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What is a nominalization?

A nominalization is noun that describes an ongoing process, such as “learning”. The word ‘learning’ is a noun that describes a collection of activities, such as reading, studying, practicing, etc.

Nominalizations can be useful. It would be cumbersome to always have to say “reading, studying, practicing, etc.” instead of just “learning”. However, it is important to keep in mind that even though a nominalization is a noun, it doesn’t actually represent something that exists concretely. In general, if a noun cannot be experienced through the senses — i.e. if it can’t be seen, heard, touched, smelt, or tasted, then it is a nominalization.

How are nominalizations used?

As in the above example, nominalizations are often used when discussing a complex collection of actions. Some common examples of nominalizations are beliefs and values such as respect, honor, and pride. These values mean different things to each of us, and we implement them differently in our lives. It is important to be able to refer to them as nominalizations without having to go into details about how we carry our each one. You can find such terms used by leaders in order to communicate and appeal to a large number of people without having to discuss the details of what they are talking about.

Another good example of nominalizations are medical conditions and diseases — which can lead to people feeling helpless and lack choices.

Problems with nominalizations

Because nominalizations leave out so much information they can hide the biggest differences in how people understand the world. For example, we can all agree that respect is an important value, but we may not agree on how to show respect. In some cultures it is a customary sign of respect to look people in the eye when talking to them and in other cultures it is considered disrespectful to look someone in the eye.

Finding the hidden information

Nominalizations hide one or more nouns and are generally accompanied by an unspecified verb. To better understand what is taking place with a nominalization, replace the nominalization with an action and ask for clarifying information.

For example, we can all agree that education is important, but who is educating who? And what knowledge is being taught?

In general, to clarify a nominalization ask: “Who is nominalizing about what and how are they doing it?”

Nominalization summary

A nominalization is a noun that describes an ongoing process. It makes it easier to talk about complex processes but can hide a lot of information.

To clarify a nominalization ask: “Who is nominalizing about what and how are they doing it?”

For an excellent introduction to NLP and the NLP Meta Model I recommend the book Introducing NLP: Psychological Skills for Understanding and Influencing People

Related Pages

Unspecified Nouns
Unspecified Verbs
Modal Operators of Possibility
Modal Operators of Necessity
Universal Quantifiers
Complex Equivalence
Cause and Effect
Mind Reading