What is 'Portmanteau'? Meaning, Definition, Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on March 24, 2023

The term 'portmanteau' can have several meanings, but there's a particular one we're interested in, and that's the one that pertains to grammar. Want to know what it is and see examples of 'portmanteaus?' Read on.

In short:

  • A portmanteau is a word that's made by blending two words together.

What is a 'Portmanteau'?

Portmanteaus are great ways to get creative with the English language. Can't think of the perfect word to describe what you're thinking? Make a new one! Want a shorter term to add a dramatic effect? A portmanteau's what you're looking for!

So what exactly is a portmanteau? Essentially, it's a word that blends two words together. It takes part of a word and part of another and sticks them together.

Here are some examples of portmanteaus:

  • Biopic (biography + picture)
  • Listicle (list + article)
  • Romcom (romance + comedy)
  • Smog (smoke + fog)
  • Glamping (glamorous + camping)

Sometimes, one of the two words by be represented fully in the portmanteau, but never both.

For instance:

  • Brexit (Britain + exit)
  • Brangelina (Brad Pitt + Angelina Jolie)
  • Chillax (chill + relax)
  • Medicare (medical + care)
  • Email (electronic + mail)

Don't confuse a portmanteau with a closed compound noun, which merges two complete nouns together, like 'nosebleed' or 'basketball.'

Top tip! 'Portmanteau' is sometimes anglicized as 'portmantle.' This means the same thing.

‘Portmanteau’ Definition and Etymology

Back in the day, a portmanteau was a type of suitcase that would unfold and could be used as a small kind of dresser. They had drawers and spots to hang clothes. Pretty nifty, really.

Today, the dictionary definition of 'portmanteau' includes that meaning when it's a noun.

It also includes the meaning, as an adjective, of "combining more than one use or quality."

The word comes from the Middle French' portemanteau' meaning "traveling bag," originally "court official who carried a prince's mantle."

So when did it come to mean blending two words into one? This meaning we owed to the author Lewis Carroll, who wrote the famous Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In his book Jabberwocky, he made up words by blending two words together and coined the term 'portmanteau' for this practice. It's been used as a noun ever since.

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Portmanteau'

Words borrowed from other languages can be tricky for us English speakers to pronounce. For this reason, I'm going to spell it out the way it sounds:

[ pawrt-man-toh ]

And according to the International Phonetics Alphabet, this is how it sounds phonetically:

/ pɔrtˈmæn toʊ /

Examples of 'Portmanteau' in a Sentence

I will show you a few examples of the word 'portmanteau' used in a sentence, so you can see how it is used in context. I'll only use the word in the sense of two words blended together to make a new one since that is the focus of this article.

Portmanteaus have been commonplace since the mid-1800s.

Sometimes you may choose to use portmanteaus in your writing to liven up your text.

Portmanteaus are a great tool in your writing, but you have to get them right; otherwise, your reader might not understand what you mean.

You should familiarize yourself with the dos and don'ts of creating new portmanteaus.

I've spotted at least two portmanteaus in this text so far.

I knew it was a portmanteau, but I couldn't figure out what it meant.

Concluding Thoughts

Well, that pretty much covers it. Hopefully, you now feel more confident in understanding what a portmanteau is and how you can use it in your writing.

Let's summarize:

  • A portmanteau can be a noun or an adjective.
  • As a noun, it refers to suitcases that were used in previous centuries.
  • The noun also has a grammatical meaning: creating new words by blending two others.
  • Don't confuse portmanteaus with compound nouns.
  • 'Portmantle' is a synonym of 'portmanteau.'

If you found this article helpful, check out our other articles on our Grammar Rules blog.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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