Words on Writing: N & O

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Any word, phrase, or clause that acts as a noun. In That Suki wanted to take a break didn’t stop her from finishing the job, the clause That Suki wanted to take a break is a nominal because it acts as a noun, namely, the subject of the sentence.


To call any word a noun is ambiguous. Is it a noun in form? In function? Both?

Noun in form: A form-class word (shovel) that can change form, in natural usage, in ways characteristic of nouns. In other words, a noun in form is a word with noun features of form. In isolation, it can pass linguistic tests for nounness. Shovel, the standalone word, qualifies as a noun in form (example tests: shovel+s = plural; shovel+’s = possessive). Of course, shovel also qualifies as a verb in form; like many English words, it belongs to multiple form classes.

Noun in function (a nominal): Any word, phrase, or clause that acts a noun. A noun in function typically names a person, place, or thing. In Carl broke the shovel over his knee, the word shovel is a noun not only in form but also in function because it names the thing that Carl broke (grammatically, the direct object).

For more, see the chapter “A Modern Take (Is Take a Noun?) on Parts of Speech” in Word Up!


  1. The reinforcement of meaning in words’ sounds: buzzchopslidecracklemurmur, mellifluous.
  2. A word that has onomatopoeic (also onomatopoetic) qualities. Plural: onomatopoeias. Say that with a straight face.

A-Z page

This is not a list of all words about writing—you’d be scrolling all day. These definitions evolved while I was writing Word Up! I enjoyed what I learned and wanted to share it.

Get the full glossary and more in the book: Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them)

Last modified: December 14, 2012

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