So, what is it called when, for instance, the following happens:

mad(noun) > madly (adv) > madlyness (noun)


3 Answers 3


First: We say "part of speech", not "word of speech".

Second: "madlyness" is not an English word.

Third: The term you are looking for is "derivation".

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    +1 Second is quite right: it should be madliness. "He spoke with such madliness that he was reduced to incoherence." Oct 21, 2014 at 23:08
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    The correct English word is "madness".
    – fdb
    Oct 21, 2014 at 23:11
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    Not divination, derivation.
    – fdb
    Oct 21, 2014 at 23:26
  • @user5309 your last comment may be considered rude. Consider deleting and re-writing it without any personal insults. This is not a chat room. Oct 22, 2014 at 0:10
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    Also "mad" is not a noun. It's an adjective. You could use another example like man(noun) > manly (adj) > manliness (noun) Oct 22, 2014 at 1:06

You cannot 'change' a word from one part of speech to another. The words already exist or they don't. (You can form a new noun from a verb, but you are not 'changing' it to a noun.) A noun is a noun and cannot be a verb. Some words exist as several parts of speech ('set', 'run', 'form', 'hold', etc.), though usually with somewhat different meanings.

Consider the shifts in meaning of 'house' in 'house wine', 'the part of the car that houses the engine', and 'this is my house'.

Others have separate spellings for noun, adjective, and verb forms ('beauty', 'beautiful', 'beautify'). As I said above, you can use some words as nouns or verbs, but you are not 'changing' them to do so. You do not have the authority to do this if it has not already occurred long ago. 'Car' for instance is a noun, not a verb, and cannot be used as one. 'To sign' the verb and 'sign' the noun are different words, just like 'beauty', 'beautiful', 'beautify'; one is not 'changed' into the other.

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    This is incorrect. Have a look at WP on zero-derivation. Oct 28, 2014 at 2:13
  • A rose is a rose but those are concrete so it doesn't imply that a noun is a noun at all since that's an arbitrary abstract concept about which we can have multiple conflicting theories and no access to any "one right answer" designed by any creator deities. Oct 28, 2014 at 7:24

What the poster is describing is called "Inflection". Changing the basic form of the word, typically by adding a suffix, to express a function such as tense, quantity, gender. Examples: the adjective 'mad' is inflected to the adverb 'madly', nouns are inflected in the plural, verbs are inflected in the various tenses.

'Inflection' also means the WAY you say things, the highs and lows of your voice, or the stress patterns (anger, asking a question, joking,) but for that sort of thing I would go with "intonation".

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    This isn't inflection. Inflection for tense, quantity or gender doesn't change the word's part of speech. This does. Mar 19, 2017 at 15:23
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    With all due respect, this is definitely not inflection in the sense that linguists use it. Perhaps philological or pedagogical circles use inflection that way, I don't know; such uses would be reflected in definitions in descriptive dictionaries. The point is, in linguistics, the term inflection is not used for morphological processes that change the POS - the word derivation is used instead, as fdb has explaiend above. There are a lot of linguistic terms whose definitions linguists can't agree on (like 'pronoun' or 'adjunct'), but this isn't one of them. Mar 19, 2017 at 15:58
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    Um, quite the opposite - what I meant was that perhaps philologists and language teachers use the word 'inflection' differently. Such a usage would be reflected in dictionaries, but it doesn't mean it's correct in linguistics. This is a linguistics site, so the use of terminology should be consistent with what linguists use. Current linguistic nomenclature does not use the word inflection for what the OP described. Mar 19, 2017 at 16:26
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    The dictionary definition you cited isn't consistent with the use of inflection with POS-changing morphology. It was a bit unclear - 'grammatical category' would have been better than 'grammatical function', which is usually synonymous with 'grammatical relation' in linguistics; however, using the term 'grammatical category' would render the definition inaccessible to non-linguists, which is probably why they decided against it. Still, none of the distinctions they cite as examples change the part of speech of words, whereas the OP is describing a process that does. Mar 19, 2017 at 16:28
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    Or perhaps an analogy will be more apt: It is acceptable in everyday speech to call 50kg a 'weight', but it wouldn't be acceptable to do so on the Physics.SE site. Mar 19, 2017 at 16:37

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