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I wonder if it is possible to use the noun "dysfunction" as a verb.

It is certainly a noun, but in general use it seems to mean something far more awful and much less technical than "malfunction". It might be useful, in certain instances, to use it as a verb, at least colloquially, in order to emphasize just how badly something is malfunctioning. Has anyone seen this?

E.g., a graduate thesis in family psychology discussing common causes for the breakdown of a family unit:

This tends to cause a family to dysfunction and create animosity among siblings and spouses.

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I can't find any dictionary that says dysfunction is ever a verb. Whereas, malfunction is listed as an intransitive verb. I would recommend using malfunction instead of dysfunction if you need a verb, especially in a thesis. If you insist on using the word dysfunction instead of malfunction, you could reword your sentence to use it as a noun: This tends to cause dysfunction in a family, creating animosity among siblings and spouses. –  JLG Jan 24 '13 at 18:14
@JLG, thanks. I should clarify that I'm not writing a paper, and I wasn't planning on using the word. I was just thinking about it and gave an example that came to mind. –  Seth J Jan 24 '13 at 18:28
See this blog post for a discussion of the blurring of roles among parts of speech. –  Robusto Jan 26 '13 at 13:57
Friend as a verb is nothing new. Housman's "And I will friend you, if I may, // In the dark and cloudy day." appeared in 1896. Shakespeare wrote "And what so poor a man as Hamlet is // May do t' express his love and friending to you". And Merriam-Webster says the use of friend as a verb is attested in the 13th century. –  Peter Shor Jan 26 '13 at 15:10

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I wouldn't recommend using dysfunction as a verb. Nobody else does, so you'd either come across as an idiosyncratic maverick, or a non-native speaker.

To a considerable extent, dysfunction/malfunction can be defined as synonyms, but in practice dysfunction tends to be used in medical/sociological contexts, while malfunction is more likely in technological contexts (plus it's the default for all other contexts).

I don't think there's any justification for OP's assumption that dysfunction somehow implies a more extreme form of malfunction. Okay - most people would agree a dysfunctional family is worse than a malfunctioning hard drive, but don't forget the Apollo 13 malfunction.

It's not obvious to me there's any real need to use dysfunction as a verb. Obviously I'm biased against OP's example usage simply because "that's not how we say it", but it also seems to me that there's something slightly "oxymoronic" about referring to a family collectively (so it can act as the subject of the verb) when semantically it's not a complete unit, acting as a single entity.

In short, English is indeed something of a "free-for-all" for native speakers in certain respects, but you really need to know the rules before you deliberately break them. And this context, that's in the sense of as a rule, not rule of law.

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Excellent response, and thanks for calling me an idiosyncratic maverick. I like that a lot better than idiot. ;-) I wish I could +2. –  Seth J Jan 24 '13 at 18:44
@Seth J: Well, your profile doesn't give a location, or say whether you're a native speaker or not (though if you're not, you do a damned fine impersonation of one! :), so I thought it best to be diplomatic. In this specific case, if it weren't trivial to recast along the lines suggested by JLG, I'd simply put "dysfunction" in quotes to indicate a deliberate non-standard usage. But I think the general rule would be to only do this when there's no easy alternative. Maybe I should add that to the answer. –  FumbleFingers Jan 24 '13 at 18:52
How's my impression of a non-native speaker? –  Seth J Jan 24 '13 at 19:12
@Seth J: Not sure I can answer that! Which parts (if any) of what you've typed on this page represent your impression of a non-native speaker? You're surely not implying that only non-native speakers would gloss over the distinction between impersonation and impression? I'm not sure even I could make a meaningful distinction in the exact context of this comment thread (though I bet even some non-native speakers would be prepared to try and answer that one if I actually asked it as an ELU question! :) –  FumbleFingers Jan 24 '13 at 19:21
So - style guides at dawn, is it? :) –  FumbleFingers Jan 24 '13 at 20:02

It can be worded as 'it causes/caused family dysfunction'.

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That is not what the OP is asking. –  Robusto Jan 26 '13 at 14:16

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