What is a Nominal?

You may have read or written sentences like these.

The brave will win the battle.

To travel around the world has been my deep desire.

The underlined parts – an adjective and an infinitive phrase, respectively – are not identified as nouns like we do city, Peter, or anger. Nonetheless, they’re functioning as nouns in the above sentences because, like nouns, they’re subjects of their sentences.

What’s nominal?

We know that noun words, noun phrases, and noun clauses function as a noun in a sentence. But there are other words and phrases such as adjectives, gerunds, and infinitives (the latter two being forms of verb) that can also function as a noun, implying that they can do whatever nouns can in a sentence (subject, object, subject complement, etc.). The entire universe of words, phrases, and clauses that function as noun are called nominals.

In other words, nominals are a much larger umbrella of words, phrases, and clauses than nouns; nouns are subset of nominals.

Note the terminology I’ve used in this post. For one-word nouns, I’ve used the term noun words and not nouns. That’s because I’ve used the term nouns to represent the entire noun family – noun words, noun phrases, and noun clauses.

Other umbrella terms similar to nominal

Nominal is an umbrella term for words, phrases, and clauses that function like a noun. Do we have other such umbrellas? Yes: adjectivals and adverbials, both of which are larger families than nominals. As you might have guessed, adjectivals function like an adjective and adverbials function like an adverb. Learn about them:

This post contains brief description and examples of nominals divided into three categories:

  • Nominal words
  • Nominal phrases
  • Nominal clauses

Note: In the examples, nominals have been underlined.

1. Nominal words

1.1 Noun word

Noun words are one-word nouns. They always function nominally. Examples:

Tom didn’t attend school today.

The tornado struck the coast with fury and vengeance.

The dog wagged its tail in anticipation of food.

1.2 Gerund

Gerunds are one-word present participle form of verbs. They always function nominally. Examples:

Michael Phelps has broken several world records in swimming.

Seeing is believing.

Smoking is injurious to health.

1.3 Adjective

These adjectives were once used with nouns such as people (elderly people, poor people, etc.), but over the years the adjective alone became synonymous with the combined entity. Only few adjectives can function nominally in such use.

The housing is for the elderly.

Only poor should get government benefits.

The meek surrendered in the battle.

2. Nominal phrases

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2.1 Noun phrase

A noun phrase is a phrase that has a noun as its head word (or the most important word), and it functions as a noun in a sentence. In the examples below, the head word of the noun phrase has been highlighted in bold. Noun phrases always function nominally. Examples:

The tall guy in blue dress teaches economics in my college.

The evening tabloid that carried unverified information was sued.

I would love to have that black evening gown.

2.2 Gerund phrase

Gerund phrases are essentially words and phrases added to gerunds, which we covered earlier. They always function nominally. Examples:

Taking break and seeing things dispassionately from a distance can tell us if we’ve deviated from our intended path.

According to him, he has become proficient by learning from his mistakes.

A person who depends on others for financial or other assistance cannot offend them by speaking impolitely.

2.3 Infinitive phrase

Infinitive phrases, the phrases with ‘to + verb’ combination, can function as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. Here, we’ll look at examples of their function as a noun. Examples:

To drive an hour to work every day can be quite taxing.

To watch Roger Federer play at Wimbledon has been a dream for me.

I like to take a nap after lunch.

3. Nominal clauses

Unlike the first two categories, this one is simple: it contains only noun clause.

3.1 Noun clause

A noun clause is a dependent clause that always function nominally. Examples:

What he did was one step too far.

This YouTube video explains how pizza is made.

The regulator launched an investigation into whether the executive was guilty of insider trading.

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Anil Yadav

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