The last part of our treatment of verbs has to do with the lexicon. Many verbs, like many nouns, are simple in their form; eat is structurally simple. In contrast, frighten is not
simple; it can be broken down into fright- and en. Fright- is the stem, and -en is a suffix. The stem by itself is not a verb but a noun (I got a fright). The effect of adding the suffix -en is to convert the noun into a verb. So the presence of this suffix is a clue to the fact that the word in which it occurs is a verb. Here are further examples of verbs that are ‘derived’ from other words: activate (from active), symbolize (from symbol), whiten (from white), purify (from pure), materialize (from material), falsify (from false), deepen (from deep), equalize (from equal), criticize (from critic), differentiate (from different), quicken (from quick). The suffixes exemplified in these words are: -ate, -ize, -ify, -en. (Exercise 18 is on p. 53.) The suffixes -ate, -ize, -ify, -en, can often be recognized as forming part of a verb even when the stem to which they are added is not an independently existing word. For instance, calculate is a verb but there is no independent word *calcul. The analysis into calcul- and -ate is, however, supported by reference to the word calculus. Other words where the termination is recognizable as the verb-forming suffix -ate are: initiate, dominate and isolate. This termination is therefore a fairly reliable signal that the word in question is a verb. The same is true of the other verb-forming suffixes, as these words demonstrate: recognize, magnify, rectify. (Exercise 19 is on p. 53.) A few verbs in English are formed with a prefix; belittle and befriend both have the prefix be-, and enslave has the prefix en-. These are far less numerous than the verbs formed with the suffixes described above. There are a very large number of words in English that can be used as either nouns or verbs without any change of form. We can say The auctioneer will value the picture, and The picture has a high value. In the first sentence value is a verb, and in the second it is a noun. Thus the word can be sometimes one and sometimes the other, and we cannot tell which unless we look at the context. (Exercise 20 is on p. 53.) Of some words that can be used both as nouns and as verbs, it is possible to say that they are first and foremost nouns and that their use as verbs is secondary, or derived. The word chair is basically a noun, and in He chaired the meeting the verb to chair is derived from the noun. Conversely, some words are basically verbs and their use as nouns is derived. Drive is a verb, and the noun meaning ‘an approach to a house along which one drives’ is derived from the verb. On the other hand, there are scores of words that seem more or less equally balanced between being a verb and a noun, and it would be difficult to judge whether one use was primary and the other derived. Among these are slope, cover, mind, name, step and change. (Exercise 21 is on p. 53.) A further interesting point about the conversion of nouns to verbs and vice versa is that some words are merely pronounced differently according to whether they are nouns or verbs; there is no additional suffix, and there is sometimes not even any difference in the way the word is written down in ordinary spelling. The word house has an /s/ sound when it is a noun (it rhymes with mouse), but has a /z/ sound (to rhyme with rouse) when it is a verb. Other words that are like this are use, grieve/ grief, and strive/strife, though the different spelling of the last two records the difference in sound. The words conduct, import, present and insult can be both nouns and verbs. The words are written without any change of spelling, but the reader who is familiar with the pronunciation of English will recognize that the stress is placed on the first syllable if it is a noun and on the second syllable if it is a verb: insult (n.), insult (v.). The following sentences illustrate this: His conduct was disgraceful The wires conduct the electric current The country’s imports include coal The country imports coal I have given him a present I shall present him with a book What an insult!
They insult us to be constructed on a similar pattern but which do not shift the stress: rescue has the stress on the first syllable whether it is a noun or a verb, and disgrace normally has the stress on the second syllable. (Exercise 22 is on p. 53.) The word dispute is of some interest since one nowadays often hears people pronounce the noun with the stress on the first syllable: The dispute has lasted three weeks. The older pronunciation, on the other hand, has the stress on the second syllable. It seems that there is a tendency for people to treat this word like conduct, insult, etc. and to make the stress variable. However, speakers are divided on this point, so it must be regarded as an unstable feature of present-day English. (It is possible to describe such a state of affairs in contemporary English usage without disparaging the people who have adopted the new pronunciation, and without making out that their language is anarchic. It is clear that the new usage, though different from the
old, is no less systematic.