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Monday, April 20, 2015

Week 16 Unstack Those Noun Stacks

Week 16
By Tamara Passey

Let's talk about stacks.
They work for pancakes, but not so much for nouns.
"A noun stack is a phrase made up of a series of nouns. When nouns are strung together, the effect is like stacking one on top of another; thus the name." 1

Now wait, not all noun stacks are bad. If it is a short stack like the phrase inflation index or   construction industry or literature review, it can be useful. But if you get carried away, thinking more is better, and stack your nouns too high, then watch out. You may overwhelm your reader (think carbohydrate-overload in pancake terms.)

Here's an example:
"The deadline for your manuscript corrections submission is September 1" Can you see or feel the awkwardness of that noun stack? It can be unstacked to read, "Please submit your corrected manuscript by September 1." Did you catch how Wilbers did that? Try replacing some of your nouns with verb forms and adjectives.

Another example:
"We used crop rotation to avoid soil degradation."
"We rotated our crops to avoid degrading our soil."

Now you give it a try:
Unstack the following noun stacks. . . substituting verbs for nouns where appropriate and adding prepositions, adjectives, and pronouns as needed.
a. We conducted a sentence structure review.
b. She published articles explaining how to do home inspections (or how to inspect homes.)
c. My five-month-old granddaughter Matilda loves doing leg and arm exercises. 2

If after trying these, go and have some reverse fun. Try writing an email, or scene with as many nouns stacked as possible. Don't go getting yourself in trouble, but play around to get the feel of how many nouns are too many.

And while you're doing that, I may need to cook some breakfast. I'll try to think of a noun for every pancake I eat!

1. p. 85 Mastering the Craft
2. p, 87 Mastering the Craft


  1. Well, here's my go at it without reading the chapter yet:

    a. We reviewed the sentence structure.
    b. She published articles on inspecting homes.
    c. My five-month-old granddaughter loves exercising her arms and legs.

    Wow. This is kind of a tricky concept. I will definitely have to pay more attention to see if I can find it in my own writing. Do you think it happens as much in fictional writing as it does in technical writing?

    1. I'm pretty sure it's a technical writing risk. Was that three nouns in a row? I probably have noun stacks all over the place!