Noun Formation In English And Vietnamese English Language Essay

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As we all know, word are the most important unit in one language. We use words everyday, in many various fields of life: from work to studying, form informal situation to formal situation. From word, we can create phrases, sentences to communication with each other under many forms. Amongst words, noun is a rather crucial part. Nouns have several functions in sentences. "They can be the subject, an object, an appositive, or a complement" (Rakoczy). Therefore, noun-formation can be recognized as the sub process of word-formation, and it will share some same characteristic of word formation. My essay is aimed at identifying, analyzing and contrasting the noun formation between English and Vietnamese to magnify the similarities and differences. Based on this paper, I hope to help my readers clear about noun formation and help the educators have a universal perspective of the unavoidable errors of learning process in both Vietnamese and English learners.

Because noun-formation is the sub-process of word-formation, it also follows the same morphological rules of word-formation. Nouns are formed by morphemes as well. According to the classification, we have compounding, affixation or derivation, and conversion. More specifically:

Conversion, "also called zero derivation, is the creation of a word from an existing word without any change in form" (Conversion, 2001). For example, word shifts from verb to noun without change of its morphemes.

There is other noun-formation such as reduplication, clipping, blending, acronyms, and borrowing. Reduplication is repeating an item with a change in the beginning consonant or change in the middle vowel. Clipping is "a process which consists in the reduction of a word to one of its parts (Marchand:1969). Clipping is also known as "truncation" or "shortening."" (Clipping, 2001), without changing its meaning. Blending is combining of shortened of two or more morphemes to form a new word. On the other hand, acronyms are nouns using the initial letters in words, phrases, or proper names. Last is borrowing, which actually has two types: using the exact word from another the language and translating it literally, we often called the second type "calque" or "loan translation".


Similar to English, noun in Vietnamese was also formed by morphemes. However, the noun-formation from affixation does not appear in Vietnamese as it is in English. The free morpheme and bound morpheme in Vietnamese are defined differently. More particularly, the bound morpheme in Vietnamese can be used as a separate word. In English, when the bound morpheme stands alone, it doesn't make a full word. In Vietnamese, noun was formed by combining two free morphemes, two bound morphemes, or one bound morpheme and one free morpheme. As a result, noun is formed by compounding, conversion together with other methods such as reduplication, clipping, acronyms, and borrowing. Moreover, because of the long-term domination of the Chinese's dynasties and French colonist, the vocabularies which Vietnamese borrowed from Chinese and French are numerous and various.


1. Affixation (Derivation)

In this part, I will discuss the affixation in English. The affixes involve prefixes and suffixes. For example, from the adjective literal, we only need to add the suffixes -cy to form the noun "literacy". Together with the suffixes, the prefixes also contribute to the noun formation. When we offer a new add-on il-, we immediately have a new noun "illiteracy" which has the opposite meaning to the noun "literacy". Consequently, the prefix of noun can change the meaning of the origin, but it still maintains the word class. The suffix, on the other hand, when be attached to the base, it can transform a verb to a noun or other word class. Some typical suffixes for noun are: -ant, -er, -or, -ment…. In addition, prefixes and suffixes contain some given meanings which were displayed below:








state of


wrong, astray


dealer, doer




doctrine, belief


not, opposite of


state of being


between, among


state of being


get rid of

-eer, -er, -or

person who

2. Compound nouns

In English, except some single words are noun themselves, noun can be formed by many methods, such as some in table

Compound patterns


Noun + Noun

bloodstream, seashore, cupboard

Adjective + Noun

hardboard, blueberry, softball

Verb + Noun

swimming pool, washing machine

Preposition + Noun

inbox, outbox, overcoat

Verb + Verb

make-work, drop-kick

Verb + Preposition

breakaway, hideout, takeaway

Phrases Compound

stock-in-trade, mother-in-law

Special Compound

tetragon, archeology

According to the table, there are many patterns to form a noun. However, we can classify all the patterns into 3 categories:

The "solid" or "closed" form: two words were combined as one word. Ex: timetable, blackboard.

The hyphenated form: two words are connected by a hyphen.

Ex: son-in-law, stitch-up.

The open or spaced form: the word consists of two longer words, and often written separately. Ex: high court, slow motion.

Meanwhile, in Vietnamese we have the coordinated compound noun and the principal-and-accessory compound noun, which were also known in Vietnamese are "từ ghép đẳng lập" and "từ ghép chính phụ". The coordinated compound noun is the noun was built from two components with equal meaning, for example: chợ búa, quần áo…. The coordinated compound noun often expresses the general and synthetic meaning which was one main point that makes it different from the principal-and accessory compound noun. The principal-and accessory compound noun is the noun that involves two components, in which one component depends on the other. The secondary component will classify the main component. For instance: we have the first component is "đường", which means the way to go, and the second one is "sắt", a kind of metal that made this kind of way. When we combine those two components, we will have the new noun: "đường sắt", which actually means railway in order to distinguish with đường không, đường thủy, đường bộ…

3. Conversion

The conversion is a very interesting process of forming new word. It occurs in both English and Vietnamese. Without changing its forms, we can change the meaning of the word, even the word class (but I don't talk about word class-change because this essay is focused on the noun formation, not the word formation) more specifically, let's examine these two examples:

Ex 1: Firstly, in English, with the word "stop" in 2 sentences

It is time to put a stop to the violence.

I get off at the next stop.

In the first one, "stop" means "the act of stopping the violence", but in the second sentence, "stop" actually means "a place where a bus or train stops regularly for passengers to get on or off". Clearly, the form of the noun "stop" doesn't change.

Ex 2: In Vietnamese, take the word "phở" as example

Mẹ tôi nấu phở rất ngon.

Khá nhiều người Ä‘àn ông hiện nay có tÆ° tưởng chán cÆ¡m thèm phở.

"phở" in the first sentence is a Vietnamese dish, but the second sentence connotes the meaning of something new, especially another women, not their wives.

Thus, English and Vietnamese resemble each other on this process of forming new nouns. Being used under many various circumstances, the word itself generates many different metaphorical meanings.

4. Other formation

a. Reduplication

Both English and Vietnamese have reduplication. However, reduplication only seizes a small number of nouns in English. Vietnamese reduplication has two types: repeating the whole word (ba ba, châu chấu, cào cào…) and repeating some components of the word. Moreover, we don't find many Vietnamese nouns which belong to the second types. The maximum length of Vietnamese reduplicative words is no more than four, and the minimum length is two. Most of the reduplicative words are two-word length. Some of reduplicative English words are: ping pong, flip flop, tick-tock….

b. Clipping

According to Vũ Đức Nghiệu, Vietnamese only considers this process as temporary form or the spoken form of word. By definition, it doesn't happen with every word (Nghiệu 2007).

bươm bướm  bướm

ki-lô-gam  kí lô

Đảng cộng sản Việt Nam  Đảng

Whereas, English have lots of words was formed by clipping such as: photo from photograph, rhino from rhinoceros…

c. Acronym

By using the initial letters of a phrase as one word, acronym has produced a massive number a word. Because those words were created by acronym are more memorable than the phrases, many people like this type of noun-formation, especially in names of some organizations. In English, we have "AIDS"," radar"…. In Vietnamese, we also have some acronymic words such as "TW" from trung Æ°Æ¡ng, "CLB" for "câu lạc bá»™".

d. Blending

Blends deal with the action of abridging and then combining various lexemes to form a new word . This process combines shortened of two or more morphemes to form a word. For instance, "brunch" is the combination of "breakfast" and "lunch", "motel" is the combination of "motor" and "hotel". This is one special feature of English which doesn't exist in Vietnamese at all.

e. Borrowing

English and Vietnamese borrowed a vast number of words. In Vietnamese, because of the Chinese and French domination, the borrowed vocabularies are mainly from those two countries. It was divided into two layers: Chinese origin and Indo-European origin. Some examples should be taken into account are described in the tables below



xà phòng




mùi xoa




độc giả


ký giả


Vietnamese also translate literally some vocabulary in Chinese and French into Vietnamese for necessary usage, it usually was known as "quá trình Việt hóa hoàn toàn" such as:

Ex: 飛機 (fÄ“ijÄ«) - phi cÆ¡, phi = bay, cÆ¡ = máy móc  máy bay (Vietnamese) (Đào Duy Anh, 2005)

聽者 (tÄ«ngzhÄ›) - thính giả (Chinese), in Hán-Việt từ Ä‘iển giản yếu, thính = nghe, giả = chỉ về người  người nghe (Vietnamese) (Đào Duy Anh, 2005)

English also have two types of borrowing vocabulary: the exact foreign word and calque. According to different sources, around 30% of all English words have a French origin (Calque, 2001). Some of the French words that were used in English are ablation, accent, bonnet, desert…. Similar to Vietnamese, English also translate the words literally from many other languages for usage. We can take some calques as examples:

Latin: Lunae dies => Old English: Monan dæg (day of the moon) => Modern English: Monday (University of Oxford, 2005)

French: gratte-ciel and Spanish: rascal cielos (both literally means: scrape-sky) => English: skyscraper. (Calque, 2001)


The aim of contrastive analysis between English and Vietnamese is to draw out the linguistic same and differences. However, it also has another valuable practical basis for teaching and learning. By contrasting those two languages, we can forecast the potential difficulties that the learners may encounter when learning foreign languages. Firstly, Because of the differences in word order, Vietnamese pupils tend to produce error such as

"room dinning" instead of "dinning room", which means "phòng ăn" in Vietnamese

"pie apple" instead of "apple pie", which in Vietnamese it is "bánh táo".

This error often happened in compound noun.

Secondly, when we want to mention the plural forms of nouns in Vietnamese, we usually use the word "nhiều" before nouns such as: nhiều người, nhiều hy vọng…. That is the point. In English, we must add -s or -es behind countable nouns, for example: girls, boys… and preserve the uncountable nouns. Therefore, Vietnamese learners have a tendency to "forget" the -s and -es for countable nouns and vice versa for uncountable nouns. This also elucidates the reasons why Vietnamese pupils misuse two words "many" and "much" for countable and uncountable nouns.

Thirdly, in Vietnamese, we can say "Chim Ä‘ang hót" without any determiners. This sentence conveys the full meaning and is grammatical right. Otherwise, if we apply this rule in to English, which requires the determiners for noun, it is completely wrong. We cannot say "Bird is singing" (the right sentence should be "The bird is singing").

Finally, I want to emphasize that, besides the methods of teaching and learning, the syllabus, one of the major causes of the above errors is the differences in English and Vietnamese, or we can call it the linguistic cause.


Vietnamese and English show similarities as well as differences, and noun formation is a complicated process in both languages. It demands the learners to master the rules and apply it in the proper place. Vocabulary in English and Vietnamese are copious. However, Vietnamese have more types of noun formation in English, which makes the Vietnamese is more difficult for the foreigners. If you understand these linguistic characteristics of theses two languages, you make a further step in "absorbing" them.