Nominalization: Nouns formed from verbs

Nominalization is the process of converting a verb or an adjective into a noun. Many noun phrases, especially those in science and technology, express ‘action’ in a nominalized form.


The ‘action’ that is expressed in a verb always has an agent (often the subject of the sentence) that causes or initiates the action and sometimes also a receiver (object) of that action.

will evaluate

How can we express the 'doer' and 'receiver' of an action when this action is nominalized as a noun?


Introducing the ‘agent’ in a noun phrase

English utilizes four different structures to introduce an agent into a noun phrase: the genitive-s, genitive-of, noun compound, and agent-by. Each of these structures has certain limitations.

will evaluate
(ACTIVE verb)
will be evaluated
(PASSIVE verb)
by engineers

In the above example, what do we do if we need to identify the agent or "somebody" that performs the “evaluating”? A common mistake is to use a genitive construction, either a genitive-s (‘s for singular / s’ for plural) or the preposition ‘of’. However, these two constructions have their limitations. Although the genitive-s can only be used with agents that are persons and animals, it is typically replaced in formal academic writing by a noun compound.

This validation is based on engineers’ evaluation of the prototype.
Noun compound:
This validation is based on engineer evaluation of the prototype.

The other option, the of-genitive, also has the limitation that it cannot be used when the noun phrase already contains the preposition ‘of’. For stylistic reasons, you should avoid consecutive repetition of the same preposition in a single sentence. Instead, use a "by" phrase to signal the agent of the action:

This validation is based on an evaluation of the engineers of the prototype.
By + agent:
This validation is based on an evaluation of the prototype by engineers .

Introducing the ‘receiver’ in a noun phrase

English utilizes three different structures to introduce a receiver (object) into a noun phrase: Latin, Anglo-Saxon, and noun compound. If you speak Spanish, french or Italian, you will quickly recognize this structure; it requires both the definite article 'the' (See also descriptive of-genitive phrases)and the preposition 'of'. The Anglo-Saxon noun phrase is characterized by its use of the gerund -ing form (without a definite article!).

  1. Latin (-tion)
    Engineers will prepare criteria for the evaluation of the prototype.
  1. Anglo-Saxon (-ing)
    Engineers will prepare criteria for evaluating the prototype.
  1. Noun Compound (verb + verb)
    Engineers will prepare criteria for prototype evaluation.

Finnish vs. English usage

When the head noun expressing action is modified by another previous noun, Finnish tends to put the modifying noun into the genitive form, whereas English prefers to express this as a noun compound.


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