for forming nouns of action was not definite enough in meaning. The making of such words as flirtation, starvation, botheration has been regarded as an English formation. Some French suffixes have naturalized in English. Thus, -ment is added to endearment, wonderment, and enlightenment. Adjectives are formed by adding French suffixes like -ous, -able, -al, -ose, -fy, and -ate (dangerous, variable, national, grandiose, simplify and captivate).
Among the Latin, French, and Greek suffixes, the most vigorous affixes are Greek in origin. The Greek suffixes -ic (angelic), -ism (patriotism), -ist (artist), -istic (materialistic), -crat (democrat) are used and they suit the temperament of modern ages which is inclined towards thoughts, theories, doctrines, and creeds. Since the 19th century, some Greek prefixes as hyper, pseudo, neo, dia and meta have been in great use. They are added not only to words of Latin or Greek origin but also towards from other sources. Thus, we have such Indian words as Hinduism, Brahminism, and Krishnaism.