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In linguistics, nominalization or nominalisation is the use of a verb, an adjective, or an adverb as the head of a noun phrase, with or without morphological transformation. The term can also refer specifically to the process of producing a noun from another part of speech via the addition of derivational affixes (e.g., legalize versus legalization).
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.
From the viewpoint of linguistic prescriptivism, nominalizations are considered to make sentences more difficult to follow and to promote wordiness. For these reasons, nominalizations are usually discouraged in writing. However, they can be warranted when it is necessary to use the nominalized verb or adjective as the head of a noun phrase. Very common nominalizations (like the noun "changes") are usually not discouraged.
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.
An additional case is seen with the verb use, which has a different pronunciation when used as a noun.
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 in cases of ancient roots, it may be moot to wonder which lexical category came first. 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 Chinese languages, 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 languages, 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 languages.
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.’
- Initial-stress-derived noun
- Deverbal noun
- Verbal noun
- List of plain English words and phrases
- Kolln, M. 1998, Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects, p.63
- 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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