To nominalise means to form a noun from a verb or adjective. That’s according to the dictionary – the OED, since you’re asking – put out becomes output, and true becomes truth. We can use the word ‘nominalisation’ more broadly to refer to the way writers turn events, states or ideas into noun phrases, thus making it easier to talk about them. Let’s take an example – you’re arguing with your sister about the remote control again (you two should really sort that out) and you say to her:
You are being really selfishness and unreasonable. You spend hours watching soaps which are really boring and which they are not artistic or worthwhile.
My purported selfishness and lack of reason are not the issue, dear sibling, but your inability to appreciate the finer subtleties of soaps.
She has flummoxed you. Your sister has out argued you because she is more articulate, and she is more articulate, in part, because she can more effectively nominalise her ideas and thus link them into smooth connected sentences. Sure, you could always snatch the remote off her, but it might be good, in the long run, to get the knack of nominalisation.
Here were the ideas you used, and on the left some nominalised versions of those ideas:
You are selfish –> selfishness, selfish manner
You are unreasonable –> unreasonableness, unreasonable manner
You spend hours watching soaps –> the hours you spend watching soaps
The soaps are boring –> tedium
The soaps are not artistic or worthwhile –> no artistic value
(unspoken idea) There is a problem –> The problem
If you had nominalised your ideas, or at least some of them, you could have said something more like this:
The problem here is the selfish, unreasonable manner in which you insist on watching soaps of little artistic value, but great tedium.
The cause of our dispute lies with you, dear sister, in your selfishness, your unreasonableness, in your predilection for tedious soaps of little artistic value.
That’ll teach her. But nominalisation has many more applications than beating your sister in the remote wars, as important as that is. It can make you sound more formal, if formality is what you seek. It makes writing about abstract ideas much easier and, well, smoother – for example in an argumentative essay or a piece of textual analysis. In more descriptive or creative writing it makes it easier to describe complex feelings and moods, and we’ll be looking at that in closer detail later on this week.
Write a high flown letter to your sister that will solve the remote control issue once and for all. Use nominalisation to add formality and to crystallise your ideas.