Nouns Posing as Verbs

by | Dec 16, 2019


As we all learned when we were quite young, a noun is a person, place or thing while a verb connotes an action, state or occurrence. At first blush, it seems pretty clear. Language is amazing, however, and over time nouns can morph into verbs while still retaining their noun meaning. A noun used as a verb is called a denominal verb. The act of verbifying a noun is called “anthimeria.”

Here are are a few common examples before we get to more interesting stuff:

  • Saddle is a noun: My dad bought a new saddle for Max and it’s much more comfortable than the prior one. (BTW – thanks Dad).
  • Saddle is also a denominal verb: My dad usually saddles both horses before we go riding. (BTW – thanks again Dad).
  • Summer is a noun: I can’t wait until it’s summer again.
  • Summer is also a denominal verb: Are you going to summer in Nantucket again this year?
  • Bicycle is a noun: Dave bought a killer new bicycle.
  • Bicycle is also a denominal verb: Dave bicycled to work yesterday.
  • Bag is a noun: I forgot to bring my bags to the grocery store.
  • Bag is a denominal verb: I actually prefer to bag my own groceries.

A great example of a denominal verb From the movie The Martian:

If you use a noun as a verb often your listener will know what you mean even if you just made it up. Here’s some I just made up, see if you can tell what I mean:

  • Even with a cart full of groceries she Gretzky’d around about five other shoppers and was first in line at the newly opened register.
  • Kevin said, “whoa, that’s crazy, you should totally IFOD that!”
  • He went to a new hairstylist who totally Donald Trumped his hair.
  • He thoroughly boomered the new software installation.

Here are companies whose services are so ubiquitous that their names became denominal verbs:

  • Xerox. I xeroxed the entire chapter of the library book.
  • Google. I didn’t know how old Oskar Sundqvist was so I googled it on my phone. (He’s 25)
  • Uber. I had too much to drink so I Ubered home.
  • Snapchat. I snapchatted her and she screenshot it.
  • FedEx: I FedExed the documents to her last week!
  • Skype: We Skyped for over an hour yesterday.
  • Sheetrock: Charlie’s guys sheetrocked our basement ceiling and it looks fantastic.
  • Superglue: I superglued my fingers together.
  • Velcro: I velcroed the two pieces together.
  • Taser: He snuck up on me so I tasered him.

Now we’ve come to the most interesting part of this IFOD – verbs you probably didn’t know arose from nouns:

  • Boycott means “to refuse to have dealings with.” Captain Charles C. Boycott was a British land agent who was a figure in the “Irish land wars.” In 1880 when he refused to lower the rents of his tenant farmers, workers stopped working in his fields, local businesses would not do business with him and even his mail wasn’t delivered. This non-violent method of protest was picked up by the press and the name Boycott quickly became part of the English language as a verb.
  • Lynch means “to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal approval or permission.” According to NPR, the origin of the word likely traces “to Revolutionary War-era politician Charles Lynch of Virginia, who was a justice of the peace and landowner. Because the official court system was not yet well-established and there was a war going on, Lynch created a system of informal citizen juries to handle legal matters.”
  • As a verb, fudge means to speak nonsense or to exaggerate or cheat. The origin of the verb “traces to a sailor’s retort to anything considered lies or nonsense, from Captain Fudge, ‘who always brought home his owners a good cargo of lies.’ It seems there really was a late 17c. Captain Fudge, called ‘Lying Fudge.'” Source.
  • Galvanize means to stimulate someone into action or to stimulate muscles with an electric current. The word was “coined to honor the 18th Century scientist Luigi Galvani, who found that a spark could make a frog’s legs move.” Source.
  • Pander means to provide gratification for others’ desires. “The word pander began its infamous history as the name of various characters. Pandaro was a character in Boccaccio’s Filostrato. Pandarus was a character in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, as well as in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. These literary works all tell the tale of star-crossed lovers, and the namesake of pander is, essentially, a go-between whose motives don’t seem entirely pure.” Source.

Still interested? Here’s a link to the seminal paper on the topic by Stanford linguists. It contains hundreds of more examples and places denominal verbs in categories. Only the abstract is publicly available. If you’d like a pdf of the whole article email me and I’ll shoot you a copy (


  1. I’m not sure about pandered as it means something different in English English. For us, it means to over-indulge, encourage and unfairly prefer. It is pejorative, smacking of disapproval and envy, possibly. “Letting her get away with not doing her fair-share of the chores panders to her view that she is better than the rest of us.”

  2. If it wasn’t so true, I’d be offended by the new verb “boomered”!


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