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verbal noun


verbal noun

Mind the Gaffe: The Penguin Guide to Common Errors in English, by R.L. Trask (Penguin, 2002)


A noun that is derived from a verb (usually by adding the suffix -ing) and that exhibits the ordinary properties of a noun.

As Sidney Greenbaum notes in The Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992), "Verbal nouns contrast with deverbal nouns, that is, other kinds of nouns derived from verbs, such as attempt, destruction, and including nouns ending in -ing that do not have verbal force: building in The building was empty. They also contrast with the gerund, which also ends in -ing, but is syntactically a verb."

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • The building of the British Empire may be said to have begun with the ascent of Queen Elizabeth to the throne.

  • His acting of the part of Othello was distinguished by a breadth and grandeur that placed it far beyond the efforts of other actors.

  • "Saluting the heroes who have fallen in the fighting of the last few days, my thoughts turn toward you, the victors in the next battle."
    (General Franchet d'Esperey, Sep. 9, 1914)

  • "The dead might as well try to speak to the living as the old to the young."
    (Willa Cather)

  • Nominal Qualities of Verbal Nouns
    "Though derived from a verb, a verbal noun is strictly a noun, and it exhibits nominal properties: it takes determiners like the and this, it permits adjectives (but not adverbs), it permits following prepositional phrases (but not objects), and it can even be pluralized if the sense permits. Example: In football, the deliberate tripping of an opponent is a foul. Here the verbal noun tripping takes the determiner the, the adjective deliberate and the prepositional phrase of an opponent, but it exhibits no verbal properties at all. In other words, tripping in this case is a perfectly ordinary noun, behaving just like any other noun, with no verbal properties in sight. Compare the last example with one involving the unremarkable noun attack: In football, a deliberate attack on an opponent is a foul.
    (R.L. Trask, Mind the Gaffe! Harper, 2006)

  • -ing Forms
    "English . . . has a verb plus -ing form, rare in the multiplicity of its functions and in its complexity. No two grammars appear to agree on the appropriate terms for these forms: gerund, verb noun, verbal noun, participial clause, participial adjective, present participle, deverbal adjective, deverbal noun. Moreover, often one or another of its uses is omitted."
    (Peter Newmark, "Looking at English Words in Translation." Words, Words, Words: The Translator and the Language Learner, ed. by Gunilla M. Anderman and Margaret Rogers. Multilingual Matters, 1996)

  • Gerund and Verbal Noun
    "Gerunds are defined by two properties, the first making them verb-like, the second noun-like:
    (a) A gerund contains (at least) a verb stem and the suffix -ing.

    (b) A gerund has one of the functions that are characteristic of nouns--or rather, . . . a gerund heads a phrase with one of the functions that are characteristic of NPs . . ..
    "The combination of verb-like and noun-like properties given in (a) and (b) underlies the traditional characterisation of gerunds as 'verbal nouns.' Note, however, that this latter term, 'verbal noun,' implies that greater weight is attached to (b) than to (a): a verbal noun is primarily a kind of noun, not a kind of verb."
    (Rodney D. Huddleston, Introduction to the Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press, 1984)
Also Known As: -ing noun
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