We’re lucky that English is a flexible language that allows us to experiment with new ways to use familiar words. So – for example – a few years after microwave ovens became available, we started hearing sentences like this one: “I had a mess on my hands because I didn’t cover the sauce before I microwaved it.” Microwave – a noun – became a verb that many people (including me) happily use all the time.

When someone turns a verb or adjective into a noun, the result is called a nominalization. An example is turning the verb postpone into the noun postponement: “We agreed upon a two-week postponement of the meeting.”

Nominalizations can be useful because they add to the variety and scope of our language. Think of happiness (a noun based on the adjective happy), prevention (a noun based on the verb prevent), and argument (a noun based on the verb argue) – useful words all. And there are many, many more that have enriched our language.

But nominalizations don’t always work well. Turning a strong, vigorous verb into a noun can drain the power from a sentence. So – for example – turning postpone (an action) into a thing (postponement) can make a sentence feel flat and static. Below are some examples:

We agreed upon a two-week postponement of the meeting.

We agreed to postpone the meeting for two weeks.  BETTER

After Jo experienced failure in three of her college courses, she made several improvements in her study habits.

After Jo failed three college courses, she improved her study habits.  BETTER

My financial advisor made the suggestion that I invest in preferred stocks.

My financial advisor suggested investing in preferred stocks.  BETTER

Several officers have been pursuing a criminal investigation.

Several officers have been investigating the crime.  BETTER

Here’s some advice for you: start looking for nominalizations in your own writing (especially if you perform writing tasks for your job). Sometimes a slight change can transform a weak sentence into a strong one.

a hand writing "My name is" on a chalkboard




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