Wednesday, January 16, 2013


You might not have heard the fancy term nominalizations, but you probably use these nouns when you write. Think of them as empty nouns that give no information about who did what.
--The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier by Bonnie Mills Trenga

I'll confess, until I read Bonnie's excellent book, I'd never heard of nominalizations either. And yet they almost always lead to terrible writing. See for yourself:

* The flashing of the cameras was distracting to the model.
* The collection of donations began yesterday.
* The directing of the movie started in earnest at the end of last year.
* The awarding of the Medal of Honor was a turning point in his life.

Awful, right? In each example the subject is phrased awkwardly (e.g., the directing of the movie, the collection of donations). Far better to describe things more directly:

Filming started in earnest at the end of last year.
We began collecting donations yesterday.

So, how do you uncover and eliminate nominalizations from your writing? Easy: just look for the word of--it's almost always present in a nominalization--and then rephrase using simpler and more direct wording.

Or, here's an even simpler solution: just go through your writing and omit needless words. You'll automatically catch and destroy phrases like the collection of, the taking of and the flashing of.