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Nominalising conversion

Nominalising conversion (also sometimes called nounification or nouning) is the morphological process whereby a word from a different part-of-speech category is used as a noun, without overt morphological marking. The base and resulting noun have identical forms, as illustrated in the following prototypical examples:

Input category: verb
... jy sal reguit hemel toe wals ...
... you will.AUX directly heaven to waltz ...
... you will waltz directly to heaven ...
Output category: noun
Sy hoor nog die sagte wals oor die grammofoon.
she hear still the soft waltz over the gramophone
She could still hear the soft waltz over the gramophone.

Details regarding each input part-of-speech category are discussed in the sections below.


  • The term hypostasis was introduced by Bloomfield (1935), and elaborated on by, amongst others, Sørensen (1961).
  • Almost any letter/symbol (as in example (3)), morpheme (as in example (4)), word (as in example (5)), or phrase (as in example 6)) can function as a noun when used meta-linguistically.
  • Occasionally a word or phrase can also be used as a verb, as in example (7) and (8).

... dae van die week met die letter "r" in ...
... days of the week with the letter "r" in ...
... days of the week containing the letter "r" ...
Die woorddeel "hiper-" beteken 'bo' ...
the morpheme hyper- means above ...
The morpheme "hyper-" means 'above' ...
Volgens die Oxford Woordeboek, is die woord "inheems" 'n byvoeglike naamwoord ...
according the Oxford dictionary, is the word "indigenous" a adjectival noun ...
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word "indigenous" is an adjective ...
... daar is luidkeels saam met die twee ge-ek-wil-huis-toe-gaan-na-mamma-toe.
there is loudly together with the two PST-I-want.to-house-towards-go-to-mother-towards
... there were loud singing together with each other (the refrain of the pop song by Kurt Darren) "ek wil huis toe gaan na mamma toe".
O, nou word jou ma skielik ge·jy en ge·jou?
oh, now is your mother suddenly PST·you.1SG.NOM and PST·you.1SG.GEN
Oh, so now you are suddenly calling your mother "you"?
As jy egter ge-uhm en ge-ah het oor helfte van die vrae ...
if you however PST-uhm and PST-ah have about half of the questions ...
However, if you have uhm'ed and ah'ed about half of the questions ...
[+]Input category: verb

  • Since conversion is not the only way to derive nouns from verbs, conversion is in competition with overt nominalisation. For example, while die verhuis the move (of house) from the prefixed verb ver·huis VBZ·house to move (house) is a possible conversion, its overtly nominalised counterpart die ver·huis·ing VBZ·house·NMLZ the moving house occurs by far more in corpora (roundabout with a 95:5 ratio). Similarly, while the noun die asemhaal the breathing from the compound verb asem+haal breathe+take to breathe is possible, the overtly nominalised form die asem·hal·ing breath·take·NMLZ the breath; breathing is much more common.

    It is not uncommon for meaning specialisation to occur between a conversion and an overtly nominalised form. For example, from the verb slag to slaughter; kill two nouns can be derived: The converted form die slag is generally more neutral and can be translated with the slaughtering (of animals), while the overtly nominalised form die slagt·ing slaughter·NMLZ underwent a meaning extension to also include humans (i.e. the killing (of humans)), or to express extreme forms of slaughtering/killing (i.e. the carnage, massacre). Conversely, die slag can only be used for the battle, as in die Slag van Magersfontein the Battle of Magersfontein (usually capitalised), for the clap (of thunder), the trick (in card games), the beat (of a heart), etc.

  • According to Theron (1974:179) almost every verb in Afrikaans can be converted to a noun, exactly the opposite as in English where "you can verb almost any noun". Such Afrikaans verbs include:
    • Simplex verbs: haat to hate > die haat the hatred; stroom to stream > die stroom the (water)stream; the streaming; loop to walk > die loop the walk; the course (of events); the watercourse; rou to mourn > die rou the mourning. Input verbs are usually monomorphemic, monosyllabic, and from the native stratum; output nouns usually denote the process or the result.
    • Prefixed verbs: her·stel re·set to repair > die herstel the reparation; ver·koop CN·buy to sell > die verkoop the sale. This category is far less productive than the other three.
    • Separable complex verbs: aan+bou on+build to build; to attach > die aanbou the process of building; the annex; op+loop up+walk to walk up; to rise > die oploop the uprise, tumult, disturbance; the ramp.
    • Compound verbs: baas+raak boss+become to conquer > die baasraak the conquering, conquest; blind+tik blind+type to touch-type > die blindtik the touch-typing.
  • In principle, all infinitives can function as nouns, most often as the subject of a sentence (Kempen 1969:34-48; 77-78):

N < (om te) V.INF
a. (Om te) rook is verbode.
(for.COMP PTCL.INF) smoke is forbidden
Smoking is forbidden.
b. (Om te) werk is noodsaaklik.
(for.COMP PTCL.INF) work is essential
Working is essential.
a. Van lag kom huil
from laugh come cry
First laughter, then crying.
b. Ná werk volg rus.
after work follow rest
Rest follows working

  • The argument structure of the verb is often preserved, where arguments are either expressed as left-hand parts of compounds, or as proposition arguments (as illustrated in these examples):

a. Pyp+rook is verbode.
pipe+smoke is forbidden
Smoking a pipe is forbidden.
b. Rook deur onderwysers is verbode.
smoke by teachers is forbidden
Smoking by teachers is forbidden.

As a general rule of thumb, compounding is less frequent and/or productive in such constructions. Compounds like pyp+rook pipe+smoke smoking (a) pipe, perd+ry horse+ride horse-riding; equestrianism and ma+wees mother+be being a mom; motherhood are formed based on the entrenchment of the activity, and the length of the components. It would therefore be improbable to find a compound like ??laboratorium+skoonmaak laboratory+clean laboratory cleaning; cleaning a/the laboratory. One would much rather find infinitive clauses in such cases, e.g. om 'n laboratorium skoon te maak for.COMP a laboratory clean PTCL.INF make to clean a laboratory.
  • Participles functioning as adjectives readily convert to nouns (see Input category: adjective). We also observe a set number of inherited ablaut forms (from (im)perfective forms of strong verbs in Dutch) that function as nouns, e.g. the noun bedrog deceit is related to the Dutch past participle bedrogen of the verb bedriegento deceive.

    See the following exhaustive list, provided by Theron (1974:188-189):

    Table 1
    V (Afrikaans) N (Afrikaans) V.PST – V.PST.PTCP (Dutch)
    bedrieg to deceive bedrog deceit bedroog – bedrogen
    beveel to command bevel command beval – bevolen
    bied to offer bod bid, offer gebood – geboden
    bind to bind band band (among others); bond union bond – gebonden
    breek to break brok piece; breuk fraction (among others) brak – gebroken
    buig to bend, bow boog bow; arch; bog curve boog – gebogen
    dring to push, press drang urge, force drong – gedrongen
    drink to drink drank alcohol dronk – gedronken
    dwing to force dwang compulsion dwong – gedwongen
    geniet to enjoy genot pleasure genoot – genoten
    graaf/grawe to dig groef groove; rut groef – gegraven
    gryp to grab greep grip greep – gegrepen
    help to help hulp help; support hielp – geholpen
    klink to sound klank sound klonk – geklonken
    kryt to scream kreet scream; slogan kreet – gekreten
    ly to suffer leed harm, grief leed – geleden
    meet to measure maat measure mat – gemeten
    neem to take (in)name (in)take nam – genomen
    ruik to smell reuk smell; rook smoke rook – geroken
    sing to sing sang singing zong – gezongen
    skiet to shoot skoot shot schoot – geschoten
    skryf to write skrif writing schreef – geschreven
    sluit to lock slot lock sloot – gesloten
    snuit to blow (one's nose) snot snot, nose mucus snoot – gesnoten
    spreek to speak spraak speech; spreuk proverb; sprook fictious tale sprak – gesproken
    spring to jump sprong jump sprong – gesprongen
    stink to stink, smell stank odour, bad smell stonk – gestonken
    suip to drink soop/sopie shot (of alcohol) zoop – gezopen
    vind to find vonds finding, discovery vond – gevonden
    vreet to feed (on), devour vraat feeder, glutton vrat – gevreten

  • In the category of verbs and nouns that are used equally as nouns and verbs respectively, eight semantic domains feature prominently (Theron 1974:189) (also see this table in the topic on verbalising conversion):
    • Entertainment: e.g. ballet (to) ballet; dans (to) dance; onthaal (to) treat
    • Vocation: e.g. boer (to) farm; dokter (to) doctor; smous to hawk / hawker
    • Instrument: e.g. anker (to) ancor; beitel (to) chisel; ghries (to) grease
    • Abstract: e.g. beheer (to) control; eer (to) honour; hoop (to) hope
    • Result: e.g. bars (to) burst; brul (to) roar; gaap (to) yawn
    • Matter: e.g. gom (to) glue; rook (to) smoke; teer (to) tar
    • Place: e.g. bad (to) bath; bank (to) bank; bundel (to) bundle
    • Nature: e.g. hael (to) hail; reën (to) rain; sneeu (to) snow

[+]Input category: adjective

  • Adjectives, and especially participles functioning as adjectives, that are overtly marked with the attributive suffix-e readily convert into nouns, especially person names, e.g. die heilig·e the holy·ATTR the saint; die blind·e the blind·ATTR the blind (person); die in+sitt·end·e the in+sit·PRS.PTCP·ATTR the passenger; die verwaarloos·d·e neglect·PST.PTCP·ATTR the neglected (person). This group should be distinguished from adjectives that generally don't take the attributive suffix in prenominal position, but are nominalised by means of the nominalising suffix-e, e.g. groot large > die grot·e the large·NMLZ the great (one); blou blue > die blou·e the blue·NMLZ the blue (one). Of course, it is possible to regard the latter examples also as cases of conversion, since these adjectives do occur in set expressions like die grot·e God the great·ATTR God the great God, and 'n blou·e duit 'a blue·ATTR mite a red cent. However, since the nominalising suffix -e is used productively to form new nouns from adjectives that don't take the attributive suffix (e.g. geel yellow > die gel·e the yellow·NMLZ the yellow one), as well as from some verbs (e.g. vertrou trust > die vertrou·e the trust·NMLZ the trust; weet know > die wet·e the know·NMLZ the knowledge), these two suffixes should be regarded as polysemous, and a nominalising (instead of conversion) analysis might even be preferable and more natural.
  • Following on this, adjectives that are marked with the superlative suffix-ste can also function as nouns, e.g. die erg·ste wat jou kan oor+kom the bad·SUP what you can over+come the worst that can happen to you. On the other hand, adjectives marked with the comparative suffix-er don't convert to nouns readily.
  • Numerals that normally function as adjectives, can convert to nouns, e.g. kook vyf eiers cook five eggs > kook vyf cook five.
  • A few uninflected native adjectives can be used as nouns, usually with the meaning [thing with property SEM(A)], e.g. nat wet and droog dry in the sentence Ek het nog nie nat of droog oor my lippe gehad nie I have yet not wet or dry over my lips have.PST PTCL.NEG I haven't had anything to eat or drink. Other examples include in die openbaar in the public publicly, and in die geheim in the secret secretly (see Kempen (1969:50) for more examples of this kind).
  • A few adjectives depicting bodily sensations (e.g. honger hungry and dors thirsty) are also used as nouns (e.g. die honger the hunger and die dors the thirst). From a diachronic viewpoint, these adjectives were originally nouns in Dutch (cf. Ik heb hongerI have hungerI am hungry, vs. *Ik ben hongerI am hunger), but are now used frequently in Afrikaans as both adjectives and nouns. Hence, these adjectives can be inputs for the similative suffix-ig (honger·ig hungry-ish; dorst·ig thirsty-ish), while their derived counterparts in Dutch are pure (non-similative) adjectives. Kempen (1969:56-57) notes that this kind of conversion is not productive in Afrikaans any more.
  • Many uninflected non-native adjectives can also be used as nouns, especially as person names(Smessaert 2013: 82), e.g.:
    • -aal: liber·aal (the) liberal
    • -eel: krimin·eel (the) criminal
    • -iek: polit·iek political / the politics
    • -ief: altern·at·ief (the) alternative
    • -oos: virtu·oos virtuous / the virtuoso
  • Language names in Afrikaans are often converted adjectives, e.g. Afrikaans; Nederlands Dutch; Engels English; Frans French. Some inhabitant names are also converted adjectives, e.g. Chinees Chinese; Japannees Japanese; Katarrees Qatari.
  • Similar to English and Dutch, colour names are mostly converted adjectives, e.g. rooi is 'n mooi kleur red is a beautiful colour. As is argued in this topic, the inverse process is also true, where converted nouns regularly function as colour adjectives, e.g. die appelkoos serp the apricot scarf, or die koper krisante the copper chrysanthemums(AWS-11).

[+]Input category: preposition

  • The majority of prepositions that have been converted into nouns, are all compounded prepositions with kant as right-hand constituent. Compare buite+kant out(side)+side outside in the following examples:

a. En hy het die kamele laat neerkniel buitekant die stad ...
and he have the camels let kneel outside the city ...
And he let the camels kneel outside the city ...
b. ... 'n appel aan die buitekant sit ...
... a apple on the outside put ...
... put an apple on the outside ...

  • Note that compounds like buite+kant out(side)+side outside could also be truncated through clipping, as in the following example:

... versoekings kom van buite.
... temptations come from out(side)
... temptations come from the outside
[+]Input category: interjection

  • When interjections are used as nouns, they are oftentimes orthographically marked (e.g. in capital letters, punctuation marks, etc.).

Nissan se sprankel+nuwe Juke sit die WOW! terug in motor+ry.
Nissan PTCL.GEN sparkle+new Juke put the WOW! back in car+drive
Nissan's brand new Juke puts the WOW! back in driving.

  • Interjections (and other onomatopoeic words) used as nouns are also typical of children's language, or infantile speech.

Ek het 'n eina in my mond.
I have a ouch in my mouth
I have a (small) wound in my mouth.
... top+voordele om 'n woef in die huis te hê ...
... top+advantages for.COMP a woof in the house PTCL.INF have ...
... top advantages to have a dog in your house ...
  • Bloomfield, Leonard1935LanguageLondonAllen and Unwin
  • Kempen, W1969Samestelling, afleiding en woordsoortelike meerfunksionaliteit in Afrikaans.Nasou
  • Kempen, W1969Samestelling, afleiding en woordsoortelike meerfunksionaliteit in Afrikaans.Nasou
  • Kempen, W1969Samestelling, afleiding en woordsoortelike meerfunksionaliteit in Afrikaans.Nasou
  • Smessaert, Hans2013Basisbegrippen morfologieBasisbegrippen taalkundeLeuven/Den HaagACCO
  • Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns. Taalkommissie2017Afrikaanse Woordelys en Spelreëls.Pharos
  • Sørensen, Holger Steen1961An analysis of linguistic signs occurring in suppositio materialis or the meaning of quotation marks and their phonetic equivalentsLingua10174-189
  • Theron, A.S1974Aspekte van meerfunksionaliteit in Afrikaans. [Aspects of multi-functionality in Afrikaans.]Thesis
  • Theron, A.S1974Aspekte van meerfunksionaliteit in Afrikaans. [Aspects of multi-functionality in Afrikaans.]Thesis
  • Theron, A.S1974Aspekte van meerfunksionaliteit in Afrikaans. [Aspects of multi-functionality in Afrikaans.]Thesis
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