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Contributors:Erin Brock.
Summary:

This resource discusses nominalizations and subject position as they relate to sentence clarity.

Sentence Clarity: Nominalizations and Subject Position

This resource will help students understand what nominalizations are, as well as how and when they should be used in sentences. 

Nominalizations are nouns that are created from adjectives (words that describe nouns) or verbs (action words). For example, “interference” is a nominalization of “interfere,” “decision” is a nominalization of “decide,” and “argument” is a nominalization of “argue.”

Below are some of the more common nominalizations (on the left) and their original forms (on the right):

Nouns

Verbs

Intention

Intend

Intervention

Intervene

Distortion

Distort

Evolution

Evolve

Interference

Interfere

Discrimination

Discriminate

Decision

Decide

Assumption

Assume

Collection

Collect

Investigation

Investigate

Expansion

Expand

Disagreement

Disagree

Discussion

Discuss

Argument

Argue

Failure

Fail

 

Nouns

Adjectives

Applicability

Applicable

Carelessness

Careless

Difficulty

Difficult

Intensity

Intense

Shiftiness

Shifty

Happiness

Happy

Slowness

Slow

Fear

Afraid

Elder

Elderly

 

As you can see, the endings of the nominalized forms vary, but many end in “-ion/tion”, “-ment,” “-ity/–ty”, and “-ness.”

So, why does this matter?

First, it is important to understand what these words mean when you see them. Second, if you are aware of what nominalizations are, you may use them to make your writing easier to understand.

Remember, the two most basic units of a sentence are the subject and the verb.

Subject → Verb

Character  Action

Person or Thing  Doing Something

Sentences often start with a subject followed by a verb, and are easily understood according to this order. For example,

Many children  experience worries when they go to school for the first time.

Elephants  argue over small concerns, just like humans.

The sentences above are very clear, but you might see some with nominalizations, like the ones below:

The experience of children with respect to being at school for the first time is common.

Arguments over small concerns are something elephants have, as well as humans.

This second set of sentences is more difficult to understand because the use of the nominalization means there must be more words in the sentence.

Subject  Verb: easy to follow

Subject → Long strings of nominalizations and other forms  Verb: hard to follow

Here is an example of the difference between the two structures:

The group discussed how to plan the surprise party.

The discussion of the group was about how to surprise the girl with the birthday without her knowing.

Are nominalizations always a bad choice?

No. Sometimes, nominalizations can be useful:

Be sure to remember that even in a case where a nominalization is appropriate, you should not use them too often in too short of a space.

Student Activities

For additional practice with this concept, please refere to our two sentence clarity quizzes. For quiz 1, click here. For quiz 2, click here.