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Conversion (also called transposition, functional shift, zero derivation or zero affixation; also note the terms double duty(Dixon 2014) and naked word(Jespersen 1942)) is a directional process, linking an input and an output form that are formally but not semantically identical (Bauer, Lieber and Plag 2013:545; Booij 2002: 134-136; Don 1993). Many researchers see conversion as a special case of derivation, but without (visible) affixation or any phonological or orthographical changes; hence, the term zero affixation is often used as a synonym for conversion (e.g. Marchand 1969:359 ff; cf. also Smessaert 2013:Ch. 6).


A completely different position is taken in De Belder (2011). Working within the Exo-Skeletal variant of the Distributed Morphology framework (Halle 1993; Borer 2003), she maintains that lexical items have no syntactic category in the lexicon and only get one after being inserted into syntactic structure.

In Afrikaans, conversion is rather common and wide-spread, although seemingly less productive (or at least restricted differently) than in English and Dutch. Kempen (1969:31) argues that noun-to-verb (i.e. verbalisation) and adjective/adverb-to-adverb/adjective conversion are the most productive types of conversion in Afrikaans. However, Theron (1974) shows that verb-to-noun conversion (i.e. nominalisation) is actually the most common form of conversion in Afrikaans, directly in contrast to what has been argued for English (e.g. Biese 1941) and Dutch (e.g. Booij 2002). Theron (1974:177) concludes that roughly 60% of nouns and verbs are used equally as nouns and verbs inversely, while 20% are used primarily as nouns only, and 20% primarily only as verbs. For those 60% of cases, it is almost impossible to determine primary usage based on synchronic grounds.

Although words in almost any part-of-speech category can in theory be used in another category (e.g. in jest, as contortions, due to a lack of knowledge, etc.), the most common cases in Afrikaans are within the open word-classes. These, together with a few other common cases, include:

Table 1
Input category Output category Output example
Proper noun Verb google to google
Proper noun Interjection Jeremia! Jeremiah!
Verb Noun swem swimming
Verb (Participle) Adjective/Adverb gebreek broken
Noun Verb hamer to hammer (on something)
Noun Adjective/Adverb suur sour
Noun Adjective/Adverb blikners saddle-sore
Noun Interjection bliksem! dammit!
Numeral Noun/Adjective twee two
Adjective/Adverb Adverb/Adjective maklik easy/easily
Adjective Noun mondeling oral (exam)
Adjective Verb gehoorsaam obey
Preposition Adverb langs next to
Preposition Noun buite < buite+kant (the) outside
Numeral as adjective Numeral as noun twee two
Interjection Noun eina wound
Interjection Adjective eina scanty
Interjection Verb poef to pooh

Details of the different types of conversion are discussed in the following topics:


Original research on conversion in Afrikaans was mainly published in Kempen (1969), and in the PhD thesis of Theron (1974) that was conducted under Kempen's supervision. The remainder of this topic and its subtopics are based by and large on Theron's thesis.

Kempen (1969:31) argues that there is substantial overlap between Afrikaans and Dutch conversion, contrary to the claims of Hesseling (1923). However, (corpus-based) research should still be conducted to shed more light on the issue.

[+]Modelling conversion

There is no lack of theories on morphological conversion (Bauer, Lieber and Plag 2013:563 ff). Some of the oldest theories used the concept of zero affixation, i.e. the postulation of an affix without phonological content that is responsible for the change in category and meaning. Marchand (1969:359 ff) gives an historical foundation for zero derivation: Following Jespersen, he suggests that the loss of endings gave rise to derivation by a zero morpheme. Synchronically, however, there are various problems with the approach: It is impossible to decide whether it is a zero prefix or a zero suffix, zeroes tend to proliferate (one for deverbal nouns of common gender, another one for neuter nouns, one for denominal verbs, one for de-adjectival verbs, etc.), and it is hard to imagine how language learners could ever learn to master the mechanisms.


  • The direction of conversion is not always easy to decide. This is especially true for noun-verb pairs, adjectives-adverb pairs, and preposition-adverb pairs in Afrikaans.
  • One way to determine the direction of conversion, is to consider it diachronically: Which function did the word have first?
    • The proper noun Google existed before the converted verb google. This is therefore a clear example of verbalising (or N-to-V) conversion.
    • With regard to an N-V pair like wals waltz and (om te) wals (to) waltz, one can consider the etymology of the word. Wijk (1936 [1912]) shows that the High German noun walzer waltz was derived from the verb walzen to turn, roll, and we can therefore conclude that – diachronically speaking – the noun was converted from the verb.
  • Another way to determine the direction of conversion, is to consider it synchronically: Which function does the word have primarily?
    • Primacy can be determined in various ways, including distribution, (perceived) frequency, prominence, definitional properties, etc.
    • From a corpus investigation it is clear that the verb teks to text occurs much less frequent than its noun counterpart. Since this verbal function is a new development, one can safely assume that the noun was converted into a verb.
    • In the case of a very old word like vinnig quick(ly); fast(ly) one should tread carefully, since vinnig is used more frequently as an adverb than as an adjective. Despite the fact that vinnig originated as an adjective, it is now used more frequently as an adverb. In such a case the adverbial use is primary, but the conversion was still from ADJ to ADV.
    • One could ask users to define a word pair, and the function that is used in the definition of one of the words, could be considered the primary function. For example, one could ask users in a questionnaire to define the verb and noun dokter doctor. If most users define the verb as to act like a doctor, then the nominal function is primary.
    • Similarly, one could consider definitions in dictionaries. For example, WAT defines the verb ploeg plough as to cultivate land with a plough, with a cross-reference to the noun ploeg plough. We can then deduct that the directionality of the conversion is from N to V.
    • Oftentimes, dictionaries use primacy as an ordering principle for the sequence in which functions and polysemous meanings are presented. For example, WAT presents the nominal function under the lemma haak (to) hook first, followed by the verbal function, but vice versa under the lemma kap (to) cut. One could then deduce N-to-V conversion in then case of haak, and V-to-N conversion in the case of kap.
    • Kempen (1969:37-38, 40) also illustrates that the number of polysemous meanings for the different functions of a word could serve as an indication of the primary function. For example, in WAT the noun baan lane; circuit; etc. has 19 polysemous meanings, while the verb has only two. From this we can deduce that the noun is primary, and hence that the verb was formed through N-to-V conversion.


For lengthy discussions of tests for directionality, see De Groot (1962:133-136) and Kempen (1969:Ch. 1).

[+]Subcategory conversion

The notion conversion might be extended to cases where there is no change in category, but in subcategory. For instance, it is often possible to use a causative verb formed by means of the causative affixes ver- or -iseer as an intransitive verb as well:

a. ... dis die ouderdom wat dit so ver·geel het.
... it.is the age that it so VBZ·yellow have
... it's old age that yellowed it so.
b. Die blaar ver·geel eers voor hy val.
the leaf VBZ·yellow first before he fall
The leaf yellows before it falls.
a. ... ek moet haar vinnig in die hospitaal kry waar ek haar kan stabil·iseer.
... I must her quick in the hospital get where I her can stable·VBZ
... I should get her quickly to hospital where I can stabilise her.
b. ... die MIV-pandemie in Namibië besig is om te stabil·iseer ...
... the HIV pandemic in Namibia busy is PTCL.INF to stable·VBZ ...
... the HIV pandemic in Namibia is stabilising ...

Another type of category-internal valency change is the formation of middle verbs on the basis of verbs that occur with an object or a prepositional adjunct that denotes an instrument, a location, or an external circumstance:

a. Hy behoort die merker+groep daagliks te weeg om hul groei te monitor.
he should the marker+group daily to weigh PTCL.INF their growth to monitor
He should weigh the marker group daily to monitor their growth
b. ... Charlie se seuntjie, hy weeg nou 575 g op 4 maande.
... Charlie PTCL.GEN son, he weigh now 575 g on 4 months
... Charlie's son, at 4 months he now weighs 575 g.
a. ... die sommelier laat proe ons wyne van Frankryk ...
... the sommelier let taste us wines from France ...
... the sommelier let us taste wines from France ...
b. ... die appels proe net soos die toffie-appels ...
... the apples taste just like the toffee-apples ...
... the apples taste just like the toffee apples ...

As argued in Booij (1992) and Ackema and Schoorlemmer (1994;1995), this intransitive use of verbs cannot be a matter of syntax, but requires a lexical rule that applies to the lexical conceptual structure of verbs that express an action: the resulting middle verbs do not express an action, but a property. These middle verbs usually require some evaluative expression to be present in the clause in which they occur that specifies how well the subject can be involved in the event.

[+]Theron's (1974) word lists

The three tables below have been reproduced from Theron's (1974) thesis.

Words functioning primarily as verbs, and secondarily as nouns:

Table 2
aai aanbou aandring aanhoor aanhou
aankom aankweek aanmaak aanneem aanpak
aanplant aanraai aansit aanskou aanslaan
aanvoer aanwys aarsel afdruip afdrup
afhang afhou afkantel afkom afoes
afreis afry afsit afskrik afsterwe
afstryk afvloei afvoer afweer ag (‘respekteer’)
agterbly agteroorgooi asemhaal baasraak baat
bagger baljaar ban bangmaak bedaar
bederf beding behoort bekyk bereik
besit bestel bestier betoog betoon
beur bevind bladlees bleik blindtik
bloei blus boekstaaf boemel boet
boks borduur bot bots bou
braak brabbel brandverf bras brou
byboek byteken deurdruk deurkyk deursny
deurstoot deurtrek deurvlug deurvoer dig (‘skryf’)
dink dobber doem doen doesel
dog dommel doodgaan doodsê doodverf
dooi dos draf dril drink
druk dut dwaal dwarrel eet
faal feil fietsry flous fluister
gaan galm galop gebeur gekskeer
gelukwens gelykstaan gis glim glinster
glip gluur gly gooi grim
groei grou (‘grawe’) gryp hardloop heengaan
heers heg hekel help herstel
hoor hou huil insien intrap
intree intrek jubel kaap kant
kap karwei keur klim klink
kluister knel knikker knipper koop
kophou korswel leeglê leen
leer (‘studeer’) lees (i.v.m. boeke) lekkerkry liplees loer
moker mooipraat naloop namaak neerhaal
omkoop omruil onderhuur onderspit oordek
oorhaal oorsteek (‘verder gaan’) ophaal oploop oppas
opsien opskep opsmuk opstaan paalspring
pamperlang pleit praat pronk prut
raas ratel rondreis rou ruik
ry ryloop saamwerk sak (‘afbeweeg’) sanik
seur sier sing sink
sit skerts skiet skif skik
skommel skoolhou skoor skors skraag
skrap slag (bv. van diere) slenter sleur sloof
sluimer smaad smokkel smul spat
spot spring sprinkel staan staar
steel steur stry stryk suip
sukkel swier tas teel teem
tooi toon trop uitgaan uithaal
uitkoop uitkyk uitstap uitstryk uitvra
uitwas vat vee verbygaan verdedig
vergiet verhuis verkoop verskiet verwyl
vleg vra walg wan wandel
wantrou was weergalm wei woeker
wraak wyk yl

Words functioning primarily as nouns, and secondarily as verbs:

Table 3
aanskyn akker akkoord amateur ambag
angs baard balein ballas bandiet
barbier batik bed bek belang
beraad besem beswaar beul blaar
bloed blousel bobbejaan boeg boepens
bolwerk bom boodskap boog boom
bos bout broek bruilof buffer
buik bullebak bus byval Craven
dagga dak das dassie dief
dons doring draad duiwel eelt
eiland fabel fabriek fiets foelie
front galg gas gasie gebaar
gerief gevoel gier glas glorie
gordel goud graan grasduin grein
grens griffel groep hoer hotnot
huis jeremiade jood kampioen kanon
kantoor kap (‘hoofbedekking’) kapater kapoen kastrol
katel keel keper kerk kerker
ketting kiek kiel kiem kierie
klavier klawer kleed klei klier
klomp kluis kneg knip knuppel
koeël koei koekepan koelie koepel
koerant koffie kok kol kondukteur
konfyt konsertina konsistorie kontoer koring
kos kraal kram krans kruiwa
kruk kryg kuil kuip kwaal
laer lamp lans leer lem
leraar letter likkewaan luik luilak
lumier lummel maal mag mangel
masker meer (‘see’) middag mishoop modder
mot motor myl myn naald
naam nadruk neger nek nes
neus nut onderwys operasie orakel
orkes orrel paap pakkaas paljas
pand pantoffel papegaai parmant peer
pel pen penseel peperment petrol
pit plaag plak pluim pluimpie
polka poot pot pram pyp
raaisel ram rantsoen rede rentenier
res ridder ring roof rusie
rysmier saal sabel saksofoon sambok
seksie senter sirkus skandmerk skandvlek
skêr skobbejak skottel skouer slaaf
slaai slang slee sloot sluier
smart snip snit snoeker sop
spier spies spioen spys staat
stofreën storie stortreën straat string
stronk stronk stroois strop stukadoor
sukkel sussie sweem sweep syfer (‘getal’)
tafel tafsy tand tapyt tee
teiken titel toeval tokkelok tonnel
toorn trebbel trem trompet tuinier
tweeling vakansie verdriet veter vier
vilt vis vleg vlei vloer
vlooi voering voor (‘sloot’) vraag vuis
waaier waan werwel wiel wingerd
winkel wolk wraak wrok

Words functioning equally as verbs and nouns:

Table 4
aanbelang aanblik aangee aangroei aanhef
aankoop aanloop aanroep aansien aanstoot
aanteel aanval aanvang aanwas aar
aard aas abba ablou adel
adem afdruk afgaan afjak aflaat
aflos afset afskop afslaan afstel
aftrek afval agterklap agterlap amok
angel anker antwoord argwaan asem
asgaai B.T.K. baai baal baan
bad bak baken baklei bal
ballet balsem bank banvloek bars
bas baster basuin bedryf beeld
begin behae beheer beitel beits
bel beleg belet beloop berig
beroep berou besef besluit besoek
bestaan bestuur bewys bieg biljart
binneloods binnetrap binneval blaas blaf
blaker blêr blik bliksem blinddoek
blits blok blom blyk bobbel
boei boek boekhou boer bof
boggel boikot bok bol bolster
bondel bons boor borg borrel
borsel bottel botter brand brandmerk
brandskilder breidel brekfis briek bril
brom brons brug brul bry
buit bulk bult bundel bysit
byslaap byt chaperone dam damp
dank dans deel dek deug
deurlaat deurloop deurreis dip doel
doepa dok dokter donder donker
dood doodskop doodsteek doodsweet doodvat
doop dop dou draai dreun
drom droom drup druppel dubbelvou
duik duur dwarsboom dy eb
eer eg eggo eis end
ent erd erf ets etter
ewenaar fees film finansier flap
flenter flerrie fliek flikker flikkervlam
flirt flits fluit fokus fonkel
foon frommel frons fuif fynkam
gaap gaffel gebruik geld geloof
geluk gesel gespe geur geval
ghries ghrop gil glans glasuur
glimlag gluuroog golf gom gorrel
graaf grap grendel grief gril
grimlag groef groet grom grond
grondverf gruis gryns grynslag gulp
haak haal haar haas haat
hael hak hamer handel hang
hap hark harnas harpoen harpuis
hef heks hendikep her herberg
herdruk hewel hobbel hoepel hoes
hok hooi hoon hoop (‘bondel’) hoop (‘verwag’)
houvas huur indruk inkoop inlas
inry inval invoer jag jeuk
kaart kabbel kabel kalf kam
kamp kanker kapittel kapok karring
kartel kas katrol kats keep
keer kef kelder kelk kenmerk
kenskets kerf ketter kim kinkel
kis klad klamp klank klap
klas klem klets kleur kliek
klik klits kloek klok klont
kloof klop klou kluif knak
kneus kniehalter knik knip knoop
knop knop knor knor knou
knyp koek koers kolf kolk
kontak kop koppel korrel kors
koukus kraai kraak krap kriek
kring krinkel kronkel kroon krop
kruie kruis krul krummel kug
kuier kurk kus kwesel kwyl
kyk laagvat lag lak land
lanterfanter lap las laster laventel
lawaai lek (‘lekplek’) lek (‘leksel’) lepel lewe
loer loods loog loon loop
lug lui lym lyn lys
manikuur mars melk merk mik
mis misbruik mond monster mud
muilband munt nael nerf nommer
noodsaak oes offer olie omhaal
omkoop omloop omswaai omvang onderrig
ondersoek ontbyt onthaal ontstaan ontwerp
oordruk oorloop oorstaan oorval opbou
ophef oproep opstel paar pag
pak pantser pas peil pêrel
pes peul piekniek piep pik
pil plaas plant plas plasreën
pleister plesier ploeg plof plons
plooi poeier politoer pols pomp
pond pons pootjie pos praal
preek priem prikkel proef prop
prys pulwer punt put pyl
pyn raam rafel rand rank
ransel raps rasper redetwis reël
reën reis rek rem rep
riffel rimpel roem roep roer
roes roesemoes roffel rofkas roggel
rol rook room rooster roskam
ruil ruk rumoer rus rym
ryp rys saag saamtrek salf
salpeter saluut seel seën seep
seil sein sens sensor set
setel sif sirkel skaaf skaak
skaar skaats skakel skarnier skat
skaterlag skemer skep skerm skets
skeur ski skil skilder skilfer
skimp skipper skoffel skok skollie
skool skoonmaak skoonvang skop skou
skree skreeu skroef skroom skrum
skrywe skuif skuim skuld skulp
skut skyn slaap slampamper slinger
slof sloop sluk slurp smaak
smeer smous snaar snater sneeu
snik snipper snoer snuit sny
soen sool soom sorg sous
spaander spalk span speen speld
spieël spikkel spit spits splinter
spoed spoeg spoel spons spook
spoor sprei sproei spruit spuit
spyker staal stal stam stamp
stap stapel steek steier stel
stem stempel steun stippel stoel
stof stoof stoom stoot stop
storm stort straal strand streep
striem strik stroom stut stuur
stysel sug suiker swaai swael
sweer sweet swenk swerm takel
tamboer teël teenstem teer teken
tender tennis terugval tik tingel
tint tip tjap toeloop toer
toeter toets toevoer tol tolk
top toring traan trap tree
trek troef trok trommel trompetter
troon troos tros tug tuit
twis twyfel uitbraak uitlaat uitloop
uitroep uitstel uitval uitverkoop uitvoer
val vastrap veer verbruik verderf
verf vergelyk vergryp verhaal verhoog
verkeer verloop vermaak vernis verset
verskil versoek versuim vertoon vertrek
verval vervoer vervolg verweer verwyt
veto vlam vlek vlieg vloek
vlym voeg voer vonk vonnis
voorgee voorloop voorstel voorval vorm
vou vrees vul vurk vuur
vyl waarborg waarmerk wag walm
wals wanhoop wapen wasem water
weerlig wenk wens werk wieg
wil wip wissel wond wonder
wortel ys ysskaats ywer

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