When was the last time you thought about nouns? Probably, when you were in grammar school, right? Who even thinks about nouns in copywriting? Well, if you’re not selecting your nouns carefully, you’re holding back your good copy from becoming great copy.
What is a noun?
When I was a kid, I watched Saturday-morning cartoons. Crafty programmers sandwiched Schoolhouse Rock between Scooby-Doo and The Justice League. So, if you’re a child of the seventies and eighties, like me, you’ll remember this one:
A noun’s a special kind of word,
It’s any name you’ve ever heard,
I find it quite interesting,
A noun’s a person, place, or thing.” Schoolhouse Rock
I can still hear that song in my head after all these years. So, if you’re feeling nostalgic or if you’d like to watch the cartoon to learn more about nouns, click on the link above.
As the song says, nouns are a person, place, thing, or idea and are subjects, objects, or nominatives. Each noun you select, paired with a verb, creates images in your reader’s mind, telling a story. If you tell the right story to the right person, your copy will resonate. Copy that resonates leads to conversions. And, that’s the name of the copywriting game.
How to Choose Your Nouns for Great Copywriting
Copy needs revising, improving, and editing before you can call it good copy. Great copywriters know selecting the right noun will make their good copy, great copy. Great copy resonates with the reader. It makes them feel. It makes them identify with the copy. And, most of all it makes them convert.
Veteran copywriters know these tricks, but they learned them from years of trial and error. So, many of them will tell you to pick the right noun for your copy, but they won’t tell you how. They keep these tips close-guarded. They won’t give you these secrets, but I will.
Selecting the right nouns will make your good copy, great copy. Read on to learn more about the kinds of nouns.
Kinds of Nouns
1. Noun Phrases — nouns and prepositions make up noun phrases. Prepositions modify nouns. When you modify a word you make it weaker. If you have to modify a noun with a preposition, then you’ve picked the wrong noun.
Writing with noun phrases puts the most important noun at the end of the phrase, wasting words. Since the most important word is at the end of the phrase, you’re making your reader work harder to understand what you’re trying to say. Prepositions just confuse the reader and waste words. If you want the best nouns in your copywriting, avoid prepositions.
Bad Copy: The last classroom at the end of the hallway is full of thirteen-year-old students.
Great Copy: The last classroom is full of thirteen-year-olds.
What’s important in this sentence? The classroom is full of thirteen-year-olds. Because I’ve used the word “classroom”, the word “student” is unnecessary. The bad copy sentence wastes words and confuses the reader.
Prepositional phrases also create vague noun phrases by stringing a bunch of prepositional phrases together. If you have to use that many phrases to modify one noun, then it’s the wrong noun.
The bad copy sentence has “at the end of the hallway” attached to the word “classroom”. I’ve shortened that sentence by removing those phrases. If I need to include where the classroom is, I can just put that in another more descriptive sentence.
2. Possessive Nouns — Noun phrases also show ownership. But, possessive nouns also show ownership and use fewer words. To engage the reader with great copy, write possessive nouns instead of noun phrases that show ownership.
Bad Copy; The dog of the boy is barking.
Great Copy: The boy’s dog is barking.
It’s always better to add the most important idea first, so you don’t confuse the reader. Using a prepositional phrase to show ownership is wordy and is not the best way to grab your reader’s attention. You can read more about prepositional phrases in this blog post.
3. Flowery Nouns — In the world of nouns, there are two kinds, concrete and abstract.
Abstract noun — an idea, feeling, or anything that you can’t touch.
Concrete noun — a person, place, or thing, something you can touch.
Concrete nouns anchored ideas in the world. They draw solid pictures for your reader. People understand them because they appeal to the senses. Using concrete nouns in your copywriting engages a larger because they speak a language that more people understand.
Concrete and abstract nouns can be flowery. They are jargon, what I call $20 words instead of $5 words, industry-speak, or outdated words. Flowery nouns don’t reach the largest audience.
Bad Copy: I have discovered the secret to good life. It is to awake with a melodious song in your heart, to sing this beautifully-tuned ballad throughout the day, and to cherish a charming chant with each step.
Great Copy: Live life with a song in your heart.
Writing the bad copy sentence bored me and took oodles of time to write. So if you get bored writing it, then it’s a boring sentence If it took too long to write, then you’re trying too hard.
One thing going for the bad copy sentence, is that it’s a great example of flowery language missing the mark in explaining abstract ideas. The great copy sentence conveys the same message but is a concrete example of an abstract idea.
4. Nominalization —Nominalization is the act of using suffixes to change verbs and adjectives to nouns.
The right noun is good, but a great action verb is better. Action compels the reader to do something and engage with your copy.
Bad copy: We worked on the completion of the project.
Great copy: We completed the project.
By using the suffix “-tion” on “complete” I weakened the word in the bad copy sentence. The great copy sentence says the same as the bad one, but it is more compelling and clear.
Suffixes that Nominalize Verbs
- Profession or Agency Nouns — adding -er,-or,-r to a verb turns it into a noun.
teach + er = teacher.
- Recipient Nouns — adding -ee to a verb creates a recipient noun. Recipient nouns receive an action
employ + ee = employee. Employees (noun) are employed (action).
- General Action Nouns — several suffixes change a verb into a general noun. By adding the suffixes below to a verb, you create a weak-copy noun.
- -tion — act + ion = action
- -sion — tense + sion = tension
- -ance — tolerate + ance = tolerance
- -ment — establish + ment = establishment
- -ence — depend + ence = dependence
Yes, nominalization works on adjectives, too. So, if a word works well as an adjective, why use it as a noun?
Bad Copy: Right now, no one feels a sense of safety.
Great Copy: Right now, no one feels safe.
The bad copy sentence turns the adjective “safe” into the nominal object of a preposition “safety”. Instead of using a preposition phrase, the great copy sentence uses the strong, more concrete, ‘safe”.
Nominal Adjectives Suffixes
- -ness as in great becomes greatness
- -ty as in difficult becomes difficulty
- -ity as in responsible becomes responsibility
- -ance as in luxury becomes luxuriance
- -ence as in independent becomes independence
5. Appositives — a noun that identifies or describes a noun. It’s a noun in an adjective’s clothing.
Bad Copy: My brother, Fred, hates fishing.
Great Copy: Fred hates fishing.
In this bad copy sentence , “Fred’ is the appositive. The great copy sentence is more concise, and I can explain who Fred is in another sentence, without using an appositive.
Those are the kinds of nouns that are holding you back. If you know what you’re looking for, the next time your revising and editing, you’ll be able to spot the nouns that weaken your copy. Now, it’s your turn, let me know what you thing about using effective nouns in your copy.