1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.
  2. Hi Guest, welcome to the TES Community!

    Connect with like-minded education professionals and have your say on the issues that matter to you.

    Don't forget to look at the how to guide.

    Dismiss Notice

Nominalisation for Succinctness

Discussion in 'English' started by paul_brown72, Oct 28, 2009.

  1. paul_brown72

    paul_brown72 New commenter

    Hi Everyone,
    We are currently rolling out APP in our school, as I imagine you all are or have.
    On AF2 for writing- Level 5- bullet 2, it offers 'nominalisation for succintness' as an example of good practice. I think they are deliberately trying to confuse us.
    I assumed it meant something along the lines of choosing a few of the very best words to succinctly put their ideas across. However, I googled it and different LEA glossaries have wildly differing definitions; including one that involved specifically using abstract nouns!
    I wondered if you could all offer your opinions as to what it meant?
  3. Or, as David God Crystal wrote in a blog:

    A correspont writes to say he is having trouble with nominalisations.
    He cites a style guide which advises its readers to shun them, turn
    them into verbs, and find an appropriate subject for the sentence. He
    comments: 'In my view, however, this is easier said than done. And to
    make matters worse, there seems to be instances where nominalisations
    are useful, particularly in academic writing.'

    Nominalisation is the result of forming a noun from a word belonging to another word-class, e.g. writing from write.
    It's been a feature of English from its very beginning, in Anglo-Saxon
    times, so any general rule about 'shunning' nominalizations has to be
    absurd. What the style guides are usually getting at is the overuse of
    two processes: (a) long words formed with a suffix such as -ation - as in nominalisation, indeed, from nominalise; and (b) sentences where a noun phrase derives from a finite clause, as in the rejection of the proposal, instead of X rejected the proposal.

    allow us the option of being more abstract and impersonal, which is why
    they are useful in academic writing. Note the problem in (b) above: we
    have to choose a subject for the clause, and it isn't obvious which
    subject to go for. Who actually rejected the proposal? And, in any
    case, is it relevant to know who rejected it? The important point is
    that it was rejected. The nominalisation allows this focus on the
    result without distraction.

    The antipathy to abstract words is a
    feature of 20th-century style pundits. George Orwell inveighed against
    them (despite using them all over the place). So did Ernest Gowers. In
    a section (in Plain Words) called 'the lure of the abstract
    word' he comments that avoiding nominalisations 'is more important than
    any other single thing if you would convert a flabby style into a crisp
    one'. And certainly, the overuse of such forms can be turgid, as his
    examples show: 'The actualisation of the emotivation of the forces...',
    'a mutuality of capability...', and so on.

    But overuse is not
    the same as use. And no-one can avoid using nominalisations. A few
    lines before the above, Gowers himself writes about 'an excessive
    reliance on the noun at the expense of the verb', and there are dozens
    of nominalisations in his pages. The crucial word is 'excessive'.
    Excessive use of anything is always stylistically dangerous.

    guides always simplify, often to the point of pastiche, and that is
    what has happened here. An originally sensible point - the need to
    avoid unnecessary abstraction, which often hides unclear thinking - has
    been generalised into an outright ban. I can't give a guide about when
    to use or not use nominalisations in a blog (as my correspondent also
    asks) - that would be a huge task. But I can draw attention to the
    gradience that exists between nouns and verbs - or, more precisely,
    between deverbal nouns via verbal nouns to participles - where it's
    fascinating to see the range of nuances of expression which English
    provides. It is one of the hidden gems in the big Quirk grammar
    (§17.54), and it goes like this, with glosses given underneath each

    (1) some paintings of Brown's
    (a) 'some paintings that Brown owns'
    (b) 'some paintings painted by Brown'
    (2) Brown's paintings of his daughter
    (a) 'paintings depicting his daughter and painted by him'
    (b) 'paintings depicting his daughter and painted by someone else but owned by him'
    (3) The painting of Brown is as skilful as that of Gainsborough
    (a) 'Brown's mode of painting'
    (b) 'Brown's action of painting'
    (4) Brown's deft painting of his daughter is a delight to watch
    'It is a delight to watch while Brown deftly paints his daughter'
    (5) Brown's deftly painting his daughter is a delight to watch
    = 3a or 4
    (6) I dislike Brown's painting his daughter
    'I dislike the fact that Brown does it'
    'I dislike the way that Brown does it'
    (7) I dislike Brown painting his daughter (when she ought to be at school)
    = 6a
    (8) I watched Brown painting his daughter
    'I watched Brown as he painted his daughter'
    'I watched the process of Brown painting his daughter'
    (9) Brown deftly painting his daughter is a delight to watch
    = 3b or 4
    (10) Painting his daughter, Brown noticed that his hand was shaking
    'While he was painting his daughter...'
    (11) Brown painting his daughter that day, I decided to go for a walk
    'Since Brown was painting ...'
    (12) The man paintng the girl is Brown
    'The man who is painting...'
    (13) The silently painting man is Brown
    'The man who is silently painting'
    (14) Brown is painting his daughter

    guides should be explaining to people what English allows us to say and
    write, and pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of different
    usages in different contexts. Blanket bans are a nonsense.

    Posted by

  4. Thank God for David Crystal's words of wisdom - and thank you, tophut22, for that post. I've just been teaching my top set Year 11s to use nominalisation to make their sentences more concise. I then came home and googled nominalisation to see if I could find more exercises for them, as consolidation, but all I could find were page after page with dire warnings about what a crime against Plain English nominalisation is. I'd begun to doubt myself.

Share This Page