Perhaps it’s the sight of jack-o'-lanterns dotting the neighborhood, but my dog tends to act more skittish than normal during our nightly walks in October. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a bit more on edge as well. Some of those Halloween decorations sneak up on you, y'know. What sinister thing lurks around the next corner?
Okay, maybe just an opossum.
But hey, heightened awareness never hurt anyone, particularly a writer. In fact, today I recommend we stay alert for a hidden issue lurking in too much business writing: nominalizations.
Helen Sword calls these ghastly constructions "zombie nouns," for they sap life from writing by turning active verbs into abstract nouns. Let’s look at two examples:
A recommendation of a new investment strategy was provided for our client.
We made a recommendation of a new investment strategy for our client.
While grammatically sound, both sentences are stylistically sluggish. They pair a nominalization of a strong verb (“recommend”) with a weak verb (“provide” and “made,” respectively).
Watch what happens when you uncover the hidden verb and make it the main action verb.
We recommended a new investment strategy for our client.
The revised sentence expresses the same idea more clearly using fewer words—a true win-win. Uncovering the hidden verb also helps you avoid passive constructions, as shown in the first sample from above.
What common nominalizations should I avoid?
Stay alert for these common nominalizations. As you review the table, note how words ending with the suffixes -tion and -ment offer clues to potential hidden verbs.
|give a presentation
|make a decision
|take into consideration
|provide an analysis
|come to an estimation
|perform a calibration
|give an assignment
|do an assessment
|have a requirement
|offer a description
|perform a review
|bring energy to
Editor’s Tip: When referring to a document, you might want to keep the nominalization. “Could you write me a recommendation?” is clearer than “Could you recommend me?”