Writing in English. Verbs and actions

    The content of these guidelines is taken from the Vives University Network’s Interuniversity Style Guide for Writing Institutional Texts, an interuniversity project in which the UPC participated with the support of the Secretariat for Universities and Research of the Government of Catalonia.


    Verbs and actions

    • After the subject, readers seek a verb that expresses the action. The sooner they find a strong verb (not a weak one like is or has), the more easily they will understand the sentence. Compare the verbs in bold in the two sentences below.

      *Full payment of all outstanding fees must be carried out before issuance of degree certificates to students.
      All outstanding fees must be paid before degree certificates can be issued.

      The only verb in the first sentence (carried out) is empty. It expresses no real action. On the other hand, the verbs in the second sentence (paid and issued) directly express the actions that are done. In the first sentence, the actions of paying and issuing are expressed in the form of the abstract nouns payment and issuance.

    • The technical term for expressing actions in the form of nouns and not as verbs is nominalisation. When you nominalise your texts, they will often sound abstract and dense because you use weak verbs instead of strong ones, you place abstractions in subject position and you need more articles and prepositions.

      Sometimes nominalisations are little more than minor inconveniences.

      *The Governing Council took the decision to reduce funding.
      The Governing Council decided to reduce funding.

    • However, they can also lead to unwieldy and cumbersome text, and make understanding more difficult.

      *Despite her knowledge of the department's need for more money, her veto of the decision to request a bigger budget aimed at giving encouragement to the department for an improvement in efficiency.
      Although she knew that the department needed more money, she decided not to request a bigger budget to encourage the department to be more efficient.

    • We recommend that you use verbs that express actions. Do not conceal them in nominalisations.