What happens when you turn a verb into a noun?

Word count: 286

Reading time: About 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help writers. Today, I present an article on nominalizations.

Are you familiar with “nominalizations”? These are verbs (action words) or adjectives (describing words) that have been turned into nouns (“things.”)

The most common nominalization I hear these days — usually promulgated by reality TV shows — is the word “reveal.” This is when the restaurateur (in cooking shows) is shown his remodelled restaurant or when a homeowner (in real estate or decorating shows) is shown her remodelled home. The result? A reveal. Sometimes, even people can be turned into a reveal (see the shows: Say Yes to the Dress, or What Not to Wear.) For me, the word “reveal” grates and sounds jargony — although producers can get away with it because it’s on TV. I don’t think it would survive in print.

Writer Henry Hitchings, author of the book The Language Warsoffers a thoughtful reflection on nominalization in a recent Opinionator column in the online New York Times (free to non-subscribers.) He says that people use words in this way because ” it gives an impression of freshness,” and it  “sound(s) jauntier, more pragmatic (and) more concise.”

Interestingly, to me, he also points out that “reveal” has been used as a noun since the 16th century. And even in its use as a TV word, it’s been around since the 1950s.

All very good points. But I appreciate his hesitation to draw up a brand new rule. “It is simplistic,” he says,”  to have a blanket policy of avoiding and condemning nominalizations.” Whether or not we use — or avoid — nominalizations, we are making an aesthetic judgment. And the right to judges aesthetics rests with the writer, not the grammarian.

What do you think?

Scroll to Top