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The JC’s guide to writing nice.™

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Nominalisation — itself, a nominalisation of the verb to “nominalise”[1] — is the act, as adored by solicitors as it is loathed by anyone who cares for the English language, of gutting a precise verb, by converting it into a noun and jamming a general verb in front of it.

Or should I say:

Nominalisation is the act, which induces adoration in solicitors as much as it effects a sensation of loathing in anyone having a fondness for the English language, of ensuring the evisceration of a precise verb by effecting its conversion into a noun (or adjective) and ensuring the jammery of a general verb in front of it.

So, where one on the Clapham omnibus might say,

“Last night I shot an elephant in my pyjamas.”

An nominaliser might say:

“Last night the shooting was carried out by me, in my pyjamas, of an elephant

Now we should concede at once that the nominalised version forces on us a more disciplined grammar: it is beyond doubt that it is me, and not the elephant who is wearing my pyjamas. That ruins it as a setup for Groucho Marx’s punchline, of course, and it comes at the expense of energy and elegance. In this case, too, it is punctiliousness not really needed given the context. And, if you really wanted to be that guy, there is always the stilted, but unambiguous, “last night, in my pyjamas, I shot an elephant.”

Dead give aways:


Why sayhave visibility ofwhen you mean “see”?
Why say “issue a notification to” when you mean “tell”?
Why say “have a discussion about” when you mean “discuss”?
Why say “we are supportive of” when you mean “we support”?
Why say “have the appearance of being” when you mean “seem”?

Effecting the worst kind of nominalisation

The worst kind of nominalisation goes a step further: not only must the poor verb dress up as a noun; an equally unsuspecting noun must behave like a verb. “Effect” is this kind of nominalisation:

Why say “effect the conversion of shares” when you mean “convert the shares”?

See also


  1. Goedel would be pleased.