Nominalization refers to the creation of a noun from verbs or adjectives. Most of the time, nouns are created from other parts of speech through the use of suffixes.
In other cases, the word remains the same but is simply used a different way; this is known as conversion or zero derivation.
Suffixes are certain groupings of letters that can be attached to the end of words to change their meaning. Most verbs and adjectives that become nouns are changed using suffixes.
Be aware, however, that the examples below only show some of the common ways of using suffixes to change verbs and adjectives to nouns; they are not all concrete rules, and the lists of possible suffixes are not exhaustive ones.
The best way to learn the spellings of such nouns is by using a good dictionary, or by encountering them in everyday speech and writing.
Nominalization of Verbs
There are certain patterns that we follow to decide which suffix is needed in order to create a noun from a verb.
Gerunds: The most straightforward way of turning a verb into a noun is through the use of gerunds. These are made by adding the suffix “-ing” to the end of the verb. For example:
- Walking is very pleasant.
- I enjoy reading.
- Listening is an important aspect of any relationship.
- My sleeping has been very disrupted lately.
- Baking is my favorite pastime.
Note that if the gerund takes any additional information, such as an object, adverb, or prepositional phrase, then this entire group of words (known as a gerund phrase) acts as a noun.
Nouns of agency and profession: When we turn a verb into a noun to represent someone (or occasionally something) who is an agent of that action, or who performs the action in a professional capacity, we typically use the suffixes “-or,” “-er,” or “-r.” For example:
- My fiancée is an actor. (Someone who acts.)
- I’m training to be a teacher. (Someone who teaches.)
- The writer is very well known. (Someone who writes.)
- The company is a major employer in the area. (Something that employs people.)
- The projector was broken today. (Something that projects.)
Nouns of recipience: For verbs that become nouns to represent someone who is the recipient of an action, we often use the suffix “-ee.” Perhaps the most common example of this in modern English is employee (someone who others employ), as in: The employee is disputing his wages.Other examples include:
- The bank must approve you as the payee. (Someone who is paid.)
- There is one more interviewee waiting to be seen. (Someone who is interviewed.)
Nouns of general action: We can use a variety of different suffixes to describe an action in general. The most common of these are “-tion,” “-sion,” “-ance,” “-ment,” and “-ence”; in some instances, we change the ending of the verb slightly in order to take the suffix. For example:
- His acceptance of the position was received warmly. (The verb accept becomes the noun acceptance.)
- Thank you for the invitation! (The verb invite becomes the noun invitation.)
- In conclusion, we should see a spike in profits soon. (The verb conclude becomes the noun conclusion.)
- Government must derive from the will of the population. (The verb govern becomes the noun government; the verb populate becomes the noun population.)
- Attendance is at an all-time low. (The verb attend becomes the noun attendance.)
- I was surprised by my enjoyment of the play. (The verb enjoy becomes the noun enjoyment.)
- Use the textbook as your reference if you’re confused. (The verb refer becomes the noun reference.)
Some other suffixes that work in this way are “-al” and “-ure,” as in:
- Failure to find a solution is not an option. (The verb fail becomes the noun failure.)
- The review will include a quick perusal of your work. (The verb peruse becomes the noun perusal.)
Nominalization of Adjectives
“-ness”: We often use the suffix “-ness” for many adjectives. Most of the time, we can simply add the suffix on to the end of the adjective without making any changes to its spelling. For example:
- The hardness of diamond makes it a great cutting tool. (The adjective hard becomes the noun hardness.)
- The child’s meekness is quite sweet. (The adjective meek becomes the noun meekness.)
- His gruffness is not appreciated. (The adjective gruff becomes the noun gruffness.)
- I don’t care for the roughness of my hands. (The adjective rough becomes the noun roughness.)
- I don’t think you understand the seriousness of the situation. (The adjective serious becomes the noun seriousness.)
- Please don’t underestimate my gratefulness. (The adjective grateful becomes the noun gratefulness.)
However, when we use this suffix with an adjective ending in “-y,” we change “y” to “i”:
- We’re waiting for some steadiness in the market. (The adjective steady becomes the noun steadiness.)
- The teacher puts her students’ happiness above all else. (The adjective happy becomes the noun happiness.) Some adjectives ending in a “-t” preceded by a long vowel sound can take this suffix as well:
- Her greatness is without question. (The adjective great becomes the noun greatness.)
- The flatness of the Earth was disproven long ago. (The adjective flat becomes the noun flatness.)
“-y”: Other adjectives that end in a “-t” preceded by a consonant will take the suffix “-y” to become nouns. For example:
- This project will be fraught with difficulty. (The adjective difficult becomes the noun difficulty.)
- That’s enough of your modesty. (The adjective modest becomes the noun modesty.)
- Honesty is a very important virtue. (The adjective honest becomes the noun honesty.)
“-ity”: When adjectives end in “-e,” they often take the suffix “-ity” to become nouns. However, there is often a change to the spelling of the word. Usually, we simply drop “e” and replace it with “-ity,” as in:
- There is a scarcity of food in the city. (The adjective scarce becomes the noun scarcity.)
- Kindness is a rarity in this world. (The adjective rare becomes the noun rarity.)
When the word ends in “ble,” though, we have to change “le” to “il,” as in:
- This project is your responsibility. (The adjective responsible becomes the noun responsibility.)
- I have no question of your ability. (The adjective able becomes the noun ability.)
Uniquely, we also use the “-ity” suffix to change the adjective hilarious to hilarity, even though other adjectives with similar endings (such as serious, grievous, callous, etc.) take the suffix “-ness.”
“-ance” and “-ence”: We often use the suffix “-ance” for adjectives ending in “-ant,” as in:
- This is of the utmost importance. (The adjective important becomes the noun importance.)
- Your ignorance is astounding. (The adjective ignorant becomes the noun ignorance.)
We often use the suffix “-ence” for adjectives ending in “-ent,” as in:
- We demand greater independence. (The adjective independent becomes the noun independence.)
- Silence is expected during tests. (The adjective silent becomes the noun silence.)
When we use a verb or adjective as a noun without changing its spelling in any way, it is called conversion or zero derivation.
Verbs: Conversion is especially common with verbs, and there are many instances where the same word may function as a verb or a noun, depending on the context. For example:
- Please answer the phone, Tom. (verb)
- We’ll need an answer by tomorrow. (noun)
- I run each morning before breakfast. (verb)
- I’m going for a run later today. (noun)
- Meteorologists are forecasting a snowstorm overnight. (verb)
- The forecast said there would be rain in the afternoon. (noun)
Less commonly, there are instances in which, instead of changing a word’s spelling, we change where we pronounce a stress on the word’s syllables to indicate a shift from a verb to a noun; this change is known as a suprafix. Let’s look at some examples (with the stressed syllable underlined):
- You need to convert pounds into kilograms. (verb)
- The church always welcomes recent converts to its meetings. (noun)
- Make sure you record the meeting so we can review it later. (verb)
- I love listening to old re (noun)
- Please don’t insult my intelligence. (verb)
- We will not forget this insult to our company. (noun)
The word use can also function as either a noun or a verb, but instead of changing the stress on a syllable, we change the actual pronunciation of the word, as in:
- We plan to use a diagnostic test to evaluate the problem. (verb—use is pronounced “yooz”)
- There is only one use for this tool. (noun—use is pronounced “yuce”)
Nominal adjectives: We can also convert adjectives into nouns without changing spelling, but we generally do so by adding ‘the’ article the before the word. These are known as nominal adjectives. For example:
- The wealthy have an obligation to help the poor.
- We all want the best for her.
- This law protects the innocent.
Infinitives: Lastly, verbs can serve the function of nouns by being used in their infinitive form—that is, the base form of the verb with the particle to. Infinitives are not technically an example of nominalization, because they can also act as adjectives and adverbs.
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