Thursday, July 5, 2012

Don't turn verbs into nouns.

As most of you probably already know, and as I have mentioned in the past, Bryan Garner is a really smart guy.  He is the Editor of Black's Law Dictionary and the author of dozens of books about legal writing and language.  One of his pet peeves (and one of mine now too) is when writers turn verbs into nouns.  Mr. Garner calls this "nominalization" or "burying" a verb.

Basically, you should use action verbs instead of nouns whenever possible.  It will make your writing clearer and easier to understand, not to mention shorter.   Instead of trying to describe the process of nominalization, or how to avoid it, I will give you a list of 20 nominalizations taken from several of Mr. Garner's books, and the action verbs that you should replace them with:

  • in violation of - violate
  • provide an illustration of - illustrate
  • in mitigation of - mitigate
  • conduct an examination of - examine
  • make an accommodation for - accommodate
  • make a contribution - contribute
  • provide assistance - assist
  • place a limitation upon - limit
  • provide protection to - protect
  • reach a resolution - resolve
  • reveal the identify of - identify
  • bring an action against - sue
  • are in compliance with - comply
  • draw a distinction - distinguish
  • made allegations - alleged
  • was in conformity with - conformed
  • take into consideration - consider
  • provide a description of - describe
  • have a discussion about - discuss
  • reveal the identify of - identify

I am a big fan of cleaner legal writing.  Sentences should be less wordy and briefs should have fewer pages.  Just by quickly glancing at the chart above it is easy to see that one word can often take the place of three or four words.  Good luck and be brief.

1 comment:

Colllawyer said...

This is a good tip. The first is passive and the latter (verb use) is assertive. "An action was brought for xyz" leaves out the subject, i.e. the person. This is passive. It is more assertive to say, "Plaintiff sued." But don't forget to use the passive to your advantage when you want to downplay something negative your client did. Rather than saying "Defendant failed," instead say, "An oversight occurred . . . ."