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Moldova State University

Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures

English Lexicology
Theme: Conversion in Modern English

Made by student group 253 L

Cotiujinscaia Tatiana
Checked by professor of English lexicology
Pascaru Daniela

Chisinau 2013


Chapter I
I.1 Definition of the word formation
I.2 Definition, terminology and characteristics
I.3 Productivity
I.4 Conversion as a syntactic process
I.5 Typology
I.6 Substantivation of adjectives

Opinions of linguists


nglish is a very productive language. Due to its versatile nature, it can
undergo many different word formation processes to create new lexicon. Some of
them are much lexicalized such as derivation or compounding. However, new
trends are pointing up in the productive field. This is the case of the minor methods
of word-formationi.e. clipping, blendingand conversion. As they are recent
phenomena, they have not been much studied yet. Even scholars differ in their
opinions about the way they should be treated. There is only one point they all
agree with: these new methods are becoming more frequently used. For example,
conversion will be more active in the future, and so, it will create a great part of the
new words appearing in the English language (Cannon).
This paper will attempt to analyze in depth the behavior of one of these new wordformation methods: conversion. It is probably the most outstanding new method in
the word-formation. It is a curious and attractive subject because it has a wide field
of action: all grammatical categories can undergo conversion to more than one
word-form, it is compatible with other word-formation processes, and it has no
demonstrated limitations. All these reasons make the scope of conversion nearly

1.1 Definition of the word-formation

Word-formation is the branch of the science of language which forms new

lexical units, i.e. words. Word-formation can only treat of composites which are
analyzable both formally and semantically. In Modern English ,has been greatly
enlarged by the type of word-building called conversion.(e.g. to hand ,to find, to
pale etc.)
1.2 Conversion
Conversion consists in making a new word from some existing word by
changing of a part of speech, the morphological shape of the original word
remaining unchanged.
For example: I can send you an email (noun) or email (verb) you. The original
noun email experienced conversion, thus resulting in the new verb email.
The term conversion first appeared in the book by Henry Sweet New English
Grammar in 1891. Conversion is treated differently by different scientists.
Professor A.I.Smirntitsky treats conversion as a morphological way of forming
words when one part of speech is forms from another part of speech by changing
its paradigm. A. Marchald in his book The Categories and Types of Present day
English Word -formation treats conversion as a morphological syntactical word
building process because we have not only the change of the paradigm, but also the
change of the syntactic function.
"Conversion is a totally free process and any lexeme can undergo conversion into
any of the open form classes as the need arises" (Bauer).
1.3 Productivity
Conversion is extremely productive way of producing new words in
English. There do not appear to be morphological restriction on the form that can
undergo conversion, go that compounds derivatives acronyms, blends clipped
forms and simplex words are all acceptable inputs to the conversion process.

1.4 Conversion as a syntactic process.

The conversion is the use of a form which regarded as being basically of
one form class as though it were a member or different form class, without any
concomitant change of form. There are, however, a number of instance where
changes of this type occur with such case and so regularly that many scholars
prefer to see them as matters of syntactic usage rather than a word-formation.
1.5 Typology
There are many cases in which the process of conversion is evident.
Nevertheless, conversion is not as simple as it may seem: the process is easily
recognizable because both words are graphically identical; the direction of this
process, though, is sometimes nearly impossible to determine. This is not very
important for the speaker: he just needs a simple way to cover a gap in the
language. As this paper tries to give a comprehensive vision on conversion, it will
attempt to establish the direction of the process. Both the original category and the
derived one will be mentioned.
The criterion to establish the original and derived item has been taken from
Marchand. It focuses on several aspects:
a. the semantic dependence (the word that reports to the meaning of the other
is the derivative)
b. the range of usage (the item with the smaller range of use is the converted
c. the semantic range (the one with less semantic fields is the shifted item)
d. the phonetic shape (some suffixes express the word-class the item belongs
to and, if it does not fit, this is the derivative).

After this analysis, intuition is still important. Verbs tend to be abstract because
they represent actions and nouns are frequently concrete because they name
material entities. Conversion is quickly related to shift of word-class. With this
respect, it mainly produces nouns, verbs and adjectives.

The two categories of parts of speech especially effected by conversion are

nouns and verbs .
The most productive form of conversion in English is noun
to verb conversion. The following list provides examples of verbs converted from
Noun Verb
access to access
bottle to bottle
can to can
closet to closet
email to email
eye to eye
For example:

My grandmother bottled (verb) the juice and canned (verb) the pickles.
My grandmother put the juice in a bottle (noun) and the pickles in a can (noun).

Another productive form of conversion in English is verb to noun conversion.

The following list provides examples of nouns converted from verbs:
Verb Noun
to alert alert
to attack attack
to call call
to clone clone
to command command
For example:

The guard alerted (verb) the general to the attack (noun).

The enemy attacked (verb) before an alert (noun) could be sounded.

Other Conversions
There are also other conversion .
For example:

adjective to verb: green to green (to make environmentally friendly)

preposition to noun: up, down the ups and downs of life
conjunction to noun: if, and, but no ifs, ands, or buts
interjection to noun: ho ho ho I love the ho ho hos of Christmastime.

In the group of verbs made from nouns some of the regular semantic
associations are as indicated in the following list:
The noun is the same name of tool or implement , the verb denotes an
action performed by the tool: to hummer.
The noun is the name of an animal ,the verb denotes an action or
aspect of behavior considered typical of this animal :to dog , to wolf.
The noun is the name of part of human body : to hand ,to shoulder.
The noun is the name of a profession ,the verb denotes an activity
typical of it :to cook ,to groom.
The noun is the name of place ,the verb the process of occupying the
place or of putting something or somebody in it: to house, to place.
The noun names a container ,verbs-the act of putting something
within the container: to can, to bottle.
The noun is the name of a meal and the verb-the process of talking it :
to breakfast, to lunch.

1.6 Substantivation of adjectives

Substantivation of adjectives is the result of ellipsis when a word
combination with a semantically strong attribute loses its semantically weak noun ,
e.g. a group up person is shortened to a grown up.
There are : 1.complete substantivation
2.partial substantivation
In cases of complete substantivation the attribute takes the paradigm of a
countable noun ,e.g. a criminal, criminals, a ciminal`s ,criminals`.
In cases of partial substantivation a substantivized adjectives denotes a group or a
class of people: the poor ,the French ,the blind.
We call this words partially substantivised, because they undergo no
morphological changes , do not acquire a new paradigm and are only used with the
definite article and collective meaning.

Opinions of linguists
Conversion is frequently called zero-derivation, a term which many
scientists prefer (Adams, Jespersen, Marchand ). Most writers who use both terms
appear to use them as synonyms. However, as Lyons points out, the theoretical
implications of the two are rather different. Cruber , for example, argues that to
treat ordinary derivation and zero-derivation differently in the grammar is to lose a
generalization, since both involve changes of form class, but claims that they can
only by treated the same way, if a zero-affix is permitted. Otherwise, he says,
derivation can be treated as a rule-governed process, but zero-derivation cant be;
that is, the relation between some napalm and to napalm and other similar pairs.

Most new words are not as new as we tend to think. They are just readjustments
within the same language, like additions to existing items or recombination of
elements. This is where the field of action of conversion may be placed, and that is
why this type of morphological studies reveals interesting aspects in the diachronic
evolution of the English language.
There are evident cases of conversion from one part of speech to another, unclear
cases in which the grammatical category is not definitely shifted, secondary
changes within the same word and marginal cases where the change has produced
slight modifications.
The real examples provided indicate the high frequency of this process. It is quite a
common phenomenon is everyday English. In addition, it is not a great source of
problems for nonnative speakers and translators because the meaning of converted
items is easily recognizable. However, translators are strongly advised to be taught
conversion so that their passive knowledge of it can be turned into an active skill,
with the subsequent lexical enlargement for their everyday communication.

1. AITCHISON, J. (1989). Words in the MindAn Introduction to the
Mental Lexicon, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
2. BAUER, L. (1983). English Word Formation, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
3. MARCHAND, H. (1972). Studies in Syntax and Word-Formation,
Mnchen: Wilhem Fink

Oxford Dictionary of English (1994). Oxford: Oxford University Press