Abstract Nouns from Adjectives

By Maeve Maddox

Abstract nouns may be formed from adjectives by adding the suffix -ness: happy/ happiness, sad/sadness, kind/kindness, cheerful/cheerfulness.

However, a large group of adjectives have distinct nouns that do not require a formation with -ness or any other suffix. A common stylistic fault is to add the -ness ending to adjectives that already have corresponding noun forms. For example, the adjective humble has the corresponding noun humility, but many English speakers don’t seem to be aware of it and write “humbleness” instead.

Here are a few examples from the web that illustrate the unnecessary use of –ness to form abstract nouns:

I admire his courageousness on choosing a role that was really hard to portray…

She believed that pride and lack of humbleness was against the teaching of the Bible.

Politicians Need More Humbleness

A real story made me to realize that i have hidden my braveness so many days inside me.

This emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of logotherapy

Developing Moral Responsibleness Through Professional Education (title of book written by a professor of educational psychology)

“Hey guys” she said coyly, using the maximum of her sexiness and intelligentness.

I wondered at my luckiness

Here are several additional adjective/abstract noun pairs that seem to have escaped the notice of many journalists and bloggers:

angry/anger
anxious/anxiety
beautiful/beauty
brave/bravery
chaotic/chaos
compassionate/compassion
courageous/ courage   
curious/curiosity
deceitful/deceit
evil/evil
generous/generosity
humorous/humor
imaginative/imagination
intelligent/intelligence
jealous/jealousy
joyful/joy
loyal/loyalty
lucky/luck
luxurious/luxury
mature/maturity
opinionated/opinion
painful/pain
peculiar/peculiarity
responsible/responsibility
romantic/romance
sane/sanity
sensitive/sensitivity
sorrowful/sorrow
strong/strength
stupid/stupidity
successful/success
sympathetic/sympathy
tolerant/tolerance
warm/warmth
wise/wisdom
witty/wit

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10 Responses to “Abstract Nouns from Adjectives”

  • Stephanie

    How can a person put together a phrase like “categorical imperative of logotherapy” and not know the word “responsibility”? Facepalm moments abound.

  • Scott Mellon

    Bravo. This mistake makes me crazy. I question whether opionatedness is really the same as opinion. I think I’d use something like “intransigence”, although lo and behold opinionatedness is in MW http://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/opinionatedness

  • venqax

    These have a bothersomeness to me, too. And they seem to display growingness. Just a couple days ago here on DWT a poster wrote (seriously, so far as I can tell) about being careful to use preciseness in language of all things.

  • thebluebird11

    As usual, just flying through, only time for one quick comment: Much as I’d rather be messing around with DWT than working, I don’t have time to consider all the words in the list right now. However, since you mentioned ‘humbleness’ a couple of times, I wondered if that might be different from ‘humility.’ Assuming that humbleness is a word (well, it IS; I just wrote it), IMHO there is a difference between the 2 words. To me, humbleness is a sweet, endearing character trait in anybody, but especially in someone who has a powerful station in life yet doesn’t abuse it for personal gain. OTOH, humility still has this connotation of debasement, embarrassment, red-facedness…more something someone suffers, especially at the hand of someone else. IOW, they are humiliated. So I would like to hear other people’s opinions on this: Do you get the same feelings about these 2 words, do you think my point is valid, how do you use these words (if you use humbleness), etc.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Oh, I believe that “humbleness” needs to be deposited into the Marianas Trench, never to return.

    To me, it is also amazing that people modify brave to form “braveness” when the true words (having existed for a long time) are “bravery” and “courage”.
    A brave man or woman who wins a medal like the silver star or the distinguished flying cross has courage and/or skill above and beyond the call of duty. By the way, there are an American DFC and a British DFC with slightly different qualifications for receiving them.
    For example, John Glenn won four DFCs as a combat pilot, and one more as a test pilot, and the sixth for his spaceflight in the FRIENDSHIP 7. Civilians have won the American DFC, too, but I don’t know if that is allowed in the British Commonwealth. I believe that Amelia Earhart won the American DFC.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I do not think that “opionatedness” is ever necessary or useful.

    We always have the noun phrase “to be opinionated”. This one is an infinitive phrase, and I believe that there are other noun phrases of this sort, such as gerund phrase like “getting opinionated”:
    “I think that Vladimir Putin has been getting so opinionated that it irritates me.” I also find him to be too opiniated for my taste.
    D.A.W.

  • venqax

    I think you make a good point, bluebird, that in some cases there may be subtle differences, even connotative ones, between some of the nouns in question. Which ones and how may be debatable, but the cases are there. Humbleness and humility I would buy as an example. I’m not sure I share all of your inferences s re humility, but I can see it as not precisely synonymous with humbleness. There is the issue, too in that case that humble and humility are not forms of the same word are they? Humility is one of those nouns (which do bother be) that don’t seem to have an adjectival form. You want someone with humility to be* humile*, while humbleness can be displayed by the humble. But they just ain’t. Fidelity is one of those words that is sore spot for me, always looking for its non-existent adjective fidel or fidelitous, or something.

    I agree that opinion and opionatedness are not the same. To take DAW’s example, saying that V. Putin’s opionionatedness irritates you is quite different from saying his opinion does. Opinionatedness doesn’t seem to be a standard word though, so like being humile or fidel, maybe rewording is mandated. But “The fact that he is so opinionated ticks me off” seems awkward and verbose compared to “His opinionatedness ticks me off”. So maybe this is a case where a new word is called for, even if it’s not very euphonious. Opinionatidy. OK, that’s worse.

  • Roberta B.

    Two words that sounds really irritating to me are “athleticism” and “physicality.” They’re used a lot by sports broadcasters. I suppose they are the noun forms, respectively, for: athletic ability and physical prowess, but they still sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

  • Danny

    One can possess the admirable quality of humility without being humiliated. There is nothing shameful about humility!

  • venqax

    @Roberta B: But the alternatives might be athelticness and physicalness. So you’d better steel yourself. There are chalkboards and there are chalkboards.

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