One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Verbs from nouns
Many English words can be used in more than one part of speech. While there are extreme cases such as down, which has five, a rather more common pattern is for a word to have two parts of speech. In particular, very many words function as both nouns and verbs:
to run [verb]
to go for a run [noun]
to chat [verb]
to have a chat [noun]
Technically, this very common process in English is known as conversion: it converts a word into a different part of speech.
One particularly common form of conversion is using nouns as verbs. This specific process is called verbing.
Nobody seems to object to talking about peppering food (the verb already existed in Old English) or quizzing somebody, which are both examples of verbing. But certain verbs from nouns started to be widely used in the 20th century and have proved very unpopular, in the meanings shown, with many writers, editors, and commentators on language. They are:
- to access [e.g. Single rooms have private facilities accessed via the balcony.]
- to author
- to contact
- to medal
- to leverage [e.g. The organization needs to leverage its key resources.]
- to impact [e.g. The move is not expected to impact the company’s employees.]
- to interface [e.g. You will interface with counterparts from sister companies.]
- to reference [e.g. The media referenced our association in almost 40 articles.]
In addition, the verb to offshore is based on an adjective rather than a verb.
While to contact has become a completely uncontroversial and useful part of everyday language, many of the others tend to be used in specific language registers, such as business, computing, or sport. For that reason, to many people they still sound like jargon and are hard to accept.
To avoid using them in your own writing, because they may upset some readers, you can usually replace them with a verb phrase, e.g. to have/gain access to, to win a medal, to have an impact on.
Historically, verbing is a process that has affected English over centuries, including such everyday verbs as to elbow, to distance, and to inconvenience.
Back to Grammar tips.
You may also be interested in:
In this article we explore how to impress employers with a spot-on CV.