Active is better than Passive

This article in Daily Writing Tips (I highly recommend subscribing) refers to something that I bring up time and time again with my writing clients – and that is the use of nominalized verb. I often suggest looking through a script for gerunds, and trying to eliminate them, but the notion applies to all nominalized verbs. In general, keep your subjects doing the acting – and keep your verbs as verbs. And read the whole article, it’s very helpful.

Use Nominalized Verbs with Care
Several articles in the DWT archives refer to “smothered verbs,” referring to nominalized verbs that contribute to a stodgy style of writing.

Overuse of nominalized verbs, especially those ending in -tion and -ment, contribute to a wordy, stodgy style. For example,

The companies reached an agreement to build in the neighborhood.

Voters had a negative reaction to the new law.

There’s nothing grammatically wrong with these sentences, but they can be improved stylistically by rewriting them to eliminate the nominalization and simply use the verb from which it comes:

The companies agreed to build in the neighborhood.

Voters reacted negatively to the new law.

The ability to form nouns from verbs by adding a suffix contributes to the marvelous flexibility of English, but–like all good things–it should be used in moderation.


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