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What Is a Verbal Noun?

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  • Written By: Mark Wollacott
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2016
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A verbal noun is a noun that has been created from a verb. This means a form of the verb has been preserved, then turned into a noun. The word is then subject to the normal rules of a noun, including number, gender and other cases, but is not subject to the rules governing verbs. The verbal noun, in English, often uses the infinitive form of the verb, but may use other forms too, such as the present.

Nouns are descriptive words that, along with action words called verbs, provide the majority of words in a person’s lexicon. Nouns represent names given to things, concepts and objects such as "box," "faith" and "cat." Nouns in some languages can be inflected to take into account cases such as gender, time, number and possession.

The verbal noun should not be confused with the gerund in English. The gerund is a participle verb, usually one that ends in ‘ing,’ which can be treated as a noun as well as a verb. This means that ‘walk’ and ‘walking,’ when not used as verbs, are separate words with different rules. ‘Walk’ is a verbal noun, while ‘walking’ is a gerund. An example of a gerund is "Parting is such sweet sorrow."

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By using the word ‘walk’ as a noun, a person is able to say "Going for a walk is good for the soul" or "Every morning, I take my dog for a walk." In both cases given, these are the singular forms of the noun ‘walk.’ It is possible to pluralize the noun to create sentences such as "I enjoy long walks in the countryside on weekends."

The verbal noun exists because nouns are designed to name things. This includes the need to name actions, which are demonstrated by verbs in sentences, but sometimes also the need to be named. Within the grammatical structure of a sentence, the verbal noun often takes the place of the weak verb. For example, in the sentence "Jeff likes going to work," the strong verb is ‘going,’ while the weak verb or verbal noun is ‘work.’

With verbal nouns such as ‘work,’ the verb also becomes a place associated with the action. People go to work in offices or factories or shops, but this place of work is categorized simply as work. The same can be said for the product of the action. Painters after they have finished painting something have not just created art, but they have also created a ‘painting.’ Other examples include ‘building,’ ‘housing’ and ‘rating.’

The action or verb may also become a verbal noun when the action is applied to the person doing it. For example, a cook is someone who cooks and a builder is someone who builds. These words often run parallel to existing words for that profession such as chef and mason.

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