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Monday, May 19, 2008

Criminal Sentence 20: Nasty Nominalization

From a book I was reading last night:

"I knew I was wasting time, crouched in a bush being gradually covered by snow, listening to spirits, but slowly the conviction grew that there was someone breathing, not all that far from me."

I object to this part: "the conviction grew that..." First off, the "that" clause should be next to "conviction." This is a misplaced modifier, and I've already discussed this problem. The cause of this particular misplaced modifier is the word "conviction." This is called a nominalization. Lots of words that end in "-tion" are nominalizations, so watch out for them and try not to use them. They are vague nouns that allow the writer to omit who is doing what. We know from the beginning of this sentence that "I" is doing all the action/thinking here. If you continue using "I," you avoid the misplaced modifier and the nominalization:

"...slowly I became convinced that..."

I rail against nominalizations in my book and in my first column for Writer's Digest. Help me eradicate them: learn what they are and vow not to use them!


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