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Grammatical Nominalization

(A Type of Wordiness)

I. Unnecessary Nouns:

Beginning writers have trouble developing sufficient length. More advanced writers have the opposite problem. They have trouble being concise. Both problems need a cure.

As young writers become more comfortable writing, they often develop bad habits such as "grammatical nominalization." This term refers to a type of wordiness in which the writer uses both a noun and a verb when the verb alone would do the trick. Skillful writers learn to achieve a more concise, direct style by eliminating this nominalized fluff.

Bad Nominalization: We conducted an investigation of the funding.

Good Sentence: We investigated the funding.

Bad Nominalization: Our intention is to perform an audit of the records of the program.

Good Sentence: We intend to audit the records of the program. (even better: We will audit the program's records.)

Bad Nominalization: We had a discussion concerning a tax cut.

Good Sentence: We discussed a tax cut.

II. To-Be Verbs:

Nominalization may also involve using phrases like "there is" or "there are" to begin sentences, or excessive use of to-be verbs when the sentence could be rephrased more concisely without them.

Bad Nominalization: There is a Pizza Hut in Jefferson City that attracts all the teenagers in town on Saturday nights.

Good Sentence: The local Pizza Hut attracts all the town's teenagers on Saturday nights.

Notice how in the "good" sentence, the verb becomes attracts. In the "bad" sentence, the verb is is. The heart of your sentence lies in strong verbs--verbs that show action! Weak sentences rely excessively on to be verbs. These possess no visual punch and no action. Beginning a sentence with "There is . . ." or "It is . . ." or "There are . . ." is a bad choice. It forces the writer to use that weak to be verb. Reorganize your sentence so it has a strong verb that actually says something.

NB: If you begin a sentence or a clause with there is or there are, you are being lazy in your revisions. You have not taken the time to revise for brevity. That annoys your teacher.

III. Ratios of Verbs to Non-Action Words

The writers most people enjoy and find "readable" have the highest ratio of verbs compared to other words in the sentence. Linguistic and grammatical studies confirm this. The smaller the ratio of verbs to other words in a sentence, the harder the sentence is to understand. Watch as the sentence below becomes increasingly confusing and awkward as this ratio dwindles, but increasingly direct and comprehensible as the ratio increases:

A. John is in love with Mary because of her inheritance of money [1 verb / 12 words]

John loves Mary because of her inheritance of money. [1 verb / 9 words]

John loves Mary because she inherited money. [ 2 verbs / 7 words]

B. Mary is aware of her inheritance of her money as the reason for John's love for her. [1 verb / 17 words]

The dependence of John's love for her upon her inheritance of money is known to Mary. [1 verb / 15 words]

Mary knows about the dependence of John's love for her upon her inheritance of money. [1 verb / 15 words]

Mary knows that John loves her because she inherited money. [3 verbs 10 words]

C: Mary's unawareness of the dependence of John's love for her upon her inheritance of money is believed in by John. [1 verb / 18 words]

John considers Mary unaware of the dependence of of his love for her upon her inheritance of money. [1 verb / 17 words]

John thinks Mary doesn't know that he loves her because she inherited money. [4 verbs / 12 words]

IV. Eliminate unnecessary phrases if you can replace them with a single word.

Why write, "because of the fact that" when you can simply write "because"? Some students feel that, to get the word length, they need to use every word possible. However, this leads to empty phrasing rather than a lean, muscular essay. It's better to write a short essay filled with many good ideas rather than a long essay filled with many empty words. Try the following alterations:

Wordy Concise
because of the fact that because
at all times always
in order to to
at the present time now
due to the fact that because
in spite of the fact that although
in the event that if
for the purpose of for
Don't use four words when one would be more concise! Remember Mark Twain's motto: "When in doubt, strike it out!"

Your Turn:

Eliminate the nominalization and passive voice below! Edit these sentences for clarity, concision, and style. You may add or remove words if necessary, such as a subject, and delete words if desired. Just make them as clear and concise as possible.

1. We performed a review of the relevant regulations.

2. The acting company of Shakespearean performers did a performance of Twelfth Night on the thirteenth day of March.

3. There is a need for further study of this program.

4. The committee has every expectation that it will reach a decision for the purpose of reaching a conclusion about that issue before the deadline.

5. There was considerable erosion of the land of the farmers in the locale from the floods.

6. The group's failure was the result of the way the chairman decided to submit his resignation.

7. The fact is that data analysis must be done immediately subsequent to its collection.

8. We need to make a change in the way we handle new technology when we make a decision of its incorporation.

9. It is necessary for presidential candidates to give a good performance on television.

10. There are many people who fear success because these are people who believe they do not deserve it.

11. In their plans for houses, there are brick walls that are often reinforced with stainless steel by architects because of stainless steel's resistance to the effects of the weather.

12. Favorable attention is often given in their design of parts for missiles to the development of titanium because there is a high strength in the material in relation to its weight.

13. There is a need in our town for a reevaluation of the water supply.

14. The reason an inventory was taken was their suspicion of theft activities.

15. Our expectation was to establish new tolerance levels in people.

16. The appearance of the candidate before the board was on June 30th.

17. There is a presidential appeal being made to the American people for the conservation of gasoline.

18. It is my belief that there should be consultation by the administrators with the student body before changes in rules are made.


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Copyright Dr. L. Kip Wheeler 1998-2018. Permission is granted for non-profit, educational, and student reproduction. Last updated April 24, 2018. Contact: kwheeler@cn.edu Please e-mail corrections, suggestions, or comments to help me improve this site. Click here for credits, thanks, and additional copyright information.