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In the following sentence:

I'll have to give myself a stern talking to.

is it "stern talking to", or "stern talking too"?

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

Merriam-Webster and the New Oxford American Dictionary say it's a stern talking-to, with a hyphen.

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If you're fine with talking to someone frankly, you tend to phrase it in terms of, well, just talking to them.

I will have to talk to Bob.
I will have to give the same talk to Sue.
I will have to give that talk to Greg, too.
I will also be talking to Fred.

Most people who use a talking to as a noun do so to describe some chore or other unpleaseant responsibility.

Gracie wet the bed. I will have to give her a talking to.

Knowledgeable English scholars are able to tell the difference.

I tried to talk to Molly, but she was too busy listening to Diane. Now I need to give Diane a talking to too.

Talking to is an old-fashioned verb form (or nounification, if that's a word*) that reflects the idea that superiors talking to a junior were talking to them, not with them.

Hence, if you would like to have a better relationship with your inner self, you're probably better off conversing or discussing or, heaven forbid, understanding. If you don't have such a good relationship with your inner self you could encourage or cajole or persuade. To give yourself a stern talking to is a sign that you regard your subconscious mind as a child. You're probably better off giving yourself some encouragement and a stern talking to too.

*Oh, wow, it is.

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Nominalization is the word you want, but nounification is perfectly compositional, as well as cromulent. All of these are Event Nominalizations of transitive verbs, usually denoting unpleasant events, like give X a whipping/licking/beating/lashing/talking to, which are equivalent to whip/lick/beat/lash/talk to X, respectively. The to is necessary because talk is intransitive and requires a transitivizing preposition. – John Lawler Mar 28 '12 at 23:58

In the expression, the people are talking TO themselves, so it's a talking to.

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