The stressful life of noun-verb homonyms

By Alex E. Proimos, via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex E. Proimos, via Wikimedia Commons

It happens all the time, for better or for worse: nouns being hijacked for use as verbs, and vice versa. “To evidence something,”, “to critique his essay”, “to friend someone”, “to transition into a new role”, “to workshop the play”, “to pencil a date in”, “to text your mom”, “to seat someone in the theater” — even “to host a party”: these are all examples of verbing (which — yeah — is an example of its own definition), any of which might set your teeth on edge to varying degrees. Similarly, “his spend is excessive,” “let’s make the ask,” and “the magician’s reveal” are all forms of “nouning” — or nominalization, which can be just as grating on the ear, if not more so.

But we’re not talking today about these “impostors” — words that are pretending to be something they’re not meant to be. Nouns and verbs are often deeply and historically connected, through a common thread of meaning, and something as simple as syllable stress can turn a homonym (i.e. a word that has more than one meaning – see an earlier Glosso post about them here) from a verb into a noun, or the other way around: we do it all the time. “That won’t conFLICT with his plan, will it?” “There is a CONflict in that country.” The general rule is that verbs have the accent on the second syllable, and shifting the accent to the front of the word makes it into a noun. Isn’t it strange that when we’re reading these words on the page — i.e. we’re not getting any audio/pronunciation cues, we still automatically stress them the right way in our minds, led by context and anticipation?

Glosso has collected up as many of these noun-verb pairs as we can think of in the list below. If, as in a few cases, the word pairs don’t share a root meaning, we’ve listed the more obscure or unusual definition attached to the appropriate version of the word. Please add any more pairs in the comments section below.

absent

abstract

addict(ed)

address (US noun)

affect

ally

augment: (n.) A vowel prefixed to past tenses of verbs in Greek and certain other Indo-European languages.

bombard: (n.) A cannon of the earliest type, which fired a stone ball or large shot.

annex: (British noun, often wth an extra ‘e’) A building joined to or associated with a main building, providing additional space or accommodations

bombard: (n.) A cannon of the earliest type, which fired a stone ball or large shot.

combat

combine: (n) A group of people or companies acting together for a commercial purpose

commune

compact

compound

compress

concert: (v.) To arrange (something) by mutual agreement or coordination

conduct

confine(s)

conflict

conscript

conserve

console

consort

construct

consult (US)

content

contest

contract

contrast

converse

convert

convict

costume (US)

decrease

default

defect

desert

dictate

digest

discard

discharge

discount

discourse

dismount

envelope

escort

essay

excise(d)

exploit

export

extract

ferment

finance (US verb)

frequent

impact

implant

import

impress

insult

object

overlap

overlay/underlay

overlook  (US noun)

override

overrun

perfect

perfume

permit

pervert

present

proceed(s)

process

produce

progress

project

protest (Also, with the stress on the first syllable when used as a verb, it can mean to participate in a protest: this is a result of verbing)

purport

rebel

recall

recap

recess

recoil

record

re-count

redirect

redo (US noun)

refill

refund

refuse

regress

rehash

reject

relapse

relay

remake

repeat (US noun)

reprint

research

reset

retake

retard (offensive noun)

retread

rewrite

segment

subject

survey

suspect

torment

transfer

transform: (n) The product of a transformation (linguistics or mathematics)

transplant

transport

undercount

underline

underscore

update

upgrade

uplift

upset

Interesting note (while we’re on the subject of syllable stress): There are two possible pronunciations of the word controversy: one puts the stress on the CON- and the other puts it on the -TROV-. The second pronunciation, though common (and I believe more common in the UK than in the States), is still widely held to be incorrect in standard English.

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