Is there a term for a word that is traditionally an adjective or noun becoming a verb over time? A word I'm thinking of is "adult", which Merriam-Webster has reported has become increasingly used as a verb.*

If you haven't heard it (or don't use it) already, you'll hear it soon: adult as a verb, as in "Someone please teach me how to adult."

It's also common as a gerund—that is, in the form adulting as a noun, as in "Adulting is hard" or "I’m not very good at adulting."

I've also heard similar adjective to verb transitions like "I work so hard, I can't afford to lazy," or "these decorations should happy up the place". Similarly, I've heard noun to verb transitions like "I'm going to Mohammad Ali that jerk" (meaning to punch him). Sometimes they are used for comedic effect because they are grammatically inappropriate, but other times they seem to be following the pattern of "to adult" in becoming more sincerely used.

Is there a term for this linguistic transition?

* Merriam-Webster does note that "adult" was rarely used as a verb in previous decades, but it was with a different meaning. The modern usage meaning "to behave like an adult, specifically to do the things—often mundane—that an adult is expected to do" appears to have started being used around 2008 or 2009.

  • Adult is a noun in English, not an adjective.
    – jlawler
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 20:53
  • 2
    @jlawler It is both; "an adult man" or "a male adult". I've changed my question to cover both. Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 20:55
  • Any noun can be used to modify another noun; that doesn't make it an adjective.
    – jlawler
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 21:19
  • @jlawler Merriam-Webster lists adult as both an adjective and a noun. Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 21:47
  • Of course, because it's a dictionary and not a grammar. Part of Speech is not a matter of dictionary lookup. Adjectives are not so easy to identify as nouns and verbs; some languages have adjectives that work like nouns (like Latin), and others have adjectives that work like verbs (like Malay). Still others have a closed adjective class that's expanded by compounds and morphology.
    – jlawler
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 22:09

1 Answer 1


The process of deriving a verb from an adjective would be called deadjectival verbalisation, which is in turn an instance of derivaton. The resulting word could be called a deadjectival verb.

Note that in the example you cite, the term that the verb is derived from could also be claimed to be the noun "adult", which would then be a denominal verbalisation.

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    @Thunderforge As I'm writing in my second paragraph: Denominal verb. Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 20:56
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    Many languages have special morphology that is used to change words from one part of speech to another, eg noun to verb, and this is known as derivational morphology. English however can make this change without any particular morphology, eg 'adult' (n.) -> 'adult' (v.), a process known as zero derivation or conversion Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 21:43

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