Verb: Morphemic structure

June 15th, 20122:25 am


Verb: Morphemic structure

Verb-forming derivational means are not numerous. The common de­vices are 1) affixation, 2) conversion, 3) verb+adverb combination, 4) back-formation.

There is a rather short list of derivational affixes making English verbs. First, these are a limited number of suffixes such as the suffixes -en (to blacken, to strengthen, to toughen), -fy (to intensify, to ratify, to clarify), -ize (to legalize, to emphasize, to characterize), -ate (operate, stimulate, mitigate), -ish (brandish, finish, furnish) and the prefix en- with allomorphs and dialectal variants em-, in-, im- (enforce, enclose, embezzle, embellish, insure, inquire, imbed, imbibe).

Conversion (also referred to as zero-derivation) consists of a process when a word (in the case with verbs this is, as a rule, a noun) acquires a paradigm of some other part of speech (in our case – the verbal paradigm). Verbs formed by means of conversion abound in English: to pencil some­thing, to bicycle, to sandwich (something between something else), to water (plants), to wallpaper (a room). Verbs may be formed by conversion from parts of speech other than nouns: cf. to blah in She went blah-ing on about things being important…, consider also to happy, to wet, to round, to up.

Verbs of the give-up type, i.e. verbs with the structure “verb+adverb” (sometimes the second component is called “postpositive”), are colloquial and add an idiomatic power to the language (to go on, to come between, to let down, to fall out, to get by, to see through, to turn in). The unity of the two parts of separable words may be well illustrated by numerous exam­ples. Let us take the sentence She ate up the whole cake. In a conventional sense up might be an adverb signifying direction, but in this construction it serves to intensify the action, and comes to be synonymous with the adverb completely. Thus, the postpositive up may convey aspectual meaning (cf. to wind up wind, to eat up to eat, to speak up to speak, etc.).

To distinguish between the postpositive and the ordinary adverbial mod­ifier, compare also the following:

The wind blew so strongly that the nest turned upside down and baby birds fell out.

Jim and Mary fall out every few weeks, but their quarrels never last. Clearly, out in the first and the second sentences has quite distinct func­tions.

On the whole, Modern English has produced a great number of verbs of the give-up type, which some scholars ascribe to the persistence of analytic tendencies in the language.

The fourth word formation pattern is backformation, i.e. derivation of verbs by means of dropping the final elements of nouns: to edit from editor, to sunbathe from sunbathing, to baby-sit from babysitter.

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