In not a few books I've read on style, the author pushes the use of strong verbs, as opposed to nominalizations, and certain kinds of adverbs and adjectives, to energize every sentence a writer writes. In great works of prose from the distant past, I see that this rule is not upheld. Their authors wrote sentences with various kinds of phrases to give them rhythm. I know that in order to make writing clear, one thing needed is to follow the rule in this post.

Moreover, there are some nouns derived from verbs, or from which verbs are derived, that are not nominalizations, I think. Therefore, I see no reason why we cannot use them, as in this example: "...the author pushes the use of strong verbs".

For creativity and rhythm's sake, I would like to make use of all types of phrases.

Can you please answer this as fully as you can? When should I use nominalizations and other kinds of verb nouns, and when I should use verbs?

  • 1
    Who are you going to believe, the established literary masters or some random how-to books from the self-help section of the discount book store?
    – wetcircuit
    Nov 17, 2021 at 13:53
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    They were your writing books. We can't defend them or criticize them because they are un-named strawmen. Recommending a style with strong verbs does not mean they told you never to use any other parts of speech or style. The question is a false dichotomy involving exclusive absolutes. I doubt any writer anywhere has recommended doing anything 100% of the time. Of course you should do what is appropriate in the context. Writing guides are just guides, not laws.
    – wetcircuit
    Nov 17, 2021 at 16:57

1 Answer 1


The thing with nominalizations is (whisper it) they aren't inherently bad.

I know, I know, there will be innumerable writing bloggers baying for my blood the length and breadth of the internet. Or there would be, if any of them were to read this.

What is actually more likely to be a problem is over-using or misusing them, but the same is equally true of over-zealously hunting down and eliminating every last one from your writing.

Instead you should consider what you're trying to say and the effect you're aiming for with the reader.

Say your story's characters have asked the local ruling council for some aid in their Epic QuestTM who consider the request and then refuse. Now compare these two sentences reporting on the outcome:

Using the nominalization -

The decision of the council is no.

and avoiding it -

The council has decided no.

So what are the differences? The first is a couple of words longer, it has a greater level of formality and it also places a greater level of significance to the decision by making it the prime object of the sentence. This is not "a decision" it's "the decision" and that can convey a subtext of firmness and finality to it. The second is more lightweight, quicker to read and leaves the emphasis on the council alone.

So when might you choose one over the other? The answer is that it's situational - if you've got a member or representative of the council informing a character of the outcome of a request the more formal usage would likely make far more sense stylistically. The tone is much more that of a statement or pronouncement rather than the opening line in a conversation.

On the other hand if this is someone affiliated with the characters who is reporting back to the others on the outcome it would seem more natural for them to speak more informally and the denominalized version would be the more obvious choice.

A common criticism of nominalizations is that they can lead to dry, dense language - particularly if there's a lot of them in a sentence or passage. While that can certainly be the case - sometimes that's exactly what you're aiming for at a given moment.

The key is to think about why you're using a nominalization, not with the automatic goal of removing it but instead to see if it's use makes sense in that context, whether it helps or hinders what you're aiming for. If you aren't sure you can always swap it out and see if it's any better or worse without.

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