Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Let's go on a noun hunt

You can shoot as many as you want.

A sentence needs one noun and one verb. That's it. Next time you write a sentence count the nouns in it.

For some reason we like to turn verbs and adjectives into nouns. This is called nominalization. Maybe we think it sounds more important.

It doesn't; it just confuses. Compare these two passages from George Orwell's Politics and the English Language:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Here it is in modern English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
Academics fall prey to nominalization. So do business writers. Perhaps it's because business writing is often about abstract concepts.
An accreditation analysis was conducted of the performance level of the administration of the senior executive compensation disbursement mechanism.
This would be much clearer by inserting some prepositions and verbs:
the mechanism for disbursing compensation to senior executives
You can make your writing a lot stronger by counting the nouns in a sentence and getting rid of as many as possible. Here's an example from Helen Sword, who teaches at the University of Aukland:
The proliferation of nominalizations in a discursive formation may be an indication of a tendency toward pomposity and abstraction.

The sentence above contains no fewer than seven nominalizations, each formed from a verb or an adjective. Yet it fails to tell us who is doing what. When we eliminate or reanimate most of the zombie nouns (tendency becomes tend, abstraction becomes abstract) and add a human subject and some active verbs, the sentence springs back to life:

Writers who overload their sentences with nominalizations tend to sound pompous and abstract.
Don't be pompous and abstract.

No comments:

Post a Comment