A Simple Shift to Write Better Sentences

Written by Dr. Laura Bush

Sometimes you can make a simple shift in the grammatical form of a single word to write better sentences. Let me explain just one simple shift. A “nominalization” occurs when a noun (a person, place, or thing, and in this case, usually a thing) gets created from a verb (action word) or an adjective (a word that describes a noun). A few quick examples: “discrimination” is the nominalized form of “discriminate,” “decision” is the nominalized form of “decide,” and “evolution” is the nominalized form of “evolve.” 

There’s nothing wrong with nominalizations. In fact, they’re obviously useful nouns when used well. But when you OVER nominalize, you lose the value of a strong verb in your sentence, create wordiness, and, like passive sentence constructions, you often hide who is performing the action. Also, OVER nominalizing can make a sentence sound stiff and unnecessarily formal. 

People fall into the trap of turning the verb form of a word into its noun form because they unconsciously think it makes their writing sound official, especially when they’re writing things like instructions or reports for work. But rather than sounding official, their writing just sounds stuffy. 

I’ve gathered several real-life examples of over nominalization so you can see what I mean. I’m also showing you (below) how to revise the sentence with just one tweak by turning the NOUN into a VERB.

Three examples of revising a word from its noun form to its verb form:

1a. Over Nominalization: Make reservations for VISITATION to Jefferson County. (Sounds stuffy.) 

1b. Revision: Make reservations for visiting Jefferson County. (A stronger sentence that sounds like a natural voice.) 

2a. Over Nominalization: In CONFORMITY with the rules . . . (Sounds stuffy.) 

2b. Revision: Conforming with the rules . . . (The beginning of a stronger sentence that sounds like a natural voice.) 

3a. Over Nominalization: Upon COMPLETION of Chemistry 105 . . . (Sounds stuffy.) 

3b. Revision: After completing Chemistry 105 . . . (The beginning of a stronger sentence that sounds like a natural voice.) 

I hope you can hear in these examples how changing the word from a noun to a verb creates a better sentence. 

By the way, did you notice that I used the nominalized words “nominalization” and “revision” to introduce each version of the three example sentences above? That means nominalization can’t be all bad. You’ll just need to recognize when using the noun form of a word works and when it does not.

Dr. Laura Bush is CEO and Founder of Peacock Proud Press. She works as a publisher, writing coach, editor, and ghostwriter to help entrepreneurs, speakers, corporate leaders, and autobiographers write and publish high quality books that transform the lives of authors and their readers.

Written by Dr. Laura Bush