Deverbal Nouns and Adjectives in English Grammar

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

English dictionaries
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A deverbal is a word (usually a noun or an adjective) that is derived from a verb. Also called derivative noun and derivative adjective.

Put another way, a deverbal is a verb that has been converted to a noun or an adjective by the addition of an appropriate morpheme (usually a suffix).

See Examples and Observations, below. Also see:

Examples and Observations:

  • "An example of a deverbal noun is . . . baker, a noun derived from a verb by attaching the agentive suffix -er."
    (Adrian Akmajian, Richard Demers, Ann Farmer, and Robert Harnish, Linguistics: An Introduction to Language and Communication, 2nd ed. MIT Press, 2001)​
  • "[T]he irregular inflectional behavior of verbs like to drink, to hit, to shake, or to sleep is a strong argument for the deverbal nature of the nouns drink, hit, shake, and sleep. In sum, the inflectional behavior of forms can give evidence for a particular direction of conversion."
    (Ingo Plag, Word-Formation in English. Cambridge University Press, 2003)​
  • "Instead of speaking of . . . writing . . . as a 'verbal noun,' I will call it a 'deverbal noun,' i.e. a noun derived by a lexical-morphological process from a verb stem. Analogously with participles, as in
    (5) Anyone disturbing these papers will be severely dealt with
    (6) I've just had a very disturbing experience
    Instead of saying that disturbing is a verbal adjective in each of these, we will say that it is a verb in (5), an adjective in (6)--and again in (5), disturbing is an inflectional form of the lexeme disturb but in (6) it is not: disturbing in (6) is lexically derived and hence a deverbal adjective."
    (Rodney Huddleston, Introduction to the Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press, 1984)​
  • Suffixes and Meanings
    "[I]t stands to reason that if a word's class is changed through a derivational process, then its meaning will be affected. Derivational suffixes and processes vary, however, in what new semantic information they bring to a word. Compare, for example, the deverbal nouns educator and education in (7):
    (7a) Kevin educates the children.
    (7b) Kevin is the educator of the year.
    (7c) The education of the children takes all of Kevin's time.
    The base form educate describes an action. Thus, the -or suffix changes the ontological category of the word in a major way, from an event type to a thing. As such, educate is a fairly typical verb, and educator a fairly typical noun. On the other hand, the noun education, as it is used in (7c), describes a type of event. Although educator and education are both nouns, the thing described by educator is more time-stable than the event described by education. If you point at the education described in (7c) at different times, you will be pointing at different stages of the activity, whereas pointing at the educator in (7b) always involves pointing at Kevin."
    (M. Lynne Murphy, Lexical Meaning. Cambridge University Press, 2010)​
  • Deverbal Nominalization
    "Deverbal nominalization is special in ways which make it both extraordinarily complex and extraordinarily revealing. Deverbal nominals (henceforth 'd-nominals') such as assignment and continuation are remarkable for the variety of meanings that they exhibit. They have been said to denote, inter alia, results, manners, actions, processes, events, states, ordinary objects, and propositions. It appears that they can have any meaning that an underived nominal can have, and others which are unique to them, made possible by their verbal qualities. They are special syntactically since they are nominal expressions related to verbs. They are morphologically intricate, involving many different morphemes associated with different semantic and grammatical characteristics. Nominalization is highly sensitive to aspect, and restrictions on nominalization provide a key source of information concerning the representation of events in language."
    (Jane Grimshaw, "Deverbal Nominalization." Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning, Vol. 2, ed. by Klaus Von Heusinger, Claudia Maienborn, and Paul Portner. Walter de Gruyter, 2011)
  • Ambiguities
    "The most comprehensive work on English nominalization to date is certainly [Jane] Grimshaw [Argument Structure, 1990] who argues that deverbal nouns do not form a homogeneous class. As (1) illustrates, nouns such as examination are ambiguous between an event reading that supports argument structure (AS), and a non-event reading that does not. (1b) is taken to instantiate the referential use of the nominal, while (1a) instantiates the AS use.
    (1a) the examination of the patients took a long time
    (1b) the examination was on the table
    Nominals formed via -ation are not the only ambiguous ones in English. Nominals formed via -er (e.g. destroyer) are ambiguous between an agentive reading on which they license AS (the destroyer of the city) and an instrumental one on which they do not (destroyer = warship)."
    (Artemis Alexiadou and Monika Rathert, Introduction. The Syntax of Nominalizations Across Languages and Frameworks. Walter de Gruyter, 2010)

    Also Known As: deverbative