Nominalisations: Other words as nouns

Nominalisation describes a word formation in which a verb (or other part of speech) is used as (or transformed into) a noun.

We’ll take a look at why we use them and why these noun forms can be useful in formal writing. 


When we use verb forms it makes the language more immediate, easier to understand, and often less formal.

By using the noun form instead, we can make we what we say or write a lot more formal.

Let’s look at an example

  • When the auditors analysed the accounts they showed there were missing funds.
  • The analysis of the accounts showed missing funds.

What we can see from these examples is that the focus is different in each. Sentence 1 focuses on the action, whereas our second example emphasises the activity or noun. 

In this respect the use of the noun form is similar to why we use the passive form, in order to focus on the action.  

There are a number of reasons why we use nominalisations.

  • To avoid mentioning the agent, as we do with the passive.

  • It allows us to change the focus of the sentence, as new important information is usually placed at the beginning of the sentence.

  • It can sometimes communicate the idea a lot more precisely.

Noun Phrases

Commonly, we are are looking at more than a simple verb -> noun change. Noun phrases are also used as a form of nominalisation.

A noun phrase is a group of two or more words headed by a noun that includes modifiers. Just as nouns can act as subjects, objects, and prepositional objects, the same applies to noun phrases.


  • He had to sit beside the horribly angry girl.
  • The first release of the song was in 1984.
  • Scientists have noticed a sudden rise in the average temperature. 

Noun phrases can be very useful as they allow us to reduce extended  information to a single more precise and often more elegant idea.

Compare the original information below with the modified version which use noun phrases.

  • They raced up the hill.  The race exhausted them.
  • They had an exhausting race up the hill.

  • The boys laughed loudly and they work the baby.
  • The boys’ loud laughter woke the baby.

  • We walked for charity. We raised money for the Cancer Society.
  • The charity walk raised money for the Cancer Society.

In all three examples the use of a noun structure has made the meaning very clear and produced shorter, more precise sentences.    

Take a look at other topics in our C1 Advanced English Corner. Read about using inversion forms for formal writing and how we can use cause and reason expressions to improve writing.

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