Say we have a word W such that it is, in some context, appropriate to use as: a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, and an interjection.

Is there a particular name for these types of multi-class words?

  • 2
    nounification of a verb / verbification of a noun are so common in English that the "name" you seek is probably just word. – FumbleFingers Dec 30 '19 at 12:41
  • Yes, this is a better fit for Linguistics than English. – RegDwight Dec 30 '19 at 13:06
  • Though there isn't a special linguistic term for it. Analytic languages like Vietnamese or English have thousands of words that can occur in constructions filling the roles of noun, verb, or adjective, not to mention subordinate conjunction and preposition. POS is not a significant category at the lexical level in such languages; the part of speech is determined by the construction, not the word. – jlawler Dec 31 '19 at 17:53
  • You've answered your own question: 'multi-category'' or 'multi-classified' are good enough terms. – BillJ Jan 1 '20 at 13:41
  • Wouldn't homonym fit—words with the same orthographic form but with (slightly) different meanings? – Scott Schupbach Jan 2 '20 at 23:16

There are multiple ways of interpreting it.

  1. Treating it as a single word with multiple categories. The different forms sometimes have subtly different shades of meaning, so some people don't like this way.

  2. Treating them as a form of polysemy - multiple meanings for a single word. With this, you are treating the word as a noun basically as a separate word from the word as a verb.

  3. Treating one as the "main form" and the rest as forms zero-derived from that form. That is, making them related, but separate words. This analysis works best when you can find a primary form.


Firstly, a working definition of 'word' needs to be posited. Here, the non-well-defined 'orthographic word of given form, but with homographs being distinct words' is chosen (so 'periodic' roughly = 'happening occasionally', and 'periodic' = 'compounds etc in which the iodine exists in oxidation state VII', are two different words).

Words obviously related (so not homographs), of the same form, but being different parts of speech, have been called intercategorial polysemes. [Zawada: Conceptual integration and intercategorial polysemy]

And an extract from an article by Zawada at ResearchGate:

Conceptual integration, also called blending, was proposed as a cognitive mechanism to account for creativity in thought and language. A particular proposal was made that conceptual integration can account for monocategorial lexical polysemy in instances such as safeA in sentences such as The child is safe and The beach is safe. In this paper the theory of conceptual integration is presented, and it is shown that it can also account for a variety of instances of intercategorial polysemy, for example in N–V alternations such as sail [The sail; They sail] and ache, as well as an example of A–N–V alternation, namely wide [in cricket jargon].

  • 1
    a) Taking the cited idea one step further: one could talk of monocategorial polysemy only if one doesn't care for subdividing the categories, unless one might accept that a word's categorization may be ambivalent in situ and thus not strictly divisable, but that would potentially create another category, e.g. for swimming. b) One can figure that headword in a lexicon is also a Part of Speech, thereby all words are trivially multicategorial, hypothetically, or one ignores this, but then intercategorial polysemy is nevertheless a kind of pleonasm, unless there were intercategorial unisemy. – vectory Dec 31 '19 at 1:27
  • Yes. I'm ambivalent myself, seeing 'painting' in 'Brown's deftly painting his daughter was a joy to behold' as on a noun-verb cline, as posited in Quirk et al, but 'galore' as both quantifier and adjective at the same time. 'Many gay/resplendent ...'. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 31 '19 at 16:56

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