Abstract words such as Fr. livraison ‘delivery’, It. fedeltà ‘faithfulness’, Sp. semejanza ‘resemblance’, belong to the word class of nouns. They do not possess materiality and therefore lack sensory perceivability. Within the spectrum of nouns, abstract nouns are located on the opposite side of proper names; between them, there are common nouns, collective nouns, and mass nouns. Abstract nouns are in part non-count and not able to be pluralized.
In terms of meaning, there is typically a threefold division in groups: (a) Action/result nouns (e.g., Fr. lavage ‘washing’, It. giuramento ‘oath’, Sp. mordedura ‘bite’); (b) Quality nouns (e.g., Fr. dignité ‘dignity’, It. biancore ‘whiteness’, Sp. modestia ‘modesty’); and (c) Status nouns (e.g., Fr. episcopat ‘episcopate’, It. cuginanza ‘cousinhood’, Sp. almirantazgo ‘admiralship’). From a purely morphological standpoint, a classification of abstract nouns according to derivation basis appears suitable: (a) (primary) denominal abstract nouns (e.g., Fr. duché ‘dukedom’, It. linguaggio ‘language’, Sp. añada ‘vintage’); (b) (primary) deadjectival abstract nouns (e.g., Fr. folie ‘madness’, It. bellezza ‘beauty’, Sp. cortesía ‘courtesy’); and (c) (primary) deverbal abstract nouns (e.g., Fr. mouvement ‘movement’, It. scrittura ‘writing’, Sp. venganza ‘revenge’). Other abstract nouns arise from conversion, for example, Fr. le devoir ‘duty’, It. il freddo ‘coldness’, Sp. el cambio ‘change’.
In light of this, the question of how far the formation of abstract nouns in Romance languages follows Latin patterns (derivation with suffixes) or whether new processes emerge is of particular interest. In addition, the individual Romance languages display different preferences in choosing abstract-forming morphological processes. On the one hand, there is a large number of Latin abstract-forming suffixes whose outcomes preserve the same function in the Romance languages, such as -ía (astrología ‘astrology’), -ura (scriptura ‘writing’), -ĭtia (pigrĭtia ‘sloth’), -io (oratio ‘speaking’). Furthermore, there is a group of Latin suffixes that gave rise to suffixes deriving abstract nouns only in Romance. Among these are, for example, -aticu (Fr. péage ‘road toll’, Sp. hallazgo ‘discovery’), -aceu (Sp. cuchillazo ‘knife thrust’), -aria (Sp. borrachera ‘drunkenness’, It. vecchiaia ‘old age’). On the other hand, suffixless processes of abstract noun formation are coming to full fruition only in Romance: The conversion of past participles (e.g., Fr. vue ‘sight’, It. dormita ‘sleep’, Sp. llegada ‘arrival’) is of special importance. The conversion of infinitives to nouns with abstract meaning is least common in Modern French (e.g., penser ‘thought’) and most common in Romanian (iertare ‘pardon’, durere ‘pain’, etc.). Deverbal noun formation without suffixes (Fr. amende ‘fine’, It. carica ‘charge’, Sp. socorro ‘help’, etc.), in contrast, is known to have developed a broad pan-Romance geographic spread.