Campaign to Cut the Clutter: How to Recover Hidden Verbs

Eliminating Excessive Nominalization

Sound mixer pushing volume controls.
Wordy: The slider allows you to make an adjustment to the volume. Revised: The slider allows you to adjust the volume. Halbergman/E+/Getty Images

When a verb-noun combination (such as make a revision) is used in place of a single, more forceful verb (revise), we say that the original verb has been smothered or diluted or hidden. Hidden verbs tend to weaken sentences by introducing more words than readers need.

As these examples show, one way to cut the clutter in our writing is to recover any hidden verbs:

  • Wordy: The slider allows you to make an adjustment to the volume.
    Revised: The slider allows you to adjust the volume.
  • Wordy: After conducting a review of your class notes, perform an analysis of past quizzes to identify any trouble spots.
    Revised: After reviewing your class notes, analyze past quizzes to identify any trouble spots.
  • Wordy: Exposure to teaching principles, skills, and techniques should be done in a sequential manner during the education of a physician.
    Revised: Medical students should be exposed sequentially to teaching principles, skills, and techniques.
  • Wordy: The director made an announcement that the new policy will have an immediate implementation date.
    Revised: The director announced that the new policy will be implemented immediately.

A half-century ago, editor Henrietta Tichy used a memorable analogy to illustrate the problem of "the weakened or dilute verb":

Some writers avoid a specific verb like consider; they choose instead a general verb of little meaning like take or give and add the noun consideration with the necessary prepositions, as in take into consideration and give consideration to, devote consideration to, and expend consideration on. Thus they not only use three words to do the work of one, but also take the meaning from the strongest word in the sentence, the verb, and place the meaning in the noun that has a subordinate position. . . .

Weak as a jigger of Scotch in a pitcher of water, this is neither good liquor nor good water.
(Henrietta J. Tichy, Effective Writing for Engineers, Managers, Scientists. Wiley, 1966)

So let's revise the advice on our blackboard and recover the hidden verbs:

  • Wordy: The elimination of needless nominalizations is dependent on the reversal of the conversion process.
  • Revised: To eliminate needless nominalizations, reverse the process by turning nouns into verbs.

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Campaign to Cut the Clutter: How to Recover Hidden Verbs." ThoughtCo, Oct. 19, 2017, thoughtco.com/how-to-recover-hidden-verbs-1692665. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, October 19). Campaign to Cut the Clutter: How to Recover Hidden Verbs. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-recover-hidden-verbs-1692665 Nordquist, Richard. "Campaign to Cut the Clutter: How to Recover Hidden Verbs." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-recover-hidden-verbs-1692665 (accessed January 22, 2018).