How does one determine if a word is a noun or verb, and do words have a default state?

Or does it all depend on how the word is engaged with?

  • 3
    Welcome to the EL&U. This site encourages its users to do show the research they have done before asking a question. Also, it helps to give concrete examples and state why you have doubts about the matter.
    – fev
    Dec 31, 2020 at 15:23
  • How many parts of speech can a word be at the same time? essentially subsumes this question. 'No' is the trivial answer for words which show intercategorial polysemy (In neither 'a round of golf', 'You must never round the corner too fast' nor indeed in 'this cake is round' (etc) is the incarnation of 'round' 'archetypical'), but the underlying 'How does it work?' question covers at least a third of English. Dec 31, 2020 at 16:07

2 Answers 2


English does not work like that. Each word has its own usage that you will need to learn. I suspect that all languages are like that, but I could be wrong because I do not know them all.


It really depends on what the word "does".

If it denotes an action, it is a verb. If it denotes a "thing"(what includes a concept, or a person, for example), it is a noun. If it characterizes something, it is an adjective, and so on.

You can have words that can play both roles depending on context, as is the case with "Google"(like it or not), you can "open Google"(noun), or you can "Google it"(verb). So, it really depends on the word.

However, you could kind of say that the default state of a word is a noun, for example, if I make up a word, say "flnafl", if I were to say "I flnafled my house" it would be a verb, but in this scenario I would be ascribing meaning to it; if it was a completely meaningless word, it would be treated as a noun.

Of course creating meaningless words is not very useful, with one notable exception, expletives, a word just used to denote "something", almost a gramatical blank space, to be filled by the listener, I guess it could work as one, in which case it would also be a noun.

Therefore, without further context, words have a natural tendency to be a noun.

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    No: it doesn't just depend on what a word does. Noun or verb status is determined by syntactic tests. For example, if the word can be modified by "very" it must be a noun, and if it has a direct object it can only be a verb. Consider the NPs "a lovely child" and "a sleeping child". Both "lovely" and "sleeping" are modifiers of "child", but "lovely" is an adjective and "sleeping" is here a verb. See what I mean?
    – BillJ
    Dec 31, 2020 at 16:35
  • thank you for that, I will look into that , what's are the other tests ?
    – Knotwood V
    Dec 31, 2020 at 16:38
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    @Bill ... Test 1? Dec 31, 2020 at 16:38
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    @KnotwoodV Another test: Compare “a sleeping child” (verb) and “an entertaining show” (adjective). “Entertaining” differs from “sleeping” in that it can occur as complement to complex-intransitive verbs like “become”; thus we can have “It became/seemed quite entertaining” but not *“She became/seemed sleeping”.
    – BillJ
    Dec 31, 2020 at 17:19
  • @BillJ I think I understand what your saying, I was just hoping for some material I could read more upon. , but what about words that occupy both states? like book or design ?
    – Knotwood V
    Dec 31, 2020 at 17:30

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