Conversion or Functional Shift

In addition to affixation and compounding, there is another major word-formations process, namely conversion. "By Conversion we understand derivation of a new lexeme from an existing one without a specific morphological marker indicating the change of word class and meaning."(Kortmann 2005, 103)

As Kortmann points out, the word itself does not change although it shifts into another word category and therefore experiences a change of meaning. Due to this apparent lack of change, linguistis also refer to conversion as zero derivation.

The most productive form of conversion occurs within the three following word-class changes:

  1. noun > verb
    • e.g. butter, google, mail, ship
  2. adjective > verb
    • e.g. better, clean, empty, open
  3. verb > noun
    • e.g. desire, guess, love, smell

Conversion is commonly subsumed under the category of non-concatentative word-formation processes as new items are formed without any sort of affixation or any discernible modification of the base.