Denominal (Noun Form)

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A denominal noun is a noun that is formed from another noun, usually by adding a suffix--such as villager (from village), New Yorker (from New York), booklet (from book), limeade (from lime), lectureship (from lecture), and librarian (from library).

Many denominal nouns are context sensitive (see Contextual Constructions, below).

Examples and Observations

  • "Nouns like Nixonite, bicycler, and saxophonist are formed from concrete nouns like Nixon, bicycle, and saxophone by derivation. There is a plethora of idiomatic cases of this sort in English, but what innovative examples mean can vary enormously from one occasion to the next, depending on certain cooperative measures between the speaker and addressees. Each has an unlimited number of possible meanings, or so it appears. Denominal nouns, then, although they have stricter requirements than, say, possessives or compound nouns, are also contextual expressions." (Herbert H. Clark, Arenas of Language Use. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1992)
  • "The fact that a denominal noun is not the result of a direct derivation from the action itself may explain the difficulties in interpreting denominal formations. The meaning of denominal nouns may not be directly related to the action performed by the referent..." (Alexander Haselow, Typological Changes in the Lexicon: Analytic Tendencies in English Noun Formation. Walter de Gruyter, 2011)

Contextual Constructions

"Contextual constructions aren't merely ambiguous, having a small fixed set of conventional meanings. They have in principle an infinity of potential non-conventional interpretations, each built around a conventional meaning of the word or words it is derived from... Contextual constructions rely on an appeal to context--to the participants' common ground. They always require non-conventional coordination for their interpretation."

(Herbert H. Clark, Using Language. Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Deverbals and Denominals: Nouns Formed With the Suffix -ant

"Let us turn to the deverbal person noun forming affix -ant (defendant), which denotes a personal or material agent. . . . [P]ossible verbal bases involve those ending in -ify, -ize, -ate, and -en. A look at Lehnert (1971) and the OED shows that, almost without exception . . ., these verbs are subject to the domain of agentive noun forming -er/or. The rival suffix -ant has a somewhat peculiar distribution, since its attachment is partly lexically governed (i.e. unproductive) and partly rule-governed and productive. In the semantically distinguishable domains of medical/pharmaceutical/chemo-technical and legal/corporate jargon, -ant can be used productively to form words denoting substances and persons, respectively, as evidenced by the following examples disinfectant, repellant, consultant, accountant, defendant, to mention only a few."

(Ingo Plag, Morphological Productivity: Structural Constraints in English Derivation. Mouton de Gruyter, 1999)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Denominal (Noun Form)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Denominal (Noun Form). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Denominal (Noun Form)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).