It may seem that we've
represented nominalizations as an unalloyed bane to good writing.
In fact, we've exaggerated their bad effects
in order to make a point. Not all nominalizations are bad —
indeed, some of them are necessary in good writing. Here are
some occasions when you will want to use a nominalization instead
of a verb:
The nominalization is a subject that refers to something
in the previous text:
These arguments all depend on a single untested
This decision may have substantial consequences.
The nominalization names what would be the object of
I do not understand her intention/what she
We must examine all of their proposals /everything that
The nominalization names a frequently
repeated concept known to all
have so divided
ABORTION on DEMAND.
A major issue in past ELECTIONS was the Equal Rights AMENDMENT.
The nominalization is a standard technical term
or a bit of insider talk.
Some nominalizations name the standard concepts
in a field –technical terms to
those who use them, jargon to outsiders.
When a nominalization
is a term you and your reader use all
the time ("standard
deviation," "debt financing"),
don't change it to a verb. Unpacking
every insider term
can mark you
the circle, and can even make your document
harder for an insider to understand.
terms act as characters in your story:
financing raises the rate of
return on assets.
that there are relatively few of these technical terms, and
writing on technical,
should still be clear rather than
turgid. Few writers have the problem
of using too few technical terms.
The more common failing is not to
distinguish between insider talk
and problematic nominalizations. Here's a sentence written
by a law
In a civilian
request for discovery in an action involving liability for negligence by the military, there is a requirement for a showing of a level of
need higher than in other cases.
Four of the first five nominalizations
seem to be legitimate
insider terms, but two of the last three are not:
a civilian REQUESTS
discovery in an action involving liability for negligence by
the military, courts
a plaintiff to SHOW
need than in other cases.