Sometimes we can make a new word by shortening a long word and sometimes we can create a new word without changing anything. Isn't it interesting? Let's see.

Back-Formation and Conversion in The English Grammar

What Is Back-Formation?

Back-Formation, also called back–derivation, is a type of word formation process which involves creating a new word from an existing word by reducing an affix or some part of the root. We do this commonly when we form verbs from nouns.

Back-Formation: Types

English speakers commonly create verbs from Latin nouns that end in '-ion', which have since become part of the English language. However, there are also other forms of back-formation. Here are the most common forms with examples:

  • Latin nouns ending with -ion to verbs:

television (noun): to televise

'to televise' means to broadcast something on TV.

projection (noun): to project

'to project' means to display or convey an image or impression.

emotion (noun): to emote

'to emote' means to express emotion in a clear way, especially in acting.

translation (noun): to translate

'to translate' means to convert or express something from one language to another.

revision (noun): to revise

'to revise' means to review, edit, or make changes to something.

  • Noun ending in -er (or something close in sound) to a verb:

swindler (noun): to swindle

'to swindle' means to deceive or cheat someone, often for financial gain.

sculptor (noun): to sculpt

'to sculpt' means to make art by shaping materials like clay or stone into shapes or figures.

editor (noun): to edit

'to edit' means to make changes to something, like a document, video, or text.

daydreamer (noun): to daydream

'to daydream' means to have pleasant thoughts or fantasies when you're not paying attention to what's happening around you.

  • Other noun-conversions to verbs:

injury (noun): to injure

Here, the final -e is added because of an orthographic rule.

enthusiasm (noun): to enthuse

'to enthuse' means to show excitement or interest.

jelly (noun): to jell

'to jell' means to take shape or to become definite.

Liaison (noun): to liaise

'to liaise' means to cooperate or to start a link between people.

Latin nouns ending with -**ion**- to verbs

  • Adjective to verb:

lazy (adjective): to laze

'to laze' means to be lazy or do nothing, just relax.

obsessive (adjective): to obsess

'to obsess' means to think about something or someone constantly and in an unhealthy or overly focused way.

  • Noun to adjective:

statistics(noun): statistic (adjective)

In this example, the final -s is reduced.

paramedical (noun): paramedic (adjective)

As you can see, the -al- is reduced here.

Warning

Back-Formation and clipping both involve removing some parts of a large word to make a shortened word. However, back-formation changes a word’s function or meaning while clipping does not change the meaning or part of speech of the word.

What Is Conversion?

Conversion is another type of word formation process which is also called zero derivation or null derivation. Conversion involves creating a word with a new word class without any change in its structure.

Conversion: Types

We have three types of conversion that can create a new word with a new function. Take a look at its types and some examples:

  • Phrasal verb to noun:

to break in: break-in (noun)

'break-in' means entering a building or property without permission and by force.

to burn out: burnout (noun)

'Burnout' means a state of exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress.

  • Noun to verb (The most productive form of conversion in English):

dust (noun): to dust

'to dust' means to clean surfaces by removing the dirt and particles that settle on them.

water (noun): to water

'to water' means to give liquid to plants or soil to keep them healthy and hydrated.

access (noun): to access

'to access' means to get to or use something, like a website or a room, so you can use it or get information from it.

fool (noun): to fool

'to fool' means to deceive or trick someone in a playful or deceitful manner.

google (noun): to google

'to google' means to search for information or answers using the Google search engine.

  • Verb to noun (verbification or verbing):

to attack: attack (noun)

'attack' refers to a sudden and often aggressive act of violence, harm, or assault.

to fear: fear (noun)

'fear' refers to a feeling of being scared or afraid when you think something bad might happen.

to judge: judge (noun)

'judge' refers to a person in charge of making decisions in a court of law.

  • Adjective to verb:

dirty (adjective): to dirty

'to dirty' means to make something not clean by getting it messy or soiled.

empty (adjective): to empty

'to empty' means to take everything out of something, so it becomes completely vacant.

Humor in Conversion

Verbification (converting a verb to a noun) could be used to create some funny or humorous words. In this way, a simple conversion is involved. Take a look at some examples:

'beer', as in 'beer me'! → 'give me a beer.'

'eye', as 'eye it'! → 'look at it.'

Tip!

You may wonder which part of speech came first for certain words. Some words have been used in such different ways for so long that their origins are no longer clear. For example, it is unclear whether the word 'plot' first appeared as a verb or a noun.

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