Is that “-ness” Really Necessary?

By Maeve Maddox

The ending -ness can be added to any adjective and most past participles to create abstract nouns:

  • happiness
  • randomness
  • misguidedness

Some adjectives, however, already have corresponding nouns that do not end in
-ness
. Many beautiful and expressive abstract nouns are falling into disuse because writers and speakers are too quick to use a -ness word.

The word “fatigue,” for example, is being pushed out by “tiredness.” I’ve seen or heard such unnecessary creations as “braveness,” “wiseness,” “poorness,” and “cowardness.”

Next time you need an abstract noun, consider the following correspondences before automatically creating one with -ness.

  • curious/curiosity
  • brave/bravery
  • courageous/courage;valor
  • cowardly/cowardice
  • complex/complexity
  • efficient /efficiency
  • generous/generosity
  • greedy/greed
  • hilarious/hilarity
  • honest/honesty
  • humble/humility
  • just/justice
  • loyal/loyalty
  • mature/maturity
  • merry/merriment
  • poor/poverty
  • possible/possibility
  • probable/probability
  • responsible/responsibility
  • sane/sanity
  • scarce/scarcity
  • sensitive/sensitivity
  • splendid/splendor
  • strong /strength
  • victorious/victory
  • violent/violence
  • warm/warmth
  • wise/wisdom
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7 Responses to “Is that “-ness” Really Necessary?”

  • Bill G

    This is especially grating when there is a noun form of the same root available to use in place of the neologism. When something is opaque, its opacity is so much more pleasing than its opaqueness.

  • Ken Xu

    I use ness quite a lot. Another enlightened, David. May be I should open a grammar book and start studying now. ;p

  • Ken Xu

    Ops! Sorry… I mean Daniel. Excuse me please. 🙂

  • Tyree

    Another brilliant addition! I have been hearing “ness” tacked on so often in the past year and it really drives me crazy. To me it’s like nails on a chalkboard. I think what it really boils down to is the extent of an individual’s vocabulary. I find it very enlightening to keep a thesaurus on hand when I write, even if it’s something as simple and informal as an email. I am a big fan of Dictionary.com because it’s easily accessible and provides a wealth of synonyms. My vocabulary has probably increased nearly 100% since I discovered the site years back.

    Great reference list! I’ve heard a lot of misuse of the words you’ve listed.

  • Maeve

    Tyree,
    Thanks for telling us about Dictionary.com. I recently subscribed to Webster’s online unabridged dictionary, but it doesn’t have some of the features that this free site has. I look forward to the use of the translation feature.

  • Pri

    Another example, (stupid)
    Success and Successfullness. Both are words but they mean exactly the same thing.

  • venqax

    It is annoying, but can be unintentionaly amusing– like when someone’s stupidness is pointed out by an angry detractor.

    Refer to the “Return to normalcy” controversy from American politics eons ago (election of 1920). Normality, the offenders were lectured, was the proper form of the word. Still, normalcy won the election, propriety (or is it appropriateness?) be damned. What, NO ONE thought of normalness? That might have been the great compromise! It’s been downhill since.

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