Types of Derivation in English: Forming Agent Nouns from Verbs

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Verb-Noun Derivation

Derivation is the process whereby the addition of affixes, chiefly prefixes and suffixes in English, to base forms results in the creation of new words. In English, the affixation of the suffixes -er, -or, and ­_-ar_ to verbs creates nouns. The _-er_, _-or_, and ­_-ar_ are referred to as agentive suffixes because their affixation to action verbs produces agent nouns, or nouns that identify the person or other entity performing the action. In other words, agent nouns are usually names for people. For example, affixing _-er_ to the base form of the verb _learn_ results in the noun _learner_, meaning someone who learns, and affixing _-or_ to the base form of the verb _interrogate_ results in the noun _interrogator_, meaning someone who interrogates.

Some Agent Nouns

The following three lists provide examples of some common agent nouns in English organized by -er, -or, and ­_-ar_ suffix.

Verb – Noun

  • bake – baker
  • clean – cleaner
  • dance – dancer
  • employ – employer
  • farm – farmer
  • garden – gardener
  • lead – leader
  • listen – listener
  • manage – manager
  • mourn - mourner
  • observe – observer
  • paint – painter
  • publish – publisher
  • read – reader
  • research – researcher
  • sell – seller
  • teach – teacher
  • travel – traveler
  • use – user
  • write – writer

Verb – Noun

  • act – actor
  • administrate – administrator
  • advise – advisor
  • animate – animator
  • audit – auditor
  • conduct – conductor
  • decorate – decorator
  • direct – director
  • edit – editor
  • educate – educator
  • govern – governor
  • instruct – instructor
  • invent – inventor
  • investigate – investigator
  • negotiate – negotiator
  • operate – operator
  • possess – possessor
  • sail – sailor
  • supervise – supervisor
  • visit – visitor

Verb – Noun

  • beg – beggar
  • lie – liar

Spelling Rules for Agent Nouns

For verbs spelled with a final consonant preceded by either two vowels or additional consonants or with a vowel preceded by a consonant, simply add the agent suffix:

  • act – actor
  • design – designer
  • ski – skier
  • teach – teacher

For verbs spelled with a final w, x, or y preceded by a vowel, simply add the agent suffix:

  • box – boxer
  • brew – brewer
  • play – player
  • survey – surveyor

For verbs spelled with a final “silent” e preceded by a consonant, remove the e and then add the agent suffix:

  • drive – driver
  • love – lover
  • observe – observer
  • supervise – supervisor

For verbs spelled with a final y preceded by a consonant, change the y to i and then add the agent suffix:

  • cry – crier
  • fly – flier
  • supply – supplier
  • worry – worrier

For two-syllable verbs spelled with a final le, remove the e and then add the agent suffix:

  • cobble – cobbler
  • handle – handler
  • meddle – meddler
  • tumble – tumbler

For two-syllable verbs spelled with a final er, simply add the agent suffix:

  • discover – discoverer
  • gather – gatherer
  • murder – murderer
  • suffer – sufferer

For one-syllable verbs that end in a single vowel followed by a single consonant other than w, x, or y, double the final consonant and then add the agent suffix:

  • beg – beggar
  • drum – drummer
  • jog – jogger
  • plan – planner

For two-syllable verbs that end in a single vowel followed by a single consonant other than w, x, or y, double the final consonant and then add the agent suffix:

  • begin – beginner
  • format – formatter

For verbs that end with the letter c, add the letter k after the c and then add the agent suffix:

  • frolic – frolicker
  • mimic - mimicker
  • picnic – picnicker
  • traffic – trafficker

Printable Download

For a more complete list of agent nouns derived from verbs, please download the printable Agent Nouns Vocabulary List.

This post is part of the series: English Noun Suffixes: Names for People

Suffixes are morphemes—the smallest linguistic units of a language with semantic meaning—affixed to the ends of words to create new words. This article explains a number of English noun suffixes that create nouns that are names for people including agent nouns and occupations.

  1. Deriving Nouns from Verbs: Names for People
  2. More Noun Suffixes: Names for People