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I. Verbs converted from nouns (denominal verbs)

This is the largest group of words related through conversion. The semantic relations between the nouns and verbs vary greatly. If the noun refers to some object of reality (both animate and inanimate) the converted verb may denote:

1. action characteristic of the object, e.g. ape n — ape v — ‘imitate in a foolish way’; butcher n — butcher v — ‘kill animals for food, cut up a killed animal’;

2. instrumental use of the object, e.g. screw n — screw v — ‘fasten with a screw’; whip n — whip v — ’strike with a whip’;

3. acquisition or addition of the object, e.g. fish n — fish v — ‘catch or try to catch fish’; coat n — ‘covering of paint' — coat v — ‘put a coat of paint on’;

4. deprivation of the object, e.g. dust n — dust v — ‘remove dust from something’; skin n — skin v — ’strip off the skin from’; etc.

II. Nouns converted from verbs (deverbal substantives)

The verb generally referring to an action, the converted noun may denote:

1. instance of the action, e.g. jump v — jump n — ’sudden spring from the ground’; move v — move n — ‘a change of position’;

2. agent of the action, e.g. help v — help n — ‘a person who helps’; it is of interest to mention that the deverbal personal nouns denoting the doer are mostly derogatory, e.g. bore v — bore n — ‘a person that bores’; cheat v — cheat n — ‘a person who cheats’;

3. place of the action, e.g. drive v — drive n — ‘a path or road along which one drives’; walk v — walk n — ‘a place for walking’;

4. object or result of the action, e.g. peel v — peel n — ‘the outer skin of fruit or potatoes taken off; find v — find и — ’something found, ” esp. something valuable or pleasant’; etc.

In conclusion it is necessary to point out that in the case of polysemantic words one and the same member of a conversion pair, a verb or a noun, belongs to several of the above-mentioned groups making different derivational bases. For instance, the verb dust belongs to Group 4 of Denominal verbs (deprivation of the object) when it means ‘remove dust from something’, and to Group 3 (acquisition or addition of the object) when it means ‘cover with powder’; the nounslide is referred to Group 3 of Deverbal substantives (place of the action) when denoting ‘a stretch of smooth ice or hard snow on which people slide’ and to Group 2 (agent of the action) when it refers to a part of an instrument or machine that slides, etc.


Проблема субстантивации

Nouns converted from adjectives

The question now arises whether such cases when words with an adjective stem have the paradigm of a noun should also be classified as conversion, e. g. a private, the private's uniform, a group of privates. Other examples of words that are completely substantivized (i.e. may have the plural form or be used in the Possessive case) are captive, conservative, criminal, female, fugitive, grown-up, intellectual, male, mild, native, neutral, radical, red, relative and many more. Completely substantivized adjectives may be associated with determinatives, e. g.: Swinton combed out all the undesirables (Lindsay).

There is no universally accepted evaluation of this group. E. Kruisinga speaks of conversion whenever a word receives a syntactic function which is not its basic one.

The prevailing standpoint among Leningrad linguists is different. L.P. Vinokurova, I.P. Ivanova and some other scholars maintain that substantivation in which adjectives have the paradigm and syntactic features of nouns differs from conversion, as in substantivation a new word arises not spontaneously but gradually, so that a word already existing in the language by and by acquires a new syntactic function and changes its meaning as a result of a gradual process of isolation. There are other scholars, however, who think this reasoning open to doubt: the coining of a new word is at first nothing but a fact of contextual usage, be it a case of recognized conversion or substantivation. The process of conversion is impossible outside a context. No isolated word can ever be formed by conversion.

L.P. Vinokurova distinguishes two main types of substantivation:

1. it may be the outcome of ellipsis in an attributive phrase, e. g. the elastic (cord)

2. it may be due to an unusual syntactic functioning. E.g.: I am a contemplative, one of the impossibles.

It may be argued, however, that there must be a moment of the first omission of the determined word or the first instance when the adjective is used in speech in a new function.

There is one more point to be considered, namely a radical difference at the synchronic level: whereas words coined by conversion form regular pairs of homonyms with words from which they are derived, no such regular pattern of modelled homonymy is possible in substantivation of adjectives. It has already been emphasized that in nouns and verbs it is the morphologically simple words that form the bulk of material used in conversion. The predominance of derived adjectives prevents this class of words from entering modelled homonymy.

The degree of substantivation may be different. Alongside with complete substantivation of the type already mentioned (the private, the private’s, the privates), there exists partial substantivation. In this last case a substantivised adjective or participle denotes a group or a class of people: the blind, the dead, the English, the poor, the rich, the accused, the condemned, the living, the unemployed, the wounded, the lower-paid.

We call these words partially substantivised, because they undergo no morphological changes, i.e. do not acquire a new paradigm and are only used with the definite article and a collective meaning. Besides they keep some properties of adjectives. They can, for instance, be modified by adverbs. E.g.: Success is the necessary misfortune of human life, but it is only to the very unfortunate that it comes early (Trollope). It was the suspicious and realistic, I thought, who were most easy to reassure. It was the same in love: the extravagantly jealous sometimes needed only a single word to be transported into absolute trust (Snow).

Besides the substantivised adjectives denoting human beings there is a considerable group of abstract nouns, as is well illustrated by such grammatical terms as: the Singular, the Plural, the Present, the Past, the Future, and also: the evil, the good, the impossible. For instance: “One should never struggle against the inevitable, ” he said (Christie)/ It is thus evident that substantivation has been the object of much controversy. Some of those, who do not accept substantivation of adjectives as a variant of conversion, consider conversion as a process limited to the formation of verbs from nouns and nouns from verbs. But this point of view is far from being universally accepted.


Словосложение в английском языке. Классификация сложных слов


Compounding or word-composition is one of the productive types of word-formation in Modern English. Composition like all other ways of deriving words has its own peculiarities as to the means used, the nature of bases and their distribution, as to the range of application, the scope of semantic classes and the factors conducive to productivity.

Compounds, as has been mentioned elsewhere, are made up of two ICs which are both derivational bases. Compound words are inseparable vocabulary units. They are formally and semantically dependent on the constituent bases and the semantic relations between them which mirror the relations between the motivating units. The ICs of compound words represent bases of all three structural types. The bases built on stems may be of different degree of complexity as, e.g., week-end, office-management, postage-stamp, aircraft-carrier, fancy-dress-maker, etc. However, this complexity of structure of bases is not typical of the bulk of Modern English compounds. In this connection care should be taken not to confuse compound words with polymorphic words of secondary derivation, i.e. derivatives built according to an affixal pattern but on a compound stem for its base such as, e.g., school-mastership ( [n+n]+suf ), ex-housewife( prf+[n+n] ), to weekend, to spotlight ( [n+n]+conversion).



Within the class of compound nouns we distinguish

1. endосentriс compounds

2. exocentric compounds.

In endocentric nouns the referent is named by one of the elements and given a further characteristic by the other. In exocentric nouns only the combination of both elements names the referent. A further subdivision takes into account the character of stems.

§ The sunbeam type. A noun stem is determined by another noun stem. This is a most productive type, the number of examples being practically unlimited.

§ The maidservant type also consists of noun stems but the relationship between the elements is different. Maidservant is an appositional compound. The second element is notionally dominant.

§ The looking-glass type shows a combination of a derived verbal stem with a noun stem.

§ The searchlight type consisting of a verbal stem and a noun stem is of a comparatively recent origin.

In exocentric compounds the referent is not named. The type scarecrow denotes the agent (a person or a thing) who or which performs the action named by the combination of the stems. In the case of scarecrow, it is a person or a thing employed in scaring birds. The type consists of a verbal stem followed by a noun stem. The personal nouns of this type are as a rule imaginative and often contemptuous: cut-throat, daredevil ‘a reckless person’, ‘a murderer’, lickspittle‘a toady’, ‘a flatterer’, pickpocket ‘a thief, turncoat ‘a renegade’.

A very productive and numerous group are nouns derived from verbs with postpositives, or more rarely with adverbs. This type consists chiefly of impersonal deverbal nouns denoting some action or specific instance. Examples: blackout ‘a period of complete darkness’ (for example, when all the electric lights go out on the stage of the theatre, or when all lights in a city are covered as a precaution against air raids); also ‘a temporary loss of consciousness’; breakdown ‘a stoppage through accident’, ‘a nervous collapse’; hangover ‘an unpleasant after-effect’ (especially after drink); make-up, a polysemantic compound which may mean, for example, ‘the way anything is arranged’, ‘one’s mental qualities’, ‘cosmetics’; take-off, also polysemantic: ‘caricature’, ‘the beginning of a flight’, etc. Compare also: I could just imagine the brush-off he’d had (Wain). Some more examples: comedown, drawback, drop-out, feedback, frame-up, knockout, set-back, shake-up, splash-down, take-in, teach-in, etc.

The group of bahuvrihi compound nouns is not very numerous. The term bahuvrihi is borrowed from the grammarians of ancient India. Its literal meaning is ‘much-riced’. It is used to designate possessive exocentric formations in which a person, animal or thing are metonymically named after some striking feature they possess, chiefly a striking feature in their appearance. This feature is in its turn expressed by the sum of the meanings of the compound’s immediate constituents. The formula of the bahuvrihi compound nouns is adjective stem + noun stem. The following extract will illustrate the way bahuvrihi compounds may be coined: I got discouraged with sitting all day in the backroom of a police station with six assorted women and a man with a wooden leg. At the end of a week, we all knew each other’s life histories, including that of the woodenleg’s uncle, who lived at Selsey and had to be careful of his diet (M. Dickens). Semantically the bahuvrihi are almost invariably characterised by a deprecative ironical emotional tone. Cf. bigwig ‘a person of importance’, black-shirt ‘an Italian fascist’ (also, by analogy, any fascist), fathead ‘a dull, stupid person’, greenhorn ‘an ignoramus’, highbrow ‘a person who claims to be superior in intellect and culture’, lazy-bones‘a lazy person’.


Compound adjectives regularly correspond to free phrases.

§ Thus, for example, the type threadbare consists of a noun stem and an adjective stem. The relation underlying this combination corresponds to the phrase ‘bare to the thread’. Examples are: airtight, bloodthirsty, carefree, heartfree, media-shy, noteworthy, pennywise, poundfoolish, seasick, etc.

The type has a variant with a different semantic formula: snow-white means ‘as white as snow’, so the underlying sense relation in that case is emphatic comparison, e. g. dog-tired, dirt-cheap, stone-deaf. Examples are mostly connected with colours: blood-red, sky-blue, pitch-black; with dimensions and scale: knee-deep, breast-high, nationwide, life-long, world-wide.

§ The red-hot type consists of two adjective stems, the first expressing the degree or the nuance of the second: white-hot, light-blue, reddish-brown.

The same formula occurs in additive compounds of the bitter-sweet type correlated with free phrases of the type adjective1 and adjective2 {bitter and sweet) that are rather numerous in technical and scholarly vocabulary: social-economic, etc. The subgroup of Anglo-Saxon has been already discussed.

§ The peace-loving type consisting of a noun stem and a participle stem, is very productive at present. Examples are: breath-taking.

A similar type with the pronoun stem self- as the first component (self-adjusting, self-propelling) is used in cultivated and technical speech only.

§ The hard-working type structurally consists of an adjective stem and a participle stem. Other examples of the same type are: good-looking, sweet-smelling, far-reaching.

§ There is a considerable group of compounds characterised by the type word man-made, i.e. consisting of Participle II with a noun stem for a determinant.


Scholars are not agreed on the question of compound verbs. This problem indeed can be argued in several different ways. It is not even clear whether verbal compositions exist in present-day English, though such verbs as outgrow, overflow, stand up, black-list, stage-manage and whitewash are often called compound verbs. There are even more complications to the problem than meet the eye.

H. Marchand, whose work has been quoted so extensively in the present chapter, treats outgrow and overflow as unquestionable compounds, although he admits that the type is not productive and that locative particles are near to prefixes. “The Concise Oxford Dictionary", on the other hand, defines out- andover- as prefixes used both for verbs and nouns; this approach classes outgrow and overflow as derivatives, which seems convincing.

The stand-up type was in turns regarded as a phrase, a compound and a derivative; its nature has been the subject of much discussion. The verbs blackmail and stage-manage belong to two different groups because they show different correlations with the rest of the vocabulary.

blackmail v = honeymoon v = nickname v

blackmail n honeymoon n nickname n

The verbs blackmail, honeymoon and nickname are, therefore, cases of conversion from endocentric nominal compounds. The type stage-manage may be referred to back-formation. The correlation is as follows:

stage-manage v = proof-read v = housekeep v

stage-manager n proof-reader n housekeeper n

The second element in the first group is a noun stem; in the second group it is always verbal.

Some examples of the first group are the verbs safeguard, nickname, shipwreck, whitewash, tiptoe, outline, honeymoon, blackmail, hero-worship. All these exist in English for a long time. The 20th century created week-end, double-cross ‘betray’, stream-line, softpedal, spotlight. The type is especially productive in colloquial speech and slang, particularly in American English.

The second group is less numerous than the first but highly productive in the 20th century. Among the earliest coinages are backbite (1300) and browbeat(1603), then later ill-treat, house-keep. The 20th century has coined hitch-hike (cf. hitch-hiker) ‘to travel from place to place by asking motorists for free rides’; proof-read (cf. proof-reader') ‘to read and correct printer’s proofs’; compare also mass-produce, taperecord and vacuum-clean. The most recent is hijack ‘make pilots change the course of aeroplanes by using violence’ which comes from the slang word hijacker explained in the Chambers’s Dictionary as ‘a highwayman or a robber and blackmailer of bootleggers’ (smugglers of liquor). The structural integrity of these combinations is supported by the order of constituents which is a contrast to the usual syntactic pattern where the verb stem would come first. Cf. to read proofs and to proofread.


Derivational compounds or compound-derivatives are words in which the structural integrity of the two free stems is ensured by a suffix referring to the combination as a whole, not to one of its elements: kind-hearted, old-timer, schoolboyishness, teenager. In the coining of the derivational compounds two types of word-formation are at work. The essence of the derivational compounds will be clear if we compare them with derivatives and compounds proper that possess a similar structure. Take, for example, brainstraster, honeymooner and mill-owner. The ultimate constituents of all three are: noun stem + noun stem +-er . Analysing into immediate constituents, we see that the immediate constituents (IC’s) of the compound mill-owner are two noun stems, the first simple, the second derived: mill + owner.

The process of word-building in these seemingly similar words is different: mill-owner is coined by composition, honeymooner — by derivation from the compound honeymoon. Honeymoon being a compound, honeymooner is a derivative. Now brains trust ‘a group of experts’ is a phrase, so brainstruster is formed by two simultaneous processes — by composition and by derivation and may be called a derivational compound. Its IC’s are (brains + trust)+ -еr. The suffix -er'is one of the productive suffixes in forming derivational compounds.

Another frequent type of derivational compounds are the possessive compounds of the type kind-hearted: adjective stem + noun stem + -ed. Its IC’s are a noun phrase kind heart and the suffix -ed that unites the elements of the phrase and turns them into the elements of a compound adjective. Similar examples are extremely numerous. Compounds of this type can be coined very freely to meet the requirements of different situations. The first element may also be a noun stem: bow-legged, heart-shaped and very often a numeral: three-coloured. The derivational compounds often become the basis of further derivation. Cf.war-minded: : war-mindedness; whole-hearted: : whole-heartedness: : whole-heartedly, schoolboyish: : schoolboyishness; do-it-yourselfer: : do-it-yourselfism.


The group consists of reduplicative compounds that fall into three main subgroups:

§ reduplicative compounds proper,

§ ablaut combinations,

§ rhyme combinations.

Reduplicative compounds proper. Actually it is a very mixed group containing usual free forms, onomatopoeic stems and pseudo-morphemes. Onomatopoeic repetition exists but it is not very extensive: hush-hush ‘secret’, murmur (a borrowing from French) pooh-pooh (to express contempt). In blah-blah ‘nonsense’, ‘idle talk’ the constituents are pseudo-morphemes which do not occur elsewhere.

Ablaut combinations are twin forms consisting of one basic morpheme (usually the second), sometimes a pseudo-morpheme which is repeated in the other constituent with a different vowel. The typical changes are [ı ] — [æ ]: chit-chat ‘gossip’ (from chat ‘easy familiar talk’), dilly-dally ‘loiter’, knick-knack ‘small articles of ornament’, riff-raff ‘the mob’, shilly-shally ‘hesitate’, zigzag (borrowed from French), and [ı ] — [o]: ding-dong (said of the sound of a bell), ping-pong ‘table-tennis’, singsong ‘monotonous voice’, tiptop ‘first-rate’.

Rhyme combinations are twin forms consisting of two elements (most often two pseudo-morphemes) which are joined to rhyme: boogie-woogie, flibberty-gibberty ‘frivolous’, harum-scarum ‘disorganised’, helter-skelter ‘in disordered haste’, hoity-toity ‘snobbish’, humdrum ‘bore’, hurry-scurry ‘great hurry’, hurdy-gurdy ‘a small organ’, lovey-dovey ‘darling’, mumbo-jumbo ‘deliberate mystification, fetish’, namby-pamby ‘weakly sentimental’, titbit ‘a choice morsel’, willy-nilly‘compulsorily’ (cf. Lat volens-nolens). About 40% of these rhyme combinations (a much higher percentage than with the ablaut combinations) are not motivated: namby-pamby, razzle-dazzle. The pattern is emotionally charged and chiefly colloquial, jocular, often sentimental in a babyish sort of way. The expressive character is mainly due to the effect of rhythm, rhyme and sound suggestiveness.


The words like gillyflower or sparrow-grass are not actually compounds at all, they are cases of false-etymology, an attempt to find motivation for a borrowed word: gillyflower from OFr giroflé , crayfish (small lobster-like fresh-water crustacean, a spiny lobster) from OFr crevice, and sparrow-grass from Latin asparagus.May-day (sometimes capitalised May Day) is an international radio signal used as a call for help from a ship or plane, and it has nothing to do with the name of the month, but is a distortion of the French m'aidez ‘help me’ and so is not a compound at all.




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