I had hitherto assumed that one could easily switch from an adjective to a verb and vice-versa, considering many adjectives (participle adjectives) are formed from verbs. But it seems that there is no such freedom to be always enjoyed.

For example, while it is fine to write either

This task is really tiring.


This task really tires you.

It isn't correct to write

Strict adherence to the rules of grammar sometimes stilts your prose.

I have to recast the sentence instead as

Strict adherence to the rules of grammar sometimes makes your prose stilted.

Why is this the case and is there a way to know where such switching between verb and adjective forms isn't allowed, without having to check the dictionary?

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    Whoever told you Strict adherence to the rules of grammar sometimes stilts your prose is somehow "incorrect" is mistaken. It's perfectly valid (albeit not particularly common), as is reference to stilting the discourse (metaphorically, artificially and unjustifiably "elevating" one's words/register in an attempt to sound sophisticated, but actually coming across as affectedly pompous). Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 12:43
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    ...it's just a straightforward metaphorical allusion to the literal state of being raised up on stilts - also popularised in the everyday expression nonsense on stilts. Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 12:45
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    'Stilt' as a verb in the metaphorical sense is apparently so uncommon (I didn't realise this) that even Wiktionary doesn't list it. I remember examples very similar to this one: 'As previously noted, injuries have somewhat stilted his progress' (From the Google search for "stilted his progress"; Jack Wilshere mentioned in some capacity). Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 12:54
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    You can verbify just about any noun and nounify just about any verb in English. I imagine that stilt was probably a noun before it became a verb in "architectural" contexts (propping up arches, or whatever). But I just went to a typical online dictionary (Merriam-Webster), and they list the literal definition of the verb as well as the noun. They don't actually define the "adjectival past participle" metaphorical usage either, so it's obviously not that important from their perspective. Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 13:00
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    You question is itself ungrammatical. You cannot say what you said. It must be either "Why can't I use...?" or "Why can I not use...?".
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 14:27

1 Answer 1


To answer your first question, you can -- as the commenters have pointed out -- but it's not common usage and you will get various complaints and/or weird looks.

To answer your second question, there is no way to know in advance. You have to check the dictionary. I don't have any sources for this because it's a fundamental feature or bug of the English language -- it's not uniformly governed by rules, but rather rules that work some or most of the time and a sea of particulars that you just learn over time.

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    Yes, why can't English be more well-behaved! Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 14:56

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