Usage and Grammar

Q. May I please ask if nouns can sometimes be used as verbs. For example, “His emotions nuance his words.” Thank you.

A. Some verbs are of course nouns: break, hit, smile, laugh. “Nuance” has been a noun, according to both Merriam-Webster and the OED, since 1781, when Horace Walpole wrote “The more expert one were at nuances , the more poetic one should be.” It has been a verb since only 1897, when W. Archer wrote “Nor the elocutionary skill to give variety to a long speech, nuancing it, if I may say so, by means of his voice alone.” This from the OED; M-W does not recognize the verb form.

“Nuance” as a verb is one of those developments that seems to stand out. I wasn’t alive in 1897, but I seem to remember noticing a few years back that an awful lot of people were using “nuance” as a verb. It bothered me, and it still does. But I’m probably being a little reactionary.