Usage Tips: Nominalizations, Week of 4/3/2011

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Usage Tips: Nominalizations, Week of 4/3/2011

Post by Rudy on Wed Apr 06, 2011 7:00 am

This is a new feature, to be posted weekly, every Wednesday. These tips will typically be short, but this first tip is not so short. While browsing Garner's Modern American Usage, I came to an article discussing nominalizations. I had never seen this discussed before, or if I had, I've forgotten. Nominalizations, he writes, can lead to problems worse than using passive voice too much. I found that I was using a shocking number of nominalizations in my writing.

Quite simply, a nominalization is a verb or adjective turned into a noun. The word nominalization is, in fact, a nominalization (oh, the irony); to nominalize is to turn something into a noun. Bryan Garner, in his Garner’s Modern American Usage, refers to nominalizations as buried verbs. The sign of a buried verb is usually a noun ending in one of these suffixes: -tion, -sion, -ment, -ence, -ance, -ity. Sometimes the nominalized word keeps its original form, i.e., poor, meaning to have little money, and poor, meaning all people who are poor (same thing with wealthy, sick, affluent, and a number of other adjectives).

There are several reasons to avoid nominalized verbs.
1) They often sound pretentious. Why write “make a comparison to” when you can simply write “compare”?
2) They lead to wordy constructions. Why write, “give consideration to,” “cause embarrassment to,” and “make mention of” when you can simply write consider, embarrass, and mention, respectively?
3) Verbs are easier to understand than nouns. Why turn a perfectly good verb into an abstract noun? In the phrase “give permission to” only the word “permission” has vitality. Why not write, “permit”? Of these two sentences--“Make a payment to me” and “Pay me”--which is stronger?
4) Nominalization can lead to incomplete thoughts. “I completed the assessment” is a complete sentence, though not a complete thought. If you’d started with the stronger verb “assessed” you might have been compelled to write, “I assessed the property.”

Here is a partial list of nominalizations. When you encounter these words in your prose, consider converting them to their stronger verb forms:

action, addition, advice, agreement, appearance, application, arbitration, argument, allowance, assistance, assumption, change (noun), comparison, compulsion, computerization, conformity, concession, confession, consent (noun), consideration, contravention, contribution, control (noun), damage (noun), decision, dependence, description, determination, discovery, distinction (use distinguish), effort (use try), enablement, embarrassment, enforcement, finding, harm (noun), hope (noun), hospitalization, impairment, incorporation, injury, inquiry, knowledge, maximization, meditation, mention (noun), minimization, need (noun), notice or notification (use notify or tell), objection, obligation, observation, opposition, payment, penalization, permission, perpetration, perpetuation, preference, promise (noun), proof, provision, recommendation, reduction, reference, rejection, request, requirement, suggestion, summary, testimony, use (noun), understanding, utilization, violation, warning.

Warning: some of these words have specific meaning in certain fields, and thus ought not to be changed. For instance, in the legal field, arbitration, discovery, and confession have specific meanings (confession also has a specific meaning in the catholic church, as does the noun confessional). Hospitalization has specific meaning in the medical field, just as “preferences” has a specific meaning in the computer field.
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Re: Usage Tips: Nominalizations, Week of 4/3/2011

Post by Becca on Wed Apr 06, 2011 7:42 am

This is GREAT!!!!!

Give and Make might be great markers to look for this as well!

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Re: Usage Tips: Nominalizations, Week of 4/3/2011

Post by Rudy on Wed Apr 06, 2011 9:17 am

Becca makes an excellent point, namely that the weak verbs give and make are often signify nominalizations.

On another site discussing nominalizations, the writers says this of identifying nominalizations: if the noun has and verb form, and The noun is abstract, it's most likely a nominalization. Look at "knowledge" for instance. Knowledge abstracts the concept "to know". The same can be said of pretty much all the words listed above; each implies an abstract concept without any visual imagery to the reader. By contrast, the word "tree" conveys visual imagery (however broad that may be).
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Re: Usage Tips: Nominalizations, Week of 4/3/2011

Post by chergreen on Fri Apr 15, 2011 2:54 pm

Interesting.
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Re: Usage Tips: Nominalizations, Week of 4/3/2011

Post by Rudy on Sat Apr 16, 2011 1:04 pm

An easy shortcut, as opposed to reading the entire MS, is to do a search in you writing program of choice. I did this by searching for tion, sion, ment, ence, ance, and ity. I probably changed 75-100 sentences in my WIP, and probably made it fundamentally stronger.
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Re: Usage Tips: Nominalizations, Week of 4/3/2011

Post by Becca on Sat Apr 16, 2011 1:07 pm

I really like that, Rudy. It's a good thing to put on a MS editing checklist. We should include that in one of our files... remind me when I put together a more efficient editing checklist.

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