Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Take an adjective such as "implacable," or a verb like "proliferate," or even another noun, "crony," and add a suffix, such as "-ity," or "-tion," or "-ism." You've created a new noun. "Implacability," "proliferation," "cronyism." Sounds impressive, right? Wrong! You've just unleashed a flesh-eating zombie. Nouns made from other parts of speech are called nominalizations. Academics love them. So do lawyers, bureaucrats, business writers. I call them zombie nouns, because they consume the living. They cannibalize active verbs, they suck the lifeblood from adjectives, and they substitute abstract entities for human beings. Here's an example. "The proliferation of nominalizations in a discursive formation may be an indication of a tendency towards pomposity and abstraction." Huh? This sentence contains no fewer than seven nominalizations, yet it fails to tell us who is doing what. When we eliminate, or reanimate, most of the zombie nouns, so "tendency" becomes "tend," "abstraction" becomes "abstract," then we add a human subject and some active verbs, the sentence springs back to life. "Writers who overload their sentences with nominalizations tend to sound pompous and abstract." Only one zombie noun -- the key word "nominalizations" -- has been allowed to remain standing. At their best, nominalizations help us express complex ideas, perception, intelligence, epistemology. At their worst, they impede clear communication. To get a feeling for how zombie nouns work, release a few of them into a lively sentence and watch them sap all its energy. George Orwell played this game in his essay "Politics in the English Language." He started with a well-known verse from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. It says "I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all." Now here's Orwell's modern English version. "Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account." The Bible passage speaks to our senses and emotions with concrete nouns, descriptions of people, and punchy, abstract nouns such as "race," "battle," "riches," "time," "chance." Not a zombie among them. Orwell's satirical translation, on the other hand, is teeming with nominalizations and other vague abstractions. The zombies have taken over, and the humans have fled the village. Zombie nouns do their worst damage when they gather in jargon-generating packs and swallow every noun, verb and adjective in sight. So "globe" becomes "global," becomes "globalize," becomes "globalization." The grandfather of all nominalizations, antidisestablishmentarianism, contains at least two verbs, three adjectives, and six other nouns inside its distended belly. A paragraph heavily populated by nominalizations will send your readers straight to sleep. Rescue them from the zombie apocalypse with vigorous verb-driven sentences that are concrete and clearly structured. You want your sentences to live, not to join the living dead.