In spoken English, we usually use a subject + verb (+ object) to describe an event.
If organisms didn’t reproduce, life would end.
Crime is increasing rapidly and the police are becoming concerned.
The United States produces and exports cotton around the world and this is an important part of their economy.
Europeans colonized New Zealand in the 19th Century. This resulted in Maori tribes losing much of their tribal lands.
Academic English, however, tends to use more nouns than verbs because they make a text sound more formal and impersonal.
Compare the sentences below with those above:
Without reproduction, life would end.
The rapid increase in crime is causing concern among the police.
The United States’ production and exportation of cotton is an important part of their economy.
The colonization of New Zealand by Europeans resulted in the loss of Maori tribal lands.
When you rephrase a sentence by changing a verb (used to describe an action or event) into a noun (used most often in this case to describe a concept), you change the focus of the text from actions to objects. This process is called nominalisation.
It is a common and important feature of academic writing and it has several purposes:
1) it is a way of rephrasing your sentences to prevent you repeating yourself, which makes your writing more fluent and interesting
2) when used properly, it is a way of conveying more meaning using fewer words, which makes your writing concise (see more about this below)
3) by using nouns instead of verbs, it gives writing a more objective tone which is an integral feature of formal writing
So it is a useful skill to have for Academic Writing tasks.
In Task 1 reports
In order for your Task 1 answer to read fluently, you should include a mix of sentence types, those with active verbs and adverbs (example a) and nominalised sentences with nouns and adjectives (example b). This is so that your writing doesn’t sound repetitive. The following examples demonstrate how you can play around with the phrasing of your sentences without changing the meaning.
a) The population increased significantly between 1980 and 1990.
b) There was a significant increase in the population between 1980 and 1990.
a) In 1990 the bank was located in the centre of the business district.
b) In 1990, the location of the bank was the centre of the business district.
a) The plant’s leaves absorb sunlight which reacts chemically with the chlorophyll in them.
b) Chlorophyll in the plant’s leaves enables the absorption of sunlight which produces a chemical reaction.
In Task 2 essays
Task 2 essays are, by definition, formal and so for this reason it is important that you include some nominalised sentences.
Before social media was developed, teenagers communicated mainly over the telephone.
Before the development of social media, communication between teenagers was limited to the telephone.
More people are choosing to pursue further education these days and this is affecting the rates of employment.
The choice to pursue further education is increasingly popular, which is having an effect on the rates of employment.
Both sentence examples are possible in a Task 2 essay but the second nominalised examples sound more formal.
However, as with anything, be careful not to overuse this feature. There are two things to be aware of with nominalisation.
1) Because it turns actions into abstract concepts, it can obscure meaning and result in sentences being harder to understand.
2) Sometimes nominalised sentences can end up being more ‘wordy’ than concise, which defeats the purpose.
There are instances when a verb sentence is the best option because it is the least complicated. However, although sentences with active verbs are more direct and dynamic, and therefore often more interesting, it this ‘directness’ that tends to make them sound more informal. When a degree of formality is required, nominalised sentences are usually more effective.