The Grammarphobia Blog

Conceptually speaking

Q: A recent post of yours introduced me to the use of “concept” as a verb. But how do I pronounce it? Is it KON-sept (like the noun) or “kon-SEPT”? My linear left brain wants to stick with KON-sept, but my intuitive right brain says uh-uh.

A: As we noted in our post, we checked 10 standard American and British dictionaries and found only one that includes “concept” as a verb. Unfortunately that one, Dictionary.com, lists no specific pronunciation for the verb.

It has only a single pronunciation, KON-sept, at the head of its entry, which begins with the noun. We can only guess whether that pronunciation is supposed to apply to all the forms of the word.

However, when a word exists in both noun and verb forms, the usual pattern is that the noun is accented on the first syllable and the verb on the second, as with CON-vict (noun) and con-VICT (verb), REC-ord (noun) and re-CORD (verb).

We’ve written about this pattern before, including posts in 2012 and 2016.

And as we said, the same pattern applies to the noun-verb pairs “permit,” “extract,” “addict,” “combat,” “compound,” “conduct,” “incense,” “insult,” “present,” “produce,” “refuse,” and “subject.”

The nouns are accented on the first syllable while the verbs (along with their participles) are accented on the second syllable.

If “concept” were to follow this pattern, the verb would be pronounced con-CEPT and the participles con-CEPT-ing and con-CEPT-ed.

That’s why your brain somehow didn’t accept the reverse pronunciation (CON-sept). You knew from experience (even if you hadn’t articulated it to yourself) that words like those above sound differently depending on their function—noun versus verb.

Native English speakers can often guess correctly at the pronunciations of words they haven’t seen before. Through experience in reading, speaking, and listening, they’ve absorbed the conventions associated with how spellings are generally pronounced.

So when they come across an unfamiliar word, they simply extrapolate from what they already know—and their guess is often right.

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