How to Derive Nouns From Verbs

Many words in the English language can be regarded as being made out of “building blocks” – the roots, suffixes, and prefixes that can be combined in different ways to create different vocabulary words. In general, these combinations follow rules, and for the most part the rules are easy to apply and remember.

One of the main ways to create new words is to base them on (to derive them from) another word. For example, you can create many nouns from adjectives by adding the suffix -ness or -ity:

bright / brightness
specific /specificity
dark / darkness
cruel / cruelty
happy / happiness
obese / obesity

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule (and English is rather notorious for its large number of exceptions!) but once you learn the guidelines, you’ll be able to recognize the forms and categories, even with those variations.

One of the more difficult categories to master is the derivation of nouns from verbs – or at any rate the nouns that describe abstract concepts rather than the person doing the action described by the verb. The names of people who perform certain actions can be easily traced back to the action verb related to that performance, with the addition of the suffix -er:

write / writer
bake / baker
hunt / hunter
dance / dancer

However, when you’re referring to concepts rather than people, things get a little more tricky. Here are some examples of non-occupational nouns derived from verbs:

to arrive / the arrival
to deliver / the deliverance
to grow / the growth
to pay / the payment
to compile / the compilation
to draw / the drawing
to emerge / the emergence

Seven rules for seven noun formations! In fact, though, there really is no one set rule for deriving nouns from verbs, and the student of English needs to just write down and memorize the pairs of related words without trying to identify too many patterns.

Devote a little bit of time every day to learning and memorizing these more difficult aspects of the English vocabulary, and you’ll derive a great deal of satisfaction at your rapid improvement and increased verbal skills.