Derivational Prefix Be- in Modern English: The Oxford English Dictionary and Word-Formation Theory

Akiko Nagano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The derivational prefix be- productively forms deverbal, denominal and deadjectival verbs in Modern English (ModE) (e.g. beblast, bepearl, beblind). This paper re-examines the Oxford English Dictionary's (OED) description of this prefix's semantic and categorial properties in light of word-formation theory and proposes a new analysis according to which denominal and deadjectival be-verbs are based on denominal and deadjectival converted verbs (e.g. to pearl, to blind). The theoretical motivation for this analysis is the need to deal coherently with both deverbal and denominal/deadjectival be-verbs, and the analysis is empirically confirmed by the input morphology and output semantics of be-verbs. This analysis allows us to conclude that be- is a deverbal verb-forming prefix whose main function is to add the notion of total affectedness to the meaning of the base verb. This paper also shows that the ModE prefix be- provides an interesting case of the conflict between the OED and word-formation theory. Word-formation theory analyses words based on synchronic principles of language, and the results can differ greatly from the OED's descriptions, which are based on the historical-etymological principle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)448-467
Number of pages20
JournalEnglish Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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