This may be a dumb question, but I am bad at grammar (software engineer).

Example: practical becomes practicality, equal becomes equality

The dictionary calls them nouns, but nouns are defined as

A word (other than a pronoun) used to identify any of a class of people, places, or things (common noun), or to name a particular one of these (proper noun).

What is confusing is that, by the above definition, the word practicality should be able to "identify any of a class of people, places, or things". So, what class of people, places, or things does "practicality" identify? What if people within that class aren't always practical?

What part of speech do these words fall into?

BONUS: is there such a version of the word empirical?

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    You may want to see the Merriam-Webster definition; specifically, see this: "a word that is the name of something (such as a person, animal, place, thing, quality, idea, or action) ..." Jul 23, 2014 at 16:20
  • A little more depth here. Jul 23, 2014 at 16:41
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    Warning: Do not look for definitions of grammatical terms in dictionaries. They aren't there, and if they appear to be there, like the one you quote, they're wrong. Nouns are words that behave in a certain way, not words that mean a certain thing. English nouns are words that take articles, can be used as subjects, objects, and objects of prepositions, and can also appear in noun compounds and as predicate nouns. All of these criteria are identifiable grammatically, not semantically. Jul 23, 2014 at 16:45
  • @JohnLawler--Who knew that grammar could be just as interesting as software? Well, I guess you guys knew. Thanks for the advice! Jul 23, 2014 at 17:03
  • @JohnLawler I'd probably say "misleading", rather than out-and-out wrong. They should be taken with a few pounds of salt, but that doesn't mean they don't give a decent "first-pass" understanding. One oughtn't to lean too hard on them, though. Jul 23, 2014 at 18:49

2 Answers 2


More specifically than being just nouns, nouns that are derived from adjectives by various different suffixes (-ness, -(i)ty, -(t/s)ion, -hood, -(e)ry, etc.) are known as abstract nouns, in that they refer to an entity that is not concrete or, as you yourself said in your comment, are not “a person, place, or thing”.

There are also abstract nouns that are not derived. Many of them, in fact. It is a fairly generic word class. When creating nouns by nominalising a verb gerund—i.e., taking the gerund running and using it as a noun, as in the phrase in the running—they usually become abstract nouns. There are exceptions (a winning is a concrete noun, as in the plural, one’s winnings), or cases where the resulting noun can be either depending on meaning (like a cutting from a newspaper, which is a concrete noun, as opposed to the cutting of a birthday cake); but most are abstract.


As regards your bonus question, the only abstract noun derived from the adjective empirical is empiricalness. Empiricality, while regularly formed, quite easily understood, and occasionally used (about 50,000 hits on Google), has not been picked up by any dictionaries and would probably be considered non-standard by most.


In a word: noun. Practical is an adjective; practicality is a noun.

As for empirical, the noun form is empiricism.

  • @MatthewPatrickCashatt: You're welcome. Don Jul 23, 2014 at 15:59
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    Empiricism is a noun form, but there are others and I think empiricalness may be closer to what the OP was thinking of.
    – Rupe
    Jul 23, 2014 at 16:18
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    Empiricism is obviously derived from empiric(al), and it’s obviously an abstract noun … but it’s not just the abstract noun corresponding semantically to the adjective it’s derived from. It has a much more specific meaning (actually many) and is mostly used as a technical term in medicine, psychology, philosophy, and linguistics. As such, I agree with Rupe that empiricalness is probably a better answer to what the asker is wondering. Jul 23, 2014 at 16:35

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