Do You Know About Nominalizations?


Here's a terrible sentence:  "The delaying of the closing of the stores until 10 p.m., which was a decision of the CEO, enables the staff to have greater productivity and the company to have greater profitability."

If you wanted to make this better, it helps if you know the term "nominalization."

A nominalization — or buried verb — is a noun rooted in another part of speech, usually a verb or an adjective.

The adjective "happy" has the corresponding noun form "happiness." The verb "delay" has the corresponding noun forms "delay" and "delaying." The verb "change" has the corresponding noun form "change." For example, in "I changed my hairstyle," change is a verb, but in "I made a change to my hairstyle," it's a noun.

So you can see that some nominalizations are formed by adding a suffix like "ness" or "ing." Other times they're identical with their verb forms. What makes them nouns is how they're used in the sentence.

Of course, not every word derived from a verb that ends in "ing" is a nominalization. Again, it depends how it's used in a sentence. In "I am painting my house," the -ing form is functioning as a verb, so it's not a nominalization.

In "I took a painting class," the -ing form is functioning as an adjective. But in "Painting is fun," it's working as a noun: Painting is actually the subject of the true verb "is." So this is a nominalization. In fact, this particular kind of nominalization has its own name. It's called a gerund, which means any "-ing" form of a verb doing the job of a noun.

Nominalizations are serious problems for some writers. If you accept the principle that the best writing uses vivid subjects and lively verbs (as most professional writers and editors do), you can see how nominalizations can hurt your writing. Here's a column on how to best deal with nominalizations.

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