To nominalize or not to nominalize

Nestled on Lonsdale Avenue near 15th Street in North Vancouver, La Zuppa! hosts a Philosophers Café on the third Wednesday of the month. The moderator Martin Hunt, an artist with an interest in science and philosophy, wondered what sort of confusion arises when we turn verbs into nouns.

This action is called nominalizing and funny thing, when I studied it, the action was turned into a process, a thing, and called the nominalization of language.

Hunt argued that nominalization improved literary writing by giving the writer a tool for vagueness. This is precisely why writers are trained to avoid nominalizing words—to prevent ambiguity. A skilled writer can heighten suspense and mystery without the excessive wordiness of nominalization.

Mind is the most famous word to be nominalized. Dictionaries list the numerous noun definitions before the verb definitions. The latter includes: to attend to, to care about, or to be careful about. Now that the mind is considered an entity like the brain or synonymous with the brain, we have embraced the notion that the mind can become sick. The person who possesses a sick mind is sometimes unable to know his mind is sick, and this lack of insight allows the state to intervene and force treatment on the individual or deprive him of his liberty. And no one blinks an eye at this.

Nominalization caused considerable confusion for participants that evening at La Zuppa! Or, The subject baffled many La Zuppa! patrons. Here are examples showing both useful and useless nominalizations.

Which comes first? the nomilization of a language or nominalizing verbs.


One thought on “To nominalize or not to nominalize

  1. Poets thrive on ambiguity; creative, deliberate nominalization can be useful. The problem is when academic or professional writers resort to nominalization in an attempt to make their writing sound more intelligent or important than it really is, or to disguise the contentlessness of their text.

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