How to treat nounitis

What is nounitis?

It’s serious, because it’s losing healthy verbs (doing words) to abstract nouns (things).

In business writing, active, standalone verbs can get replaced by noun forms, which often come attached to a dull, inert (smothered, inactive) verb. Together they form collocations (multiple words that sit together) that take longer to read, and are vaguer.

  • Teach or train can deteriorate to deliver learning solutions and similar.
  • Review or analyse get infected by conduct a review or carry out an analysis.
  • Choose or decide become make a decision.
  • Talk about or discuss change to have a discussion.
  • Do well or succeed switch to deliver or achieve success.
  • Think about or consider transform into take into consideration, and so on.

It’s more natural and vivid to use the active verb form of the important word. Verbs liven up a sentence. Let them do the telling, or risk sounding dull, corporate or long-winded.

Who gets nounitis?

Everyone, all the time. Even professional writers fall victim, so sufferers shouldn’t feel embarrassed or stigmatised.

How to tell if you’ve got it

Count the nouns and verbs in your writing. If there are more nouns, it means that piece of writing has nounitis.

The Writer’s Diet has an online testing kit that will diagnose how bad you have it. Copy and paste some text to get a ‘bloated score’ based on how ‘nouny’ your text is.

the writer's diet

How to treat it

1. Identify the nouns in your sentence. Some common mutated forms to look out for end in -ment, -ism, -ure-ness, -ity, -ence or -ance and -tion or -sion. 

2. Ask yourself if you can write it using only one verb. For example:

She put a stop to deliberating and submitted an application

3. Rewrite the sentence:

She stopped deliberating and applied

The condition requires ongoing monitoring. Look out for it when you edit and proofread your work to keep your message fresh, lively and more readable.

My business writing courses include activities to improve readability and tone—do take a look!

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