I'm not precisely sure how to ask this. I can turn certain verb phrases into nouns, and they sound good. The major reason to do this would be facetiousness but the grammatical aspect intrigues me. Some examples:

I like to hit home runs. -> I like home-run-hitting.

I often attack bears. -> I often go bear-attacking.

However, with prepositional verb phrases, it doesn't seem to work out.

I enjoy standing on desks. -> I enjoy on-desk-standing*.

He's good at taking care of things. -> He's good at of-things-taking-care*.

He is known to rely upon God. -> He is known for his upon-God-relying.

Are the first two productions correct, and if so, what's the technical term for them? And, is there any way to get a correct result for the latter three productions and others like them?

  • What do you mean by 'correct'? Svartvik postulated a five-point gradience of 'acceptability', but I've never heard of it being passed into law by Parliament. Your first two are possibly 'dubious' (not quite as bad as the bottom category) or perhaps 'ill-established' (contrast accepted compounds like bear-hunting) while the last two are probably 'unacceptable'. If you want to appear quirky, you will do. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 13:39
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    @EdwinAshworth: Quirkiness is indeed part of the goal, but also aesthetic appeal. This is playing with the language: given the way it is set up, how can I (ab)use its grammatical rules to convey something in a (hopefully) delightful way. And to be delightful it has to conform to the "rules" where necessary. I am not sure how best to describe it but something clicks when I read "home-run-hitting" and my brain says: "this makes sense". Not so with "of-things-taking-care". Yet even that is better than some others: "caring-of-take-things" would be even more nonsensical.
    – Claudiu
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 14:20
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    That being said the answer may be that the "ing" examples on the left already are noun phrases: "'Taking care of things' is something I'm good at" - it functions as a noun in that sentence, right?
    – Claudiu
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 14:22
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    There's already an English noun, caretaking, for taking care of. So you could say things-caretaking (as opposed to building-caretaking or child-caretaking, which are the usual meanings). Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 14:33
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    @Claudiu We already have the availability of the inverted pseudo-cleft Standing on desks is what I enjoy. or the perhaps semantically more accurate Standing on desks is one of the things I enjoy. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 18:45

2 Answers 2


Nominalisation is a noun phrase generated from another word class, usually a verb.

Here's the Cambridge Dictionaries Online definition, which also specifically mentions that the process can be used to form noun phrases (as opposed to the simplest case, which simply involves using a verb as a noun - for example a big spend).

OP's examples also feature...

inversion - any of several grammatical constructions where two expressions switch their canonical order of appearance.

(i.e. the "normal" sequence for his upon-God-relying would be his relying/reliance upon God).


Alas there is no general rule. The following work

at-home business
stay-at-home mom
on-time performance
over-the-counter medication
in-your-face attitude
outside-the-box thinking
out-of-this-world desserts
on-deck batter

but "upon-God relying" doesn't. I suspect that the ones that work are usually the ones that save extra words and awkward phrasing. But I haven't done the research to back that up.

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