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Groups of Words Acting as Nouns

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There. Pay attention.

To understand the English language, you must grasp some key concepts.

One is this:

Other words or chunks of words—words that are not nouns—can act as nouns in your sentences; that is, they can perform the functions of a noun.

Noun Phrases and Clauses

I will introduce the primary words and chunks of words here, even though we have yet to discuss some of the terms in much detail. Just remember, the eight parts of speech are highly interrelated, so talking about nouns, for example, often requires talking about verbs and other parts of speech.

Also, keep this in mind: There are two main types of word chunks, clauses and phrases. A clause is a bunch of words with a conjugated verb in it. A phrase is a bunch of words without a conjugated verb in it.

A variety of words and chunks of words in our language can serve the role of noun. Let’s call them noun substitutes.

If you diagramed sentences in your youth, you will no doubt recall putting entire phrases and clauses in the space where a noun would ordinarily go.

Phrases Acting as Nouns

Here’s a list of the most prevalent noun substitutes, along with examples. In the examples, the word or chunk of words substituting for a noun appears in bold. I’ll also indicate the noun function the noun substitute serves.

Phrase Acting as a Noun Example
1. Prepositional phrase acting as the subject of the sentence. Under the table is the place to look.
2. Present-participial phrase (-ing phrase) acting as the direct object of the verb enjoyed. (An -ing phrase acting as a noun is called a gerund.) The man enjoyed sitting on the park bench.
3. Infinitive phrase (to phrase) acting as the subject of the sentence. To write with powerwas his ultimate goal.

 

Notice that numbers 2 and 3 are verbal phrases. Notice also that those verbs (sitting and to write) are not conjugated. They do not reveal tense, person, number, or mood. Thus, the word chunks they form are phrases, not clauses.

Clauses Acting as Nouns

We can conjugate a verb, form a clause, and then use the entire clause as a noun. Fact is, we do this all the time:

He wished that he could be like Mike.

When you look up wish in the dictionary, you find that it has transitive definitions. Thus, wish can take a direct object. You’ve learned in this section that direct objects are nouns. What’s the direct object of wish? The entire clause—that he could be like Mike—enters the sentence, acts as a noun, and serves the role of direct object.

Let’s dream up some clauses and make them serve the noun functions we’ve studied in this section:

1. grammatical subject of the sentence 2. object of a verb 3. object of a preposition 4. subject complement or predicate noun.

Here’s one of the clauses we’ll use below: who did the homework. Notice that we have a bunch of words with a conjugated verb (did) in it. That’s a clause. Below, the clauses appear in bold.

Clause Acting as a Noun Example
1. Clause acting as the subject of the sentence. That he succeeded surprised the panel of judges.
2. Clause acting as direct object of the transitive verb knew. The teacher knew who did the homework.
3. Clause acting as the object of the preposition to. The teacher gave a prize to whoever did the homework.
4. Clause acting as a predicate noun. The problem waswhether he could fulfill our expectations.

 

One final observation. Notice that we create most of these fake nouns with verb forms. Later we’ll see that the reverse is not true: We cannot properly take a noun form and turn it into a verb form.

We can manipulate and change a noun and turn it into a verb. We can—most unfortunately—take the noun priority and turn it into a verb and then prioritize our agenda.

You’ll begin to learn in our series of ebooks that the verb form provides enormous power, for it can enter the language as a noun. We’ll learn later that the verb can also enter the language as an adjective. It can even enter the language as an adverb. (Remember adverbs? They are words that modify verbs.) That’s right; a verb can modify a verb:

To improve her swing, the professional golfer practiced every day.

See how the verb to improve describes the verb practiced? It shows why she practiced?

That’s versatility. That’s power. For that reason, verbs are the secret of the powerful writer.

Hard Copy

You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.

 

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