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Verbalising conversion

Verbalising conversion (also sometimes called verbification or verbing) is the morphological process whereby a word from a different part-of-speech category is used as a verb, without overt morphological marking. The base and resulting verb have identical forms, as illustrated in the following prototypical examples:

Input category: noun
By die kraanvoëlplant is die blom meer as net 'n gewone blom.
by the strelitzia is the flower more than just a ordinary flower
The flower of the strelitzia is more than just an ordinary flower.
Output category: verb
... wanneer die Maart+lelies begin blom ...
... when the March+lilies begin flower ...
... when the March lilies begin to flower ...

Details regarding each input part-of-speech category are discussed in the sections below.

[+]Input category: noun

  • Although N-to-V conversion is productive in Afrikaans – at least for simplex nouns – it is not as prolific as in English or Dutch where "you can verb almost any noun". For Dutch, N-to-V conversion is often assumed to be the most productive form of conversion (Booij 2002: 135). This is based on the fact that nouns from various semantic subgroups can be converted into verbs, that in such cases the verb always has the default conjugation (even if there is an ablauting verbal root related to the noun), and on the deviating phonological structure of converted verbs.
  • Booij (2002:135) describes the general semantics of N-to-V conversion as [to SEM(V), with SEM(N) playing a role in the action denoted by SEM(V)], which is illustrated with some more detailed semantic categories in the table below, based on Booij (2002), Kempen (1969:38-40), and Theron (1974:189).
    Also see the topic on nominalising conversion.

Table 1
Meaning of resulting V Example of N-to-V conversion
[to do something with SEM(N)] (biggest group) borsel (to) brush
skroef (to) screw
pomp (to) pump
grendel (to) lock
gorrel (to) gargle
[to produce/form/develop/make into/acquire SEM(N)] rank (to shoot a) tendril
pêrel (to) pearl
klont (to) clot
bundel (to) bundle
glimlag (to) smile
lawaai (to make a) noise
[to behave like/as SEM(N)] to behave as N boer farmer > to farm
kanker cancer > to nag, plague, pester, badger (someone for something)
dokter (to) doctor
aas bait > to prey on something
[to store/put something/someone in SEM(N), which is a container or place] herberg (to) lodge, shelter
rooster toaster; griller > to toast; grill
[to bring/treat with SEM(N)] haat (to) hate
roem (to) praise
[to play SEM(N)] skaak (to play) chess
[to play with SEM(N)] kolf (to) bat
[to remove SEM(N)] skil (to) peel
oes (to) harvest
[to remove something from SEM(N)] speen teat > to wean
[to SEM(N), which is a weather/atmospheric condition] reën (to) rain
donder (to) thunder

  • Booij (2002) wrote: "Due to the very general meaning contribution of the conversion construction, the range of specific meanings of conversion verbs is enormous." While he ascribes the "semantic versatility of this word-formation process" as an important "cause of its high productivity", it should also be noted that semantic versatility could work against productivity, as the meaning of the verb can be too underspecified to be useful.
  • Kempen (1969:40) illustrated with examples from WAT that the noun in such conversion pairs oftentimes have more polysemous meanings than the resulting verb. For example anker (to) anchor has 14 polysemous meanings as a noun, but only 4 as a verb; bad (to) bath has 10 polysemous meanings as a noun, but only 2 as a verb.
  • Most of the converted nouns are simplex ones, or compound nouns with a simplex head such as blind+doek blind+cloth (to) blindfold. It is not easy to find derivationally complex nouns that feed conversion; one of the few exceptions is finans·ier to finance from the derived noun finans·ier financier.
  • In Dutch and many other European languages, children use this kind of conversion productively from a young age (Clark 1993:Ch. 11).

[+]Input category: proper noun

  • The names of products being used saliently in everyday society, are often converted into verbs, as in Google (product name) > om te google to google; or Facebook > om te facebook to facebook.
  • Such conversions are realised with lower-case letters in the orthography (see AWS-11, rule 9.21).

[+]Input category: adjective

  • Conversion from adjectives is not productive, but there are quite a few verbs that are the result of conversion of adjectives.
  • A-to-V conversion is blocked by the much more productive process of prefixation by means of ver-, e.g. groot large > ver·groot to enlarge.
  • The general meaning of deadjectival converted verbs is [to make/become/behave like SEM(A)], as illustrated in the table below.
  • Some verbs converted out of adjectives have more than one meaning, e.g. the verb from the adjective krom bent, crooked can mean [to become bent]', [to make bent], or [to bend oneself; to incurve] (with a reflexive pronoun).

Table 2
Meaning of resulting V Example of A-to-V conversion
[to make SEM(A)] suiwer pure > to purify
openbaar public > to reveal
[to become SEM(A)] bekwaam (to become) fit
nader (to become) close
[to behave in a SEM(A) manner] gehoorsaam obedient > to obey
regverdig just, righteous > to justify


Kempen (1969:53-54) argues that, compared to Dutch, we also note a restriction on the use of deadjectival converted verbs in Afrikaans. He shows that Dutch has a large number of such verbs, but which don't occur in Afrikaans (or only occur in word groups with a verb, derivations, or compounds). Compare the following examples:

Table 3
Dutch Afrikaans English
schonen skoon maak clean make to clean
flauwen ver·flou VBZ·weak to weaken
killen ver·kil VBZ·cold to chill
helderen op+helder up+clear to clear up

[+]Input category: other

There are a few verbs that result from conversion of bases from other categories: pronominal bases are found in jy en jou you.NOM and you.OBL to be on (over-)familiar terms; a conjunction in maar but to keep raising objections; and an interjection in tata goodbye to say goodbye; to hurry someone up (also see Smessaert 2013: 85).

  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Clark, Eve V1993The lexicon in acquisitionCambridge University Press
  • Smessaert, Hans2013Basisbegrippen morfologieBasisbegrippen taalkundeLeuven/Den HaagACCO
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