Nominalization is the process of producing a noun from another part of speech. This post is about nouns formed from verbs.
The least-disguised nominalized verb is the gerund: the present participle form of the verb used as a noun:
Hiking can be arduous.
Writing is not for sissies.
Loitering is not permitted.
Many nouns that end in -or are derived from verbs; they denote the actor or agent of the verb from which they come:
actor: one who acts
inventor: one who invents
sculptor: one who sculpts
governor: one who governs
translator: one who translates
Note: The verbs in many -or agent nouns are not immediately recognizable because they correspond to Latin verbs, not English. For example, the rec- in rector is from the past participial stem of regere, “to rule.” In modern usage, a rector is a member of the Anglican clergy who has charge of a parish. Historically, a rector was a ruler or governor with temporal powers.
The suffix -er also forms agent nouns: writer, worker, employer, dancer.
The suffixes -or and -er can also refer to things that perform a particular function: tiller, typewriter, projector.
The suffix -ee is used in legal terminology to indicate the passive party in a legal transaction:
legatee: the person who is to receive a legacy
payee: the person who has the right to be paid
The -ee suffix is an adaptation of the é of certain Anglo-Norman past participles. The suffix has crept from legalese into general use. Some -ee forms do not jar:
employee: one who is employed
evacuee: one who is evacuated
parolee: one who is paroled
Others, however, sound silly:
tutee: one who is tutored
awardee: one who is awarded something
kidnapee: one who is kidnapped
Other Nominalized Verbs Formed with Suffixes
Other suffixes that transform verbs into nouns are: -tion, -sion, -ment, -ence, and -ance:
information, from “to inform”
investigation, from “to investigate”
collision, from “to collide”
agreement, from “to agree”
refusal, from “to refuse”
acceptance, from “to accept”
conference, from “to confer”
failure, from “to fail”
Some verbs can be used as nouns without the addition of a suffix:
Murder will out.
Put this money to good use.
Most people dislike change.
Sometimes the verb and noun differ in pronunciation. For example, the noun progress is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable; the verb progress is pronounced with the stress on the second syllable.
Use Nominalized Verbs with Care
Several articles in the DWT archives refer to “smothered verbs,” referring to nominalized verbs that contribute to a stodgy style of writing.
Overuse of nominalized verbs, especially those ending in -tion and -ment, contribute to a wordy, stodgy style. For example,
The companies reached an agreement to build in the neighborhood.
Voters had a negative reaction to the new law.
There’s nothing grammatically wrong with these sentences, but they can be improved stylistically by rewriting them to eliminate the nominalization and simply use the verb from which it comes:
The companies agreed to build in the neighborhood.
Voters reacted negatively to the new law.
The ability to form nouns from verbs by adding a suffix contributes to the marvelous flexibility of English, but–like all good things–it should be used in moderation.
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