Skip to main content

Beware of nominalizations (AKA zombie nouns) - Helen Sword


12,237 Questions Answered

TEDEd Animation

Let’s Begin…

Few mistakes sour good writing like nominalizations, or, as Helen Sword likes to call them, zombie nouns. Zombie nouns transform simple and straightforward prose into verbose and often confusing writing. Keep your nouns away from elongating nominalizations!

Additional Resources for you to Explore

This lesson was based on an op-ed Helen Sword wrote for the New York Times entitlted Zombie Nouns.
How would you de-zombify the following sentence? (Hint: Your rewritten version should include a clearly defined human subject – e.g. “writers” – and at least one active verb): “The anesthetization of readers through an abundance of nominalizations is often the consequence of laziness rather than intentionality.”
Can you rephrase the following sentence in zombie-speak?: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.” (Martin Luther King)
For an operationalized assessment of your own propensity for nominalization dependence (translation: to diagnose your own zombie habits), try pasting a few samples of your prose into the Writer’s Diet test. A score of “flabby” or “heart attack” in the noun category indicates that five percent or more of your words are nominalizations.
Helen Sword is also a columnist for the Opinionator at Here is an article she wrote about verbifications:
The Writer’s Diet
Little Red Schoolhouse Online

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Animator Bran Dougherty-Johnson
  • Sound Designer Hatfarm
  • Educator Helen Sword
  • Narrator Helen Sword

More from The Writer's Workshop