A Little Grammar Lesson: Make the Noun an Adjective

Today I taught my classes something I never learned in school. And it’s something I’m now applying to every sentence I write. It’s a great trick!

It’s called the adjectival noun–or when you turn a noun (person, place, thing) into an adjective (describing word) in order to condense a sentence and make it more precise. For example, in a cover letter, a student might write this:

I designed better practices for teaching in the classroom and upheld the objectives of the course. 

We have some nouns in this sentence that should function as adjectives to describe the main noun of the sentence. I’ll highlight all the nouns for you:

I designed better practices for teaching in the classroom and upheld the objectives of the course

The nouns hidden in prepositional phrases (for, in, of) might move ahead of the main noun and become a type of descriptor or adjective. Like this:

I designed better classroom teaching practices and upheld the course objectives.

In technical writing especially, eliminating long sentences with prepositional phrases (hiding nouns that could be adjectival nouns) matters for clarity!

I invite students to rework this sentence below to find the possible adjectival nouns. Could you do it?

I compiled the data from the research study of sleep to join with Dr. Vernon’s data at the hospital.

Students revise to this:

I compiled sleep study data to aid the hospital’s research.

If you have a clunky sentence with too many nouns, perhaps you’re hiding adjectives.

 

 

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