How is a Denominal Verb Used in Grammar?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

denominal verbs
As a general rule, denominal verbs have regular past-tense forms.

In English grammar, a denominal verb is a verb formed directly from a noun, such as to dust (from the noun dust), to victimize (from the noun victim), and to defrost (from the noun frost).

Types of denominal verbs include (1) ornative verbs (such as to blanket, to accessorize, and to hyphenate); (2) locative verbs (such as to bottle and to stage); and (3) privative verbs (such as to weed, to milk, and to mine). (Valerie Adams uses these three terms in Complex Words in English, 2013.)

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "[O]ne cannot predict the complete meaning of the denominal verb. To put a clock on a shelf is not to shelve it; to just pour wine into a bottle is not to bottle it; to spill water on a table is not to water it. One cannot saddle a table by putting a saddle on it; one cannot butter one's toast by laying a stick of butter on it. The verbs to mother and to father mean very roughly 'act as a mother/father toward someone,' but are entirely different in the exact actions that count as relevant. In short, many denominal verbs have semantic peculiarities that are not predicted by the general lexical rule."
    (Ray Jackendoff, Foundations of Language: Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution. Oxford University Press, 2002)
  • Denominal Verbs and Metonymy
    "In the case of location verbs, a noun indicating the destination of motion becomes a verb. Examples of this process include: ground the planes, bench the players, doormat the boots, shelve the books, blacklist the director, sick-list the patient, front-page the scandal, headline the story, floor the opponent, sidewalk the merchandise, the boat landed, field the candidates, jail the prisoner, house the people, kennel the dog, closet the clothes, silo the corn, garage the car, film the action, photograph the children, bed the child, porch the newspaper, mothball the sweaters, footnote her colleagues, sun oneself, floor the accelerator Here again, the noun indicating destination is used to stand for the motion itself. The appropriate conceptual metonymy seems to be 'the destination of a moving object stands for the motion directed to that destination.'"
    (Zoltán Kövecses, American English: An Introduction. Broadview Press, 2000
  • The Homophony Problem
    "The correct past form [of the verb ring] is rang when the meaning is 'to telephone' but ringed when the meaning is 'to form a ring around' (this is known as the homophony problem as the two rings are homophones, words that sound the same). . . .
    "When a new verb is derived from another verb (e.g. overtake is derived from take) it inherits its properties, including having an irregular past-tense form (e.g. take - took so overtake - overtook). However, when a new verb is derived from a noun (e.g. to ring [= encircle] is derived from the noun ring) it cannot inherit the property of having an irregular past-tense form, because it makes no sense for a noun to have a past-tense form. Because the new verb ring has no past-tense form, the default marker steps in, generating ringed. . . .
    "There is some evidence for the claim of Kim et al. (1991) that adults consider all denominal verbs to take regular past-tense forms."
    (Ben Ambridge and Elena V. M. Lieven, Child Language Acquisition: Contrasting Theoretical Approaches. Cambridge Unversity Press, 2011
  • "The baseball verb to fly out, meaning 'make an out by hitting a fly ball that gets caught,' is derived from the baseball noun fly (ball), meaning 'ball hit on a conspicuously parabolic trajectory,' which is in turn related to the simple strong verb fly 'proceed through the air.' Everyone says 'he flied out'; no mere mortal has yet been observed to have 'flown out' to left field."
    (Steven Pinker and Alan Prince, "On Language and Connectionism." Connections and Symbols, ed. by Steven Pinker and Jacques Mehler. MIT Press, 1988
  • The Innovative Denominal Verb Convention
    "Clark and Clark [see below] propose a number of cooperative principles akin to Gricean conversational principles that speakers use in understanding a newly coined denominal conversion verb like to teapot (1979: 787): The Innovative Denominal Verb Convention. In using an innovative denominal verb sincerely, the speaker means to denote (a) the kind of situation, (b) that he has good reason to believe (c) that on this occasion the listener can readily compute (d) uniquely (e) on the basis of their mutual knowledge (f) in such a way that the parent noun denotes one role in the situation, and the remaining surface arguments of the denominal verb denote other roles in the situation. So if two speakers know that their friend has an unfortunate propensity to stroke people's legs with teapots (Clark and Clark's example), one can say to the other that 'Max was foolish to teapot a police officer,' and know that mutual knowledge and context can be used to fix the meaning of the newly coined verb."
    (Rochelle Lieber, "English Word-Formation Processes." Handbook of Word-Formation, ed. by Pavol Štekauer and Rochelle Lieber. Springer, 2005
  • Clark and Clark on Preemption of Denominal Verbs by Ancestry
    "Some denominal verbs are pre-empted because the parent nouns are themselves formed from verbs that are synonymous with their grandchildren. Thus, while butcher the meat is acceptable, baker the bread is not. To baker appears to be pre-empted by its obvious ancestor, bake, with which it would be synonymous. To butcher is acceptable because it has no such ancestor. Pre-emption by ancestry also seems to account for the unacceptability of to farmer the hillside, to banker the money, and to driver the car, which are otherwise similar to to umpire the game, to volunteer the information, and to chauffeur the car. . . . [H]owever, a denominal verb can be acceptable if it contrasts in meaning with its grandparent. Sweeper the floor is acceptable, despite the presence of sweep, because sweeper entails the use of a carpet-sweeper, while sweep does not. An obvious ancestor, therefore, will pre-empt its descendant denominal verb if its descendant would have the identical meaning."
    (Eve V. Clark and Herbert H. Clark, "When Nouns Surface as Verbs" [1979]. Morphology: Critical Concepts in Linguistics, ed. by Francis Katamba. Routledge, 2004)

Also Known As: denominative verb

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Nordquist, Richard. "How is a Denominal Verb Used in Grammar?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 13, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, August 13). How is a Denominal Verb Used in Grammar? Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "How is a Denominal Verb Used in Grammar?" ThoughtCo. (accessed March 30, 2023).