Tamsin Constable

Mutating verbs

Here’s a quick tip for powerful writing. Keep your eyes peeled for verbs that have turned into nouns. Would your text be clearer (and, often, shorter) if you replace the noun with the verb it came from, or something along the same lines?

Example: We reached the decision that …
Replace with: We decided that ….

Example: The tutors were in discussion with the students about ….
Replace with: The tutors and students discussed

Example: Please contact me to arrange the cancellation of your order.
Replace with: Please contact me if you want to cancel your order.

These sneaky nouns-from-verbs are called, very un-plain-Englishily, ‘nominalisations’. Once you tune in to them, you’ll see them everywhere.

Nominalisations do have their uses, though, particularly if you’re trying to strike a more ‘formal’ tone. More on that later.

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