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I am a little confused about what affix to add first to the stem "elect". The word is re-election. If I add the suffix -ion first, then it turns the verb into a noun. The affix 're-' attaches best to verbs (if I'm not mistaken). Should I just attach the prefix first then?

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    If re- can be added to the verbs that the nouns come from, then they can appear on the nouns that are derived from them. Re-elect is a verb, so re-election is the derived noun. Mar 19 '15 at 17:27
  • so it doesnt matter which one i add first? or i could check in a corpus which on is the most common? Mar 19 '15 at 17:32
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    Re- is a verbal prefix. The re- appears on the verb. And the verb gets made into a noun. There's no "first" -- this isn't what happens when you talk, it's what happened when the verb was borrowed from Latin. Mar 19 '15 at 17:35
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The first test you should apply is whether re- can be added to a noun and give another noun – *re-tree, *re-pig and so on should persuade you that re- does not attach to nouns. Second is to verify that re- attaches to verb, e.g. re-take, re-think, re-elect. Then when faced with a derivation from noun to verb or verb to noun, if on the surface you find a word of one category X which takes an affix that only attaches to category Y, and if the word also has an affix that converts a Y to an X, then you should assume that the restricted affix is added to the category Y stem first, and then Y changes to X.

Words like "first", "then" are used by linguists in different ways — either literally, meaning in time (i.e. there is a claim about processing) or else in terms of lower versus higher levels of attachment in a structural tree (in case you want to avoid any implications about processing). To really put your theory to the test, you should also try to find newly-generated forms, like "re-macadamize" or even "re-pre-macadamize", which can't reasonably be accused of being historical archaisms (unless you build roads for a living). "Re-think" is a good example since unlike re-elect, it couldn't have been pre-constructed in Latin.

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