Is it common to convert a phrasal verb into a noun, especially a phrasal verb having more than 2 words?

I found phrases like "do some figuring out" or "have some figuring out to do" in these days. Are they common phrases for native speakers to use?

The original sentence is from the book "Amelia Bedelia and the Surprise Shower".

I can find the content on this website:

"Amelia Bedelia and the Surprise Shower"

Among the article content,

"We do have some figuring out to do," Amelia Bedelia said. "I thought those ladies were supposed to be giving this shower. And here we are giving it." "If we had known," said Alcolu, "we could have fixed up something fancy."

I don't understand the grammar and the meaning of this sentence "We do have some figuring out to do." Would you please help explain it?

Is "figuring out" here used as a noun? And is it common to convert a phrasal verb into a noun, especially a phrasal verb having more than 2 words? Any examples?

3 Answers 3


"Figuring out" does function as a noun. It may be replaced by a pronoun: "We have something to do." The helping verb "do" ("We do have ...") is used to add emphasis (as in, "You have nothing to do" / "Yes, I do have something to do"). The infinitive serves an adjective that modifies the noun "figuring out."

This is not formal speech, but it is entirely idiomatic. In this case, the women believed that "those ladies" were going to do something, but now they realize they will have to do it themselves. So, they have to make plans, or make arrangements, or some such--they have to figure out [i.e., decide] how to proceed.

Here is a link that discussing the use of phrasal verbs as nouns:


"Figuring out" does not fit easily into the discussion at this link, however. "Figuring out" in this case is a gerund--a verb form ending in -ing that serves as noun. Most phrasal verbs that are changed to nouns become one word:

I broke down and cried / I had a breakdown and cried.

But you could use a gerund here as well, creating a noun phrase:

My breaking down was an embarrassment.

Or you could use the normal noun form:

My breakdown was an embarrassment.

  • Thank you, surlawda. You are very helpful and kind. Can I make a sentence like this, "I had a breaking down and cried." Or can I use "We have some figure-out to do." If those don't work, then I probably will feel difficult to memorize when I should use a special noun form (breakdown) or when I could use a generalized gerund form (figuring out).
    – yyfroy
    Apr 21, 2016 at 6:48
  • It is difficult, because there are no hard-and-fast rules. It is really a matter of idiom--the way people talk. People never say "I had a breaking down," for example, but they do say "We had a falling out" or "I had my coming out when I was 16." This is a quirk that I cannot explain.
    – user66965
    Apr 21, 2016 at 14:06
  • How about "We have some figure-out to do."? Is it OK?
    – yyfroy
    Apr 21, 2016 at 23:10
  • No, not in normal conversation or writing. I could imagine it being said as a joke. English is a difficult language because there are so many words and because the same combination of letters can be pronounced in radically different ways in different words, so, to be funny, people often mispronounce words or say something like "We have some figure-out to do." I wish i could give you some real way to navigate this, but really its just a matter of practice. It takes time. I do encourage you to look at the link above and others, because there are lists of phrasal verbs and nouns--just keep at it.
    – user66965
    Apr 22, 2016 at 1:47
  • Thank you very much, surlawda. I have finished reading the link above. Now I'll bookmark it!
    – yyfroy
    Apr 22, 2016 at 6:32

You are looking at two types of English modal constructions that are used with both phrasal and non-phrasal verbs.

The first, do some [Verb]ing (roughly meaning "[Verb] for a continuous stretch of time") is normally used with various intransitive verbs designating some type of work or effortful task. Examples:

The detective will do some looking around to find out which gang was involved. (Means "The detective will now spend his time looking around...")

They're back there doing some weeding (Means "They have been back there weeding [the garden], and will continue to do so.")

The second, have some [Noun] to [Verb] (roughly meaning "have an obligation to [Verb] [Noun]") uses a plural or mass noun which is the object of the verb. The action in the subordinate clause is normally read as one which has a duration. An intransitive verb can be used in this expression by using the noun derived from it in the template, and using do as the verb.


Thomas has some work he needs to catch up on. (Thomas has to start catching up on work, which may take some time).

The Labor Party has some soul-searching to do (The Labor party has to start soul-searching).

  • Jlovegren. Thank you for analyzing the structure of this phrase. This is very helpful!
    – yyfroy
    Aug 22, 2016 at 22:40

Nouns that come from phrasal verbs should not be thought of as coming from phrasal verbs but as words on their own standing. Take I have had sseveral run ins with police officers in town I dont think of run in as a verb but as a word with its own personality, flavour and semantics .

We need a do over to show we c an do better next time

, the same

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