Literacy Professional Learning Resource - Key Concepts - AusVELS Levels 7 to 10 - Written Language Development: Nominalisation

From Term 1 2017, Victorian government and Catholic schools will use the new Victorian Curriculum F-10. Curriculum related information is currently being reviewed and may be subject to change.

For more information on the curriculum, see:
The Victorian Curriculum F–10 - VCAA

Nominalisation is the process of turning verbs into nouns, as illustrated in the example below:

Every day shops lose thousands of dollars worth of valuable items.
The daily loss of thousands of dollars worth of valuable stock…

By turning an action (lose) into a thing (loss), a sense of the action is retained, but as a noun we can now point to it, describe its physical qualities, classify it and qualify it. So by turning a verb into a noun we can pack more meanings or content into our text.

Effects of Nominalisation

Changing a verb or process into a thing has several important effects:

  • people are removed. This means that the responsibility for the action has also been removed. It makes it seem as though events just happen.
  • now that the action has become a thing, it can be counted, described, classified and qualified through the resources of the nominal group.
  • the process is still in the sentence, so the text accumulates a sense of action.
  • the text is becoming more dense or compressed.

While turning a verb into a noun allows more meaning to be packed into the content of the text, the text can become overloaded with information.

Why nominalise?

Nominalisation is an important tool for building taxonomies of technical terms. In this way, nominalisations are an important resource in building knowledge.

Examples of nominalisation in the classroom

In addition to changing verbs into nouns, we can also nominalise and change other parts of speech into nouns. For example, adjectives or qualities can be turned into nouns such as ‘honest’ becomes ‘honesty’, ‘cruel’ becomes ‘cruelty’, ‘fatal’ becomes ‘fatality’ and so on.

Other examples of adjectives that are commonly nominalised include ‘long’ which becomes ‘length’, ‘wide’ which becomes ‘width’ and ‘high’ which becomes ‘height’.

Building technical knowledge

Technical language is created when things are divided up and renamed, enabling a reclassification of those parts of the world that are significant to particular disciplines.

Nominalisation is an important tool for building taxonomies of technical terms. In particular, it enables us to name processes or actions (verbs) as things (nouns).

For example, in Science and Geography, processes or verbs such as ‘to rain’ become ‘precipitation’, ‘to weather’ becomes ‘weathering’, ‘to erode’ becomes ‘erosion’ and so forth.

Mathematics also uses nominalisation in this way, where ‘multiplying’ becomes ‘multiplication’, ‘adding’ becomes ‘addition’, ‘to change’ becomes ‘the change’ and then each of these things or nouns can be further added to, as in ‘rate of change’ to ‘increasing rate of change’, or ‘a 75% change in income’ and so forth.

In this way, nominalisations are an important resource in building knowledge. They construct technical knowledge and place objects and events into different relations with one another from those of our everyday experiences of the world.

Nominalisation: the theory

Nominalisation is used to construct bodies of knowledge in all domains.

However, it should be pointed out that nominalisation is not always a positive thing. One negative impact it can have is that it may lead to written texts that are packed with information. Such information overload can impact negatively on reading comprehension.

… it puts a higher pressure on the amount of processing required to decode [the text]; hence the need to read and re-read complex texts, and the sense sometimes that particular texts are simply impenetrable. (Ravelli, 2006: 61)

Despite the possibility that it may overload texts with information, nominalisation is a key feature of academic writing and is both an important and complex resource that students need to master. 

Professional learning

Nominalisation – the process of turning verbs into nouns

Nominalisation transcript (PDF - 30Kb) (pdf - 29.84kb)
Download this transcript and complete the accompanying questions.

The teacher and class had been brainstorming ideas about shoplifting for a text they were going to write together. The transcripts show the development of the text from spoken language, to long noun groups and the use of nominalisation to compress information in written language.

Related materials

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