noun and a verb
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If you have been studying English for a long time, you have probably noticed that there are some words that appear to be both verbs and nouns. This can be quite confusing at first in TOEFL, but there are some important things you can do to deal with this tricky aspect of the English language.

Basically, you have two challenges when it comes to these words. You need to understand them when they are used by someone else, and you need to be able to use them yourself. All of this could be quite helpful when preparing to sit for the TOEFL.

In today’s lesson, I’m going to outline the situations and methods involved in a word being both verb and noun, and show you how this knowledge can help you as you improve your English so that you can get a good score for TOEFL.

A brief review: What are verbs and nouns?

Hopefully you are familiar with this by now, but if you need a refresher on the basic vocabulary of English grammar, then here it is.

Verbs are words that show actions or states of being. These include things like run, kick, have, believe, and talk. Nouns usually refer to objects, but then can be living beings or concepts. We have nouns such as dog, wall, politics, medication, and sunshine.

Even if you are not familiar with the words “verb” and “noun,” I’m sure that you know them when they are used in a sentence. Typically, the subject is a noun and it does a verb. It may be done to an object, which is another noun.

So… can one word be a verb and a noun?

In a manner of speaking, yes. Let’s take the word “excuse.” Look at the two following sentences:

  1. A polite person will always excuse himself before leaving the dinner table.
  2. When Sally was late to class, she had to quickly think of a good excuse.

You can see that the same word seems to appear in both sentences, but it is used very differently. In sentence #1, “excuse” is a verb. The noun “a polite person” will do this verb to another noun, “himself.” In sentence #2, it is the object of the sentence. The subject, Sally, has done a verb (think) to this object.

As you can see, then, a word can seemingly be both verb and noun.

However, there is something to consider. The meaning is of course different for each of these. As a verb, “excuse” means to give a reason for doing something. As a noun, “excuse” is the reason given. Basically, they have very similar meanings, but one is an action and one is a thing.

There is another difference: Although they are spelled the same, these two words are pronounced differently. This is actually verb common with words that have both a verb and noun form. The verb form here is pronounced “ex-kew-zz” while the noun is pronounced “ex-kew-ss”.

Gerunds

There is another instance when verbs and nouns can have some overlap in their use. This is the gerund, which is when a verb actually becomes a noun. Sometimes an action is used as a noun, which requires the changing of it into a particular form so that it can be the subject or object of a sentence. Take a look at these examples:

  1. I like going to the movies.
  2. Reading books late at night is forbidden in boarding school.

In the first sentence, the verb “to go” has been made into its gerund form, “going,” so that it can become the object of the verb “to like.” In the second example, the verb “to read” has been turned into the gerund form, “reading,” so that it can act as part of the noun phrase that is the subject of this sentence.

You can see that both verbs have taken their “-ing” form, which is how gerunds work. Once a verb has been made into that form, it can be used more or less as a noun.

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Recognizing verbs and nouns

In order to recognize whether a word is being used as a verb or noun, you will more than likely have to interpret the grammar of the sentence in which it occurred. Let’s take the word “refuse,” for an example. In the following two sentences, can you tell when it occurs as a verb and when it is a noun?

  1. When I was sick last week, my boss asked me to do overtime but I refused.
  2. One of the big problems is the sheer volume of refuse produced by the average household.

The first sentence contains “refuse” in its verb form. In this case, it is quite easy to tell because it is in the past simple form, which means it must be a verb. However, we could also see that it is an action being performed by a subject (I).

In the second sentence, “refuse” is a noun. We can tell this because it follows the preposition “of” and it also precedes a verb. In this case, it is the refuse that is doing the verb, “produce.”

When you see this sort of thing written down, it is not difficult to figure out the meaning. However, it might be harder to understand when it is spoken. Thankfully, there is another way to determine whether the word spoken was a verb or noun:

Pronunciation differences in verbs and nouns

I mentioned previously that there was a difference in pronunciation between “excuse” and “excuse” and between “refuse” and “refuse” when one is a verb and the other is a noun. In fact, there is usually a difference, and this can help you to understand when a verb or noun has been used in spoken English if the grammar is too complicated for you to pick out the precise meaning.

When you are dealing with two syllable words that have both noun and verb form, there is a simple rule that you can follow to tell which word is which. In most cases, the noun will stress the first syllable and the verb will stress the second. Easy!

Noun Verb
‘Contract Con’tract
‘Conflict Con’flict
‘Excuse Ex’cuse
‘Insult In’sult
Produce Pro’duce
‘Progress Pro’gress
‘Refuse Re’fuse
‘Surprise Sur’prise

This is not true of all words that can be verbs or nouns, but it is true of many of them. As such, you should prepare yourself to pronounce them correctly during your TOEFL speaking test.

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Using the same word as both verb and noun

In English speech and writing, it is not considered good form to repeat yourself, and even if a word is technically changed from noun to verb, it is still considered a repetition to use it. As such, for stylistic reasons, you may want to avoid using the verb and noun form of a word within the same sentence unless it is a significant change (for example, pronounce à pronunciation).

Take a look at this example:

  • When the children went out for a break, the teacher told them not to break

Here, the word “break” has been used in both verb and noun form. Despite these being different parts of speech, the sentence still sounds bad to a native speaker, and so we would need to find a synonym for one of these words. It would be better to say something like:

  • When the children went out for recess, the teacher told them not to break anything.

Or:

  • When the children went out for a break, the teacher told them not to damage

You can see that the word is no longer repeated, and so the sentence is much more effective.

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