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Tuesday Thought: Weak nouns

March 20, 2012

Last week I wrote about sentinel nouns, which push a working noun into a prepositional phrase. Many of those sentinel nouns also turn up as weak nouns, following a noun adjective that should displace them.

Consider this, from the Wall Street Journal:

Corporations have pared back their debt burden, but consumers owe more than ever.

Why not delete burden? Perhaps because it’s not the absolute amount of debt but the ratio of debt to cash flow. But even if that’€™s the case, readers would not be led astray by simply writing debt.

I confess that I spent a couple of hours hunting for weak nouns in this week’s The Economist and found none. But they do turn up frequently in the writing of our clients at large organizations.

Poverty levels increased Poverty increased

Price levels rose Prices rose

For corporate responsibility purposes For corporate responsibility

Part of a bank workout strategy Part of a bank workout

Light manufacturing activities Light manufacturing

Singapore’€™s growth performance Singapore’s growth

In the telecommunications sector In telecommunications

Policies to curb inflationary pressures Policies to curb inflation

Foreign exchange carry-trade markets Foreign exchange carry trade

Easier money supplies Easier money

More flexible exchange rate regimes More flexible exchange rates

As with others of these edits, we’€re compiling a list of weak nouns, identifying when to cut them and when to leave them. Please send us any you might find.

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