How Best to Teach and Learn Agentive Nouns and Gerunds


Two of the classes of nouns that are difficult to explain clearly are agentive nouns and gerunds. The author has made every effort to make the topics explicit so that they can be well read   an taught in the classroom.

Meaning of Agentive Nouns

The agentive noun is described as the names of persons/people formed from some of the words by adding certain suffixes. Some of these words do not take any suffixes but they are names of people. Let’s examine them one after the other.

Formation and Description of Agentive Nouns

Some agentive nouns are formed by adding the suffix ‘-ist’ to certain words. Look at the examples below.

Words Suffix ‘-ist’ Agentive nouns












Semantic Effects

(i)         Capitalist is a person who is in support of capitalism or a person who owns or controls a lot of wealth.

(ii)        Educationist or Educationalist is a specialist in the theoretical principles and methods of teaching.

(iii)       Perfectionist is simply a person who likes to do things perfectly.

(iv)       Linguist is a person who studies the science of language.

  1. Some agentive nouns are formed by adding the suffix ‘-er’ to certain words. Look at the following examples:
Words Suffix ‘-er’ Agentive nouns












Semantic Effects

(i)         Speaker is a person or an instrument that speaks.

(ii)        Worker is simply a person that works.

(iii)       Writer is a person who writes.

(iv)       Newscaster is a person who casts the news.

  1. Certain agentive nouns are formed by adding the suffix ‘-or’ to some words. Look at the examples below.
Words Suffix -or  Agentive nouns












Semantic Effects

(i)         Editor is a person who edits newspapers, magazine, books in deciding what should be included.

(ii)        Commentator is a person who describes any events while it is happening. It may be on television or on radio or during sports, etc. It is also a person who talks or writes about the subject on television or on radio or in a newspaper or a magazine.

(iii)       Educator is simply a person whose job is to teach or educate people (teacher or educationist)

(iv)       Spectator is a person who watches an event. It may be a sports event, etc.

  1. Certain agentive nouns are formed by adding the suffix ‘-ian’ to some words. Look at the following examples:
Words Suffix ‘-ian’ Agentive nouns












Semantic Effects

(i)         Theologian is a person who studies theology.

(ii)        Grammarian is an expert in the study of grammar.

(iii)       Electrician is simply a person whose job is to connect or repair electric equipment.

(iv)       Technician is a person whose job is to keep a particular equipment or machinery or a person who is also very skillful at the technical aspects.

  1. Other agentive nouns are not added with any suffixes but they are names of people. They are free morphemes. Some of them are listed below.











To improve yourself in this aspect, you need to study your dictionary/dictionaries.

Semantic Effects

(i)         Academic is a person who conducts research or teaches at a university or at a college.

(ii)        Advocate is a person who speaks/supports in favour of somebody or a public action.

(iii)       Assistant is simply a person who assists.

(iv)       Prophet is a person who claims to know what will happen in the future.

(v)        Cook is a person whose job is to cook.

(vi)       Associate is a person that you work with or do anything with.

(vii)      Cheat is a person who cheats others.

(viii)     Fool is a person who is foolish, not wise.

(ix)       Suspect is a person who is suspected.

(x)        Gossip is a person who enjoys talking about other people’s private lives.

(xi)       Dupe is simply a person who is tricked or cheated.

Important Hints to Note

Some aspects should be noted in the use of agentive nouns. Consider them one after the other.

  1. You should make sure that the agentive noun is used with the article ‘a’ or ‘an’ while you are pointing to one person. Look at the examples below.

(i)         I am a linguist.

(ii)        My sister is a newscaster.

(iii)       Tunde is an editor of a newspaper.

(iv)       Niyi is an electrician.

(v)        You are a cheat.

It is incorrect to leave out the article ‘a’ or ‘an’ when you are referring to one person. Don’t say:

(i)         I am linguist.

(ii)        Niyi is electrician.

(iii)       You are cheat.

  1. It should be noted also that whenever the agentive nouns are used as plurals, or you are pointing to more than one person, you can leave out the article ‘a’ or ‘an’. Examine the following illustrations:

(i)         Most of them are educationists.

(ii)        They are workers in that company.

(iii)       Three of us are going to be spectators tomorrow.

(iv)       Are they grammarians?

(v)        All of you in this class are fools.

  1. No agentive nouns under number 5 of formation will admit any suffix because they are free words which already mean the names of persons. Consider the following illustrations:

(i)         Aminat is a cook.

(ii)        Many women are gossips.

(iii)       My friend is a dupe.

(iv)       Don’t be a cheat.

(v)        All J.S.S. one students are suspects.

But don’t say:

(i)         Aminat is a cooker.

(ii)        Many women are gossipers.

(iii)       My friend is a duper.

(iv)       All J.S.S. one students are suspecters. 

Functions of Agentive Nouns

The following are function of Agentive Nouns:

(A)       Subject of a sentence

(i)         Grammarians believed so much in sentence analyses.

(ii)        An academic is here.

(B)       Object of a sentence

(i)         The boss sacked his workers.

(ii)        I asked a linguist some questions.

(C)       Complement of a sentence

(i)         You are a fool.                                

(ii)        My brother is an editor-in-chief.


  1. What is an agentive noun?
  2. With copious and adequate illustrations, how would you describe agentive nouns?
  3. Correct the following wrong expressions:

(a)        You are linguist.

(b)        Tunde is a gossiper.

(c)        Alhaji Sulaimon is an Imams.

(d)       I know you are cheaters.

(e)        Many of them are cook.

  1. Illuminate the functions of agentive nouns.

 The Concept of Gerunds as Nouns

A gerund is described as an ‘-ing’ ending. A gerund is defined as a noun because it can occupy the position of the subject, the object and the complement in a sentence. The following are formations of ‘-ing verbs’ as nouns:

Verbs -ings Gerunds
























Some Important Aspects to Note

  1. Note that whenever gerunds are used alone as subject of a sentence they should not take any article, pronoun or determiner. This can only occur when they are used in general sense. Consider the following examples:

(i)         Teaching is my profession.

(ii)        Reading gives more knowledge.

Now that ‘teaching’ and ‘reading’ are used in general sense, it is, therefore, inappropriate to say.

(i)         The teaching is my profession.

(ii)        The reading gives more knowledge.

  1. In some cases, gerunds can take the article ‘the’ if the writer/speaker is particular about what he/she says/writes. Compare the examples below.

(i)         The calling of pastor Ojo is genuine.

Some determiners are also possible:

(ii)        His coming to this school is a blessing.

  1. It ought to be noted that if a gerund is singular, then the verb is singular. But if a gerund is plural, the verb is also plural. Consider the following examples:

(i)         Eating gives the body strength. Not give

(ii)        Lying is a sin. Not are

(iii)       Blessings are mine this year. Not is

Functions of Gerunds

Gerunds function as subject, object or complement of a sentence. Consider the following examples:

(A)       Subject of a sentence

(i)         Reading adds to knowledge.                  

(B)       Object of a sentence

(i)         I love driving.

(C)       Complement of a sentence

(i)         Refusal to say the truth is lying.                                                                            


  1. Describe gerunds as nouns with relevant examples.
  2. Use the following gerunds in sentences:

(a)        Telling

(b)        Speaking

(c)        Cooking

(d)       Playing

(e)        Watching

  1. State the functions of gerunds with relevant examples.

Author: Deola Adelakun

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