The word converse can be an adjective that can be used as a noun, or a verb. The two forms have different pronunciations, chiefly differing in their stresses; but they also have different shades of meaning.
- The verb 'to converse' has the stress on the second syllable, 'kern-VERSE', IPA: /kən ˈvərs/. It means 'to talk', or 'to take part in a conversation'.
- The adjective converse has the stress on the first syllable: 'CON-verse', IPA: /ˈkɒn vərs/. It means generally 'opposite'. Converse opinions are held by the two main political parties in most democracies, on many subjects. This adjective can be used absolutely, as a noun. Black is the converse of white.
- Etymological note: Both forms of the word have the same roots, in con-, 'with', 'altogether'; and versus, past participle of vertēre, 'to turn'. In the verb 'to converse', as in conversation, the idea is of 'taking turns, together with the others in the conversation. In the adjective, the con- is partly an intensifier: 'really the opposite'.
- This pattern of shifting stress in words that look identical but belong to two separate word classes is quite common in English. Quirk (1985) (Appendix I.56 B) remarks: "When verbs of two syllables are converted into nouns, the stress is sometimes shifted from the second to the first syllable. The first syllable, typically a Latin prefix, often has a reduced vowel /ə/ in the verb but a full vowel in the noun:
- There follows a list of some 57 "words having end-stress as verbs but initial stress as nouns in Br[itish] E[nglish]." Note that "in Am[erican] E[nglish], many have initial stress as verbs also)". Quirk's list is the foundation of AWE's category:shift of stress. Additions have been made from, amongst others, Fowler, 1926-1996.