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Conversate: To converse, to participate in a conversation.

My parents conversate with me over dinner every night.

Is this a word? Spell check says no, but I have heard it used.

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I'm rather fond of a similar back-formation (pace @FumbleFingers) from locomotive (when it's time to leave, as at the end of a party): "Let's locomote." –  MT_Head Jun 15 '11 at 17:04
    
Soon to be a dance craze for sure ... first "locomotion" now just "loco" –  jyc23 Jun 16 '11 at 3:50
    
@jyc23 - For some reason I have a mental block where "Do the Locomotion" is concerned... somehow it always comes out as "Come on, come on, do the hokey-pokey with me..." –  MT_Head Jun 17 '11 at 3:32
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b-b-but it's easier than learnin' your ABCs. –  cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Mar 8 '12 at 22:14

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Conversate is a back-formation from conversation, similar to orientate (which is quite common in the UK), administrate, and others.

While some back-formations can even become standard, conversate is decidedly nonstandard. However, it is not surprising that you have heard it used, because it is a word that is employed in some dialects. It is most commonly used in AAVE, a dialect of American English.

Those who use conversate dialectally might be aware of the word converse, but choose not to use it either because conversate carries with it a difference in register/connotation that they want to employ, or because conversate has a slightly different meaning from converse in that dialect.


These -ate back-formations happen because most nouns ending in -ation have a corresponding verb ending in -ate, but not all of them do. At some point in the past 400 years, the suffix -ment, which used to be a common way of converting verbs to nouns (govern -> government), was overtaken by the more productive -ation. There were so many -ate verbs springing up in English that could all be suffixed with -ion, that this -ation string was reanalyzed in English as a separate suffix (in addition to -ate and -ion) that could be attached to verbs that did not end in -ate. Nowadays, -ment is more or less unused, while -ation continues to be popular. For example, all verbs ending in -ize can be converted to -ization, even though there are no -izate verbs at all; verbs ending in -ify become -ification. And so on.

So, with an -ation word, there are always two possibilities to create a verb: subtract -ion and get an -ate verb, or subtract -ation. Sometimes people create an -ate form spontaneously where none existed, either because of a speech error, a lack of awareness of the original verb, or perhaps because the -ate form sounds better prosodically. There is often a resistance to such a change, and so most of these back-formed -ate words don't extend beyond dialectal use, or don't even take hold at all. But very occasionally, the -ate form can become standard, as orientate arguably has in UK English.

Incidentally, this is how many other types of standard words have come into existence: innovation/error/randomness → dialectal use → standard use.

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+1 Great answer. If it is not too much trouble, could you please expand on this: "conversate has a slightly different meaning from converse in that dialect." I would love to learn more. Available sources on the subject do not shed any light on the difference in meaning. –  Lumberjack Nov 1 '13 at 13:43
    
@Lumberjack: I have no knowledge of whether there is actually a difference in meaning between converse and conversate for AAVE; rather, I only meant that it is possible for two words that only differ in their arbitrary morphological baggage to ultimately coexist with different semantics. (For example, the words historic and historical are interchangeable much of the time, and ic and ical are essentially the same thing, yet only historic can be used to refer to an event of historical importance that is happening right now -- historical is restricted to the past.) –  Kosmonaut Nov 6 '13 at 19:05

The correct form is "to converse". "Conversate" is incorrect.

Some argue "conversate" it is a back-formation, but it is not a widely accepted one. http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/is-conversate-a-word.aspx

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But then you could Conversatalize and conversatalization. –  mgb Jun 15 '11 at 16:36
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@Kosmonaut: I think what you mean is "Conversate" would be a back-formation if it existed (by any normal definition, which it doesn't). –  FumbleFingers Jun 15 '11 at 16:57
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Conversate is indeed a back-formation; I've seen it in print. With all due respect to Mssr. Garner, if it is spotted in the wild, then it's a word. A loathesome, detestable, needless word, but his prescription cannot make it unexist. –  The Raven Jun 15 '11 at 17:55
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@Callithumpian: Garner is making a subjective argument in declaring it a "nonword". Even in your example he acknowledges its use; he is just saying he doesn't like it. The thing that bothers me most about prescriptivism is not the idea of wanting standards, it's the fact that prescriptivists intentionally try to put forth their opinions as facts. "Nonword" indeed. –  Kosmonaut Jun 15 '11 at 18:07
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@Callithumpian: I just said I understand the idea of wanting standards — just like anyone, I have my own subjective ideas about what words sound good and bad; on the other hand, I really, really dislike the deliberate choice of terms like nonword for something that clearly is a word. "WWhjsdfkhj" is a nonword. "Conversate" is simply a nonstandard, often stigmatized word that appears in some dialects. –  Kosmonaut Jun 15 '11 at 18:33

Conversation is a common word, and the matching verb is to converse, not *conversate.

Still, it is not used very much compared to synonyms.

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Some of these back formations mentioned above are useful as they have a slightly different meaning than the original verb: Commentate (from commentator) indicates a formal role that the subject is performing (that is, providing opinions as a recognized authority) that comment does not. In the same way, orientate (from orientation) implies going through a formal orientation program that orient does not. I don't see any difference in the meanings in converse and conversate. But maybe I'm missing some nuance?

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protected by RegDwigнt Nov 1 '13 at 23:21

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