Ever Heard of Nominalisation?

By Lauren Carter

I hope you’ve been having a lovely week so far. Today I want to talk to you about a thing called nominalisation. Now, don’t worry if you have no idea what this 14-letter word means – by the end of this post you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about! 😊

Why Knowing About Nominalisation Is Super Important

According to good ol’ Wikipedia, nominalisation is defined as “the use of a word which is not a noun (e.g. a verb, an adjective, or an adverb) as a noun, or as the head of a noun phrase”. Basically, what it means is using a verb, adjective, or adverb as a noun.

Now, unless you’re a language nerd like I am, you may need a refresher in the differences between nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Don’t worry, I’ve got your back 😉.

Here’s a basic rundown:

  • Noun = a person, place, thing, or concept. For example: woman, museum, table, happiness.
  • Verb = an action or “doing word”. For example: run, see, think, sink, swim, is, have, give.
  • Adjectives = describing words. For example: happy, red, big, bright, bubbly, glamorous, salty.
  • Adverbs = words that describe how an action (or verb) is done. For example: quickly, lightly, strangely, anxiously, calmly, curiously. (Can you see a pattern here?)

So, nominalisation means turning a non-noun into a noun. Maybe this doesn’t sound like a big issue to you, but it actually makes texts harder to understand, especially for those with low English literacy.

In this post, I’m going to focus on nominalising verbs to become nouns because I think being able to notice and identify this in your own writing and speech will help you the most.

Here’s some examples of verb-to-noun nominalisations:

  • The use of chopsticks is common in Asia. (nominalised)
  • Many people in Asia use chopsticks. (non-nominalised)

  • You need to take her point of view into consideration (nominalised)
  • You need to consider her point of view. (non-nominalised)

  • There was an increase in student enrolments last year. (nominalised)
  • Student enrolments increased last year. (non-nominalised)

As you can see from these examples, the nominalised versions tend to have more words. It’s also common for nominalised words to be longer (although sometimes the non-nominalised word is exactly the same as the nominalised one). And what happens when you add more words and have longer words? Your text immediately becomes more difficult to understand.

When we nominalise a verb, it becomes an idea rather than an action. Therefore, this usually makes the text more abstract and formal because it uses different grammatical structures, which makes it harder to understand.

How To Identify And Reduce Nominalisation

In any part of life, the first step to changing something is to first notice it. If you can’t even notice or identify the problem, then you’ll never be able to fix it. Once you’ve identified the problem, then you can implement changes change what you’re doing.

This basic principle applies to limiting nominalisations in your writing too. Here’s a simple breakdown of what you need to do to find and get rid of nominalisations:

  1. Identify the main verb
  2. Look at the noun that follows closely after the verb
  3. Decide if you can turn the noun into a verb instead
  4. Rewrite the sentence

Let’s break down these steps more.

First you need to identify the verb in your sentence. Remember that verbs are “doing words” that show an action, for example demonstrate, act, introduce, check.

Once you’ve found the verb, you need to check the noun that follows closely after it. Remember that nouns are things and concepts, for example solution, idea, creation, training.

And finally, the last two steps are to change the noun into a verb (if you can) and then rewrite the sentence.

Here are some examples:

Original: We didn’t provide a real solution to the problem.

  1. Identify the main verb: provide
  2. Identify the noun: solution
  3. Change the noun to a verb: solve
  4. Rewrite the sentence: We didn’t really solve the problem.

Original: Many students received training this year.

  1. Identify the main verb: received
  2. Identify the noun: training
  3. Change the noun to a verb: train
  4. Rewrite the sentence: Many students trained this year. Or: We trained many students this year.

This Week’s Challenge

So my friend, my challenge for you this week is to notice nominalisation not just in your own communication but in others’ as well. Try to identify nominalisation and see if you can change it by following the steps above.

I encourage you to pay attention to nominalisation when reading, writing, speaking, and listening. We only get better at noticing and changing things with practice, so start being curious about the language you and others use.

You’ll soon realise just how quickly you’ll become a language nerd (if you’re not already 😉), which will help you make your communication more accessible to your students and clients.

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