Word Formation: Conversion

By Heather Marie Kosur

Part two of "Word Formation: Creating New Words in English" covers the process of conversion, which is the word formation process whereby a word of one part of speech converts into a word of another part of speech, e.g., the noun Google changing into the verb to google.


Conversion is the word formation process in which a word of one grammatical form becomes a word of another grammatical form without English any changes to spelling or pronunciation. For example, the noun email appeared in English before the verb: a decade ago I would have sent you an email (noun) whereas now I can either send you an email (noun) or simply email (verb) you. The original noun email experienced conversion, thus resulting in the new verb email. Conversion is also referred to as zero derivation or null derivation with the assumption that the formal change between words results in the addition of an invisible morpheme. However, many linguistics argue for a clear distinction between the word formation processes of derivation and conversion.

Noun to Verb Conversion

The most productive form of conversion in English is noun to verb conversion. The following list provides examples of verbs converted from nouns:

  • Noun – Verb
  • access – to access
  • bottle – to bottle
  • can – to can
  • closet – to closet
  • email – to email
  • eye – to eye
  • fiddle – to fiddle
  • fool – to fool
  • Google – to google
  • host – to host
  • knife – to knife
  • microwave – to microwave
  • name – to name
  • pocket – to pocket
  • salt – to salt
  • shape – to shape
  • ship – to ship
  • spear – to spear
  • torch – to torch
  • verb – to verb

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).
  • She microwaved (verb) her lunch.
  • She heated her lunch in the microwave (noun).
  • The doctor eyed (verb) my swollen eye (noun).

Noun to verb conversion is also referred to as verbification or verbing, as humorously discussed by Calvin and Hobbes.

Verb to Noun Conversion

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
  • to cover – cover
  • to cry – cry
  • to experience – experience
  • to fear – fear
  • to feel – feel
  • to hope – hope
  • to increase – increase
  • to judge – judge
  • to laugh – laugh
  • to rise – rise
  • to run – run
  • to sleep – sleep
  • to start – start
  • to turn – turn
  • to visit – visit

For example:

  • The guard alerted (verb) the general to the attack (noun).
  • The enemy attacked (verb) before an alert (noun) could be sounded.
  • Sometimes one just needs a good cry (noun).
  • The baby cried (verb) all night.
  • We need to increase (verb) our productivity to see an increase (noun) in profits.

Verb to noun conversion is also referred to as nominalization.

Other Conversions

Conversion also occurs, although less frequently, to and from other grammatical forms. 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.