In linguistics, nominalization or nominalisation is the use of a word which is not a noun (e.g., a verb, an adjective or an adverb) as a noun, or as the head of a noun phrase, with or without morphological transformation. The term refers, for instance, to the process of producing a noun from another part of speech by adding a derivational affix (e.g., the noun legalization from the verb legalize).
Some languages simply allow verbs to be used as nouns without inflectional difference (conversion or zero derivation), while others require some form of morphological transformation. English has cases of both.
Nominalization is a natural part of language, but some instances of it are more noticeable than others. Writing advice sometimes focuses on avoiding overuse of nominalization.
In various languages
Two types of nominalization are found in English. One type requires the addition of a derivational suffix to create a noun. In other cases, English uses the same word as a noun without any additional morphology. This second process is referred to as zero-derivation.
With derivational morphology
This is a process by which a grammatical expression is turned into a noun phrase. For example, in the sentence "Combine the two chemicals," combine acts as a verb. This can be turned into a noun via the addition of -ation, as in "The experiment involved the combination of the two chemicals."
Examples of nouns formed from adjectives:
- applicability (from applicable)
- carelessness (from careless)
- difficulty (from difficult)
- intensity (from intense)
Examples of nouns formed from verbs:
- failure (from fail)
- nominalization (from nominalize)
- investigation (from investigate)
- movement (from move)
- reaction (from react)
- refusal (from refuse)
An especially common case of verbs being used as nouns is the addition of the suffix -ing, known in English as a gerund.
- swimming (from swim)
- running (from run)
- editing (from edit)
Some verbs and adjectives in English can be used directly as nouns without the addition of a derivational suffix. Some examples include:
- I need a change. (change = noun)
- I will change. (change = verb)
- The murder of the man was tragic. (murder = noun)
- He will murder the man. (murder = verb)
In addition to true zero-derivation, English also has a number of words which, depending on subtle changes in pronunciation, are either nouns or verbs. One such type, which is rather pervasive, is the change in stress placement from the final syllable of the word to the first syllable (see Initial-stress-derived noun).
- Profits have shown a large increase. (increase // = noun)
- Profits will continue to increase. (increase // = verb)
An additional case is seen with the verb use, which has a different pronunciation when used as a noun.
- The use of forks is dangerous. (use // = noun)
- Use your fork! (use // = verb)
In some circumstances, adjectives can have nominal use, as in the poor to mean poor people in general. See nominalized adjective.
Other Indo-European languages
Many Indo-European languages have separate inflectional morphology for nouns, verbs, and adjectives, but often this is no impediment to nominalization, as the root or stem of the adjective is readily stripped of its adjectival inflections and bedecked with nominal inflections—sometimes even with dedicated nominalizing suffixes. For example, Latin has a number of nominalization suffixes, and some of these suffixes have been borrowed into English, either directly or through Romance languages. Other examples can be seen in German—such as the subtle inflectional differences between deutsch (adj) and Deutsch (noun) across genders, numbers, and cases—although which lexical category came first may be moot. Spanish and Portuguese, whose o/os/a/as inflections commonly mark both adjectives and nouns, shows a very permeable boundary as many roots straddle the lexical categories of adjective and noun (with little or no inflectional difference).
In all varieties of Chinese, particles are used to nominalize verbs and adjectives. In Mandarin, the most common is 的 de, which is attached to both verbs and adjectives. For example, 吃 chī (to eat) becomes 吃的 chīde (that which is eaten). Cantonese uses 嘅 ge in the same capacity, while Minnan uses ê.
Two other particles, found throughout the Chinese varieties, are used to explicitly indicate the nominalized noun as being either the agent or patient of the verb being nominalized. 所 (suǒ in Mandarin) is attached before the verb to indicate patient, e.g. 吃 (to eat) becomes 所吃 (that which is eaten), and 者 (zhě in Mandarin) are attached after the verb to indicate agent, e.g. 吃 (to eat) becomes 吃者 (he who eats). Both particles date from Classical Chinese and retain limited productivity in modern Chinese varieties.
There are also many words with zero-derivation. For instance, 教育 jiàoyù is both verb (to educate) and noun (education). Other cases include 变化 biànhuà (v. to change; n. change), 保护 bǎohù (v. to protect; n. protection), 恐惧 kǒngjù (v. to fear; n. fear; adj. fearful), etc.
Nominalization is a pervasive process across Tibeto-Burman languages. In Bodic languages nominalization serves a variety of functions, including the formation of complement clauses and relative clauses.
In Hawaiian, the particle ʻana is used to nominalize. For example, "hele ʻana" is Hawaiian for "coming." Hence, "his coming" is "kona hele ʻana."
Zero-derivation in other languages
A few languages allow finite clauses to be nominalized without morphological transformation. For instance in Eastern Shina (Gultari) the finite clause [mo buje-m] 'I will go' can appear as the nominalized object of the postposition [-jo] 'from' with no modification in form:
[mo buje-m]-jo muçhore ŗo buje-i
I go-1sg-from before he go-3sg
"He will go before I go."
- Kolln, M. 1998, Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects, p.63
- Noonan, Michael (2008), "Nominalizations in Bodic languages", Rethinking Grammaticalization (PDF), Typological Studies in Language, 76, John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp. 219–237, doi:10.1075/tsl.76.11noo, ISBN 9789027229885
- De Lancey, Scott (2002). "Relativization and Nominalization in Bodic". Proceedings of the Twenty-Eighth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society: Special Session on Tibeto-Burman and Southeast Asian Linguistics: 55–72.
- Shibatani, Masayoshi, and Khaled Awadh Bin Makhashen. 2009. Nominalization in Soqotri, a South Arabian language of Yemen. In W. Leo Wetzels (ed.) Endangered languages: Contributions to Morphology and Morpho-syntax. Leiden: Brill. 9-31.
- Kolln, M. (1990), Understanding English Grammar, 3rd edn, Macmillan, p. 179.
- Nominalization by Particle Koto in Japanese, Benri Nihongo
- Colomb, Joseph M. Williams; with two chapters coauthored by Gregory G. (1995). Style: toward clarity and grace (Paperback ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226899152.
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