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Stop making this clunky error

Use verbs not nouns

Have you just typed a readability nightmare? One of the most common readability errors we see in trainee writing samples is people nominalising their verbs.

That’s when you turn healthy, interesting verbs into weak, clunky nouns.

How to avoid it
Nominalised verbs suck, literally – they suck the life out of your writing.

[Recap from school: Nouns are ‘naming’ words (e.g., table, tree), while verbs are ‘doing’ words (e.g., run, drive).]

Let me prove it. Which of these do you prefer?

A. ‘It is my recommendation that you submit a revision for the quote.’
B. ‘I recommend you revise the quote.’

Most people would say ‘B.’ Not only do the verbs ‘recommend’ and ‘revise’ make the sentence more interesting, but much shorter, too. (If you prefer ‘A.’, you need this: http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/files/howto.pdf.)

Search for ‘the’
Here’s how to check if you’re guilty of turning your verbs into nouns: Search for ‘the’ in the last thing you wrote. Since nouns can be preceded by the word ‘the,’ you’ll probably flush out some nominalised verbs.

For example, if you find ‘The suggestion of the engineers is to … ’, you’ve found the nominalised verb, ‘suggestion’. Change it back to a verb and rewrite it as, ‘The engineers suggested …’ Much better; it’s clearer, shorter and has more impact.

How many did you find? Are you a serial nominaliser? Post your example/s in the comments. We even have a prize for the best example!

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6 thoughts on “Stop making this clunky error”

    1. That’s a great example, Todd. Congratulations — you win the prize! You’ve won a comprehensive edit of and feedback on one of your writing samples, just as we do for trainees on our courses. I’ll contact you shortly about it.

      To improve your example, you’d turn that flabby noun (nominalised verb), ‘intent’, back into a sleek, muscular verb:

      ‘We INTEND to remove surplus capacity from the mines to save costs.’

      I’ve also changed the original passive voice (‘The intent is…’ — passive because you didn’t say WHO intends it) to active voice (‘WE intend…’).

      And I shortened it by changing ‘in order to’ into a simple ‘to’. No meaning lost, so shorter is better.

      Thanks again, Todd. Well done.

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