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Deverbal nouns are nouns that are derived from verbs or verb phrases, but that behave grammatically purely as nouns, not as verbs. They are distinct from verbal noun types such as gerunds and infinitives, which behave like verbs within their phrase (although that verb phrase is then used as a noun phrase within the larger sentence).
The formation of deverbal nouns is one of the types of nominalization (noun formation). Examples of deverbal nouns in English include organization (derived from the verb organize), the noun construct /ˈkɒnstɹʌkt/ (from the verb construct /kənˈstɹʌkt/), and discovery (from the verb discover). The -ing form of any verb can serve as a deverbal noun, although the same word form can also be used verbally as a gerund or participle.
When the term deverbal noun is used, it is generally contrasted with the term verbal noun: a verbal noun being a word with verbal characteristics used to form a noun phrase, and a deverbal noun being a noun with no grammatical verbal characteristics other than its being derived from a verb. (This is the terminology that is used in this section. However other authors may use the term "verbal noun" to cover both cases.)
Verbal nouns (VNs) and deverbal nouns (DVNs), under this approach, are distinct syntactic word classes. DVNs differ functionally from VNs in that DVNs operate as autonomous common nouns, while VNs retain verbal characteristics. Such VNs are generally non-finite verb forms, such as gerunds and infinitives. DVNs may take the same form as VNs, but are used in a different way. (A similar distinction can be made between verbal adjectives – such as participles used verbally – and deverbal adjectives.)
The distinction between verbal and deverbal nouns is illustrated in the following English sentences, in which words derived from verbs by adding -ing behave sometimes as gerunds, and sometimes as deverbal nouns. (Further information can be found in the article on -ing.)
Sometimes (particularly when the -ing word is used alone without modifiers) the matter is ambiguous, although there may be a difference in meaning depending on whether it is intended as a verbal or deverbal. Consider the sentence:
Here shouting could be either a gerund or a deverbal noun. If it is intended as a gerund, it can be assumed to mean that shouting is nice for the person doing the shouting. (Compare sentences in which the subject is unambiguously verbal, such as "To shout is nice" and "Shouting loudly is nice.") On the other hand, if intended as a deverbal noun, it can be assumed to mean that shouting is nice for those experiencing the shouting. (Compare sentences in which the subject is unambiguously deverbal, such as "Loud shouting is nice.")
Deverbal nouns may be categorized semantically according to what facet of the process (that the verb refers to) they denote, that is, what facet of the process is reified (construed as a thing). Examples are:
When words are derived by conversion, it may not be clear whether a noun is derived from a verb or vice versa. This is common in English; examples of words that are both verbs and nouns (with related meanings) are bruise, hope, rain, work, etc. See also initial-stress-derived noun.
In Japanese, verbal nouns are treated (grammatically and orthographically) as verb forms, while deverbal nouns are treated as nouns. This is reflected in okurigana (following characters), which are used for verb conjugation and, similarly, for verbal nouns, but not for deverbal nouns. For example, 話す、話し、話 (hana-su, hana-shi, hanashi) are the verb, nominalized verb (VN), and deverbal noun (DVN) of "converse", "conversation (the act)", "conversation (the episode)" – the first two are written with following hiragana characters (す、し), as verb forms, while the latter is written without following characters, as a noun. A more dramatic example is found in 氷る、氷り、氷 (koo-ru, koo-ri, koori), meaning "freeze", "freezing", "ice (literally: freezing)", where the verbal origins are more distant from the current use of the noun.
Chinese is a morphologically-poor language. Many of the nouns denoting an action can be used as a verb without morphological change. For example, yanjiu 研究 ‘research’ can be used as a noun and a verb depending on syntactic context.