Many words in English can be adapted to be used for different grammatical functions. We often use prefixes and suffixes (extra parts of the word added at the beginning or the end) to change the meaning of a word for a variety of purposes. Adjectives and verbs can be turned into nouns, for example happy becomes the feeling of happiness, run becomes the doer of the verb, runner. There are many different ways to do this that sometimes have individual quirks – but there are also some general rules to help know how to create nouns from other words. The following is a list of the most common suffix changes to form nouns:
Add –ness to form nouns from adjectives
The suffix –ness forms nouns from adjectives. Not all adjectives can have –ness added to them, but it is a common form – especially with adjectives ending in y (though note the spelling change, to –iness), hard consonant sounds like d, and many adjectives ending in ful. Common examples are:
- ready – They questioned her readiness for the test.
- happy – It is important to create happiness for everyone.
- weak – Eating too much cake was a major weakness of his.
- sad – The closure of the post office brought sadness to the community.
- mad – The decision to drive in the snow was pure madness.
- forgetful – Forgetfulness comes with old age.
Add –ity to form nouns from adjectives
The suffix –ity forms nouns from adjectives. Again, this is only for certain adjectives, though it is common adjectives ending in –ble or with soft –s sounds. To form nouns with –ity, changes in spelling often occur, such as replacing the last few letters of the adjective. Common examples are:
- responsible – Your children are not my responsibility.
- possible – Nuclear war seemed like a real possibility.
- scarce – The scarcity of drinks became problematic during the party.
- hilarious – They reacted to the joke with much hilarity.
- probable – It’s hard to guess the probability of her passing the test.
Add –ance or –ence to form nouns from adjectives or verbs
The suffix –ance (or –ence) can be added to either adjectives or verbs to form nouns. This is particularly used for adjectives ending in –ent or –ant (where the spelling changes to replace t with -ce) and various verbs. Common examples include:
- independent – Having a car has improved my independence.
- important – Never underestimate the importance of studying.
- silent – Enjoy the silence while the children are away.
- appear – The appearance of a second singer improved the concert.
- resist – The home team put up a strong resistance against their opponents
Add –ment to form nouns from adjectives or verbs
The suffix –ment can be added to either adjectives or verbs to form nouns. It is mostly used with verbs, of many kinds, but occasionally also with adjectives with soft endings (such as y endings). This suffix normally does not change the spelling of the core word (though y may change to i). Common examples include:
- appoint – I need to make an appointment with my doctor.
- assign – The final essay was a very big assignment.
- enjoy – Don’t let the rain affect your enjoyment of this walk.
- merry – The children found a lot of merriment in the clown’s antics.
- replace – Our replacement teacher was much better than the first one.
Add –tion or –sion to form nouns from verbs
The suffix –tion (or –sion) can be added to verbs to form nouns. They follow many different verb forms, and often change spellings to fit comfortably (for example adding an additional vowel or changing a consonant to sound more natural).
- inform – There is not enough information about foxes in our area.
- decide – The committee will make a formal decision this Friday.
- describe – The police have a good description of the thief.
- multiply – I like addition and subtraction but multiplication is difficult.
- admit – The criminal’s admission of guilt got him in trouble.
Note that a lot of the changes from adjective or verb to noun will need to be learned individually, and spelling rules will not always help you – even if you know how to choose the right suffix, the spelling to connect it to the core word may not be simple.
Admit is a good example of this, as it can be used as a verb with two different meanings, and each one forms a noun with a different suffix:
- Admit – to confess – The criminal’s admission.
- Admit – to give access – Admittance to the top floor is prohibited.
Use –ship or –hood to form nouns from other nouns
The suffixes –ship and –hood can be used to create nouns from other nouns. Nouns with –ship added to the end create an abstract noun that shows a relationship (relationship itself is an example!).
- friend – Our friendship is very strong.
- partner – We are in partnership with a major organisation.
Nouns with –hood added to the end are abstract nouns to show groupings, which can refer to grouped people, areas or, more abstractly, periods of time:
- priest – Entering the priesthood is a very serious commitment.
- neighbour – Our neighbourhood is thankfully very quiet.
- child – My childhood was a fun and productive time!
This is a quick introduction to using suffixes to form new nouns from other words. There are many exceptions, and these are patterns rather than rules, so often it is necessary to learn examples individually. However, these patterns can quickly give you more options to build your vocabulary, and to understand what a new noun means when you are familiar with its root. The suffixes also give useful signals to identify a word as a noun. If you have any questions, as always, do ask!