Gaining efficiency in expression

While flexibility of expression, and control are the primary goals of nominalisation, there’s a nice secondary effect. Efficiency.

For example, here is one of the expanded, conversational versions we wrote of the European invasion snippet from earlier in the lesson.

Let’s do some counting. How many words? How many word groups? How many clauses?

The native Americans didn’t talk to each other much, so when they found out what the Europeans were doing it was already too late, and the settlers and conquerors were already taking over their land.

  • 35 words
  • 21 word groups
  • 5 clauses
  • 4 connectors between clauses

Compare that to the more compressed original:

Communications between the tribes of the New World were slow, and news of the Europeans’ barbarities rarely overtook the rapid spread of new conquests and settlements.

  • 26 words
  • 8 word groups (we’re only counting the top layer)
  • 2 clauses
  • 1 connector between clauses.

Less on every count!

So nominalisation can be efficient. Fewer clauses, fewer words, same information. But how do we get there?

Let’s try to improve this snippet using nominalisation:

Harry was separated from his spellbooks and this made it difficult for him because his teachers at Hogwarts wanted him to work on a lot of things over the holidays.

This snippet has:

  • 30 words
  • 16 word groups
  • 4 clauses
  • 2 clause connectors

Let’s see if we can use nominalisation to slim it down!

Step 1 is to find any words or phrases that you could convert to nouns.

  • Can you convert any verbs or adjectives (using nominal suffixes or other grammatical processes)?
  • Can you summarise anything with an abstract noun or using any special terminology?
Brainstorm any nouns you can create from the snippet above.

We found some words we could convert directly:

  • Separated → Separation
  • Difficult → Difficulty
  • To work → Work

We also found some opportunity to summarise:

  • This made it difficult for him → A problem
  • To work on a lot of things over the holidays → Homework

Are any of these surprising to you? Did you think of anything that we didn’t?

Now that you have a list of nouns you can use, try putting them in a sentence.

  • Don’t worry about using every noun on your list—there might be some overlap.
  • Use words and phrases from the original snippet as you need them.
Rewrite the snippet about Harry using some of the nouns you brainstormed. Highlight the nominalisations you’ve used.

Here’s one way someone rewrote that passage (the nominalisations they used are highlighted):

Harry’s separation from his spellbooks was a problem because his teachers at Hogwarts gave him a lot of homework for the holidays.

(22 words; 9 word groups; 2 clauses; 1 clause connector)

Here’s another way:

Harry’s separation from his spellbooks led to difficulties doing assigned homework from his teachers at Hogwarts.

(16 words; 3 word groups—the whole second half of that sentence is one noun group; 1 clause; 0 clause connectors)

Here’s how J.K. Rowling did it in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:

This separation from his spellbooks had been a real problem for Harry, because his teachers at Hogwarts had given him a lot of holiday work.

(25 words; 8 word groups; 2 clauses; 1 clause connector)

What about your version? How does it compare to the non-nominalised version? We’re willing to bet that you’ll see a similar slimmed down effect, even if you only used one or two nominalisations in your response.