Wednesday, June 2, 2010

If you're curious about nominalization...

Nick Daws has a great blog post on nominalization and why you might like to avoid it to keep your prose more vibrant and active. It's an easy pattern to fall into unconsciously, and thus a post worth reading. The post is here.


  1. Thanks for the link, Juliette! That is a great article.

  2. I'm highly amused that 'nomilization' is an abstract noun formed from a verb. Nick makes a good point!

  3. You're welcome. I thought it was useful, because I see it in a lot of places in writing. And yes, K, it is amusing that "nominalization" is one of those nouns he's telling us to avoid!

  4. *Bangs head on computer*

    I had this comment all written out about why the article didn't really help me and why, and that I could use elaboration (another nominalized word) and the server buggered it up. Second time this week the net has done that to my comments. I shouldn't have to copy every one before hitting "post" and worrying if it's going to get screwed up.

    I just wanted to know more about why nominalized words are bad and how to prune them out, because I can't get away from -tion words even when my writing isn't verbose. The antagonism toward converting words from one part of speech to another doesn't make any sense to me. And while changing a word back makes it shorter, sometimes you lose meaning with the change.

    "Detective J joined the investigation into Unsolved Crime X."

    "Detective J investigated Unsolved Crime X."

    Same detective. Same crime. But the first one has more information than the second. To make that comparison (and this sentence) I had to use nominalized words. And what is wrong with that?

    Or am I just complicating what he meant?

  5. Jaleh, I'm sorry about your difficulty with the comments area - I hope it clears up.

    Nominalized words are fine, but they have a specific effect when they are used, and it's important to be aware of just what that effect is. Your two detective sentences have roughly the same content in spite of the fact that you've got the additional information provided by "joined." Unless there is some element of additional meaning (revealing character etc.) inherent in "joined," it's not necessarily beneficial to include it (and it inflates word count). When you overuse nominalized forms, it usually lowers the number of simple subject+verb combinations in the text. This reduces the sense of drive, agency and forward motion in the narrative. People often use nominalization to good effect in academic writing, but even there it can be overused. The result is a vague and aimless feeling in the text, a sense of dissociation from who is doing what and what it all really means.

    I hope that helps.

  6. So, in other words, I was over-complicating things. Okay.

    My initial story sentences tend to be subject+verb constructions. Too many back to back and I get bored reading my own writing, so I throw in additional clauses and descriptors to vary the cadence. I just have to watch out for over-using those -tion words when I can write a tighter, clearer sentence. The middle ground is hard to define sometimes. I'm not sure I totally get it yet of when the use would be considered a good effect, but I'll keep it in mind when I start making revisions. (I have a tendency to over-analyze when I should be just getting words down at all.)

  7. Jaleh,
    Repetitive grammatical structure becomes irritating quickly - I talked about it in my Parallelism post - essentially, reducing a narrative to a list. The problem arises when actions by a protagonist, critical to the drive of the story, get put in terms of the objects affected rather than the subject/protagonist acting.

  8. Sheesh. I should have said, "The problem with *nominalization* arises when actions by a protagonist... [etc.]"