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Little Writing Trick #2 – when nouns can save your arse

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Here’s a little writing trick about how nouns can help you out of touchy situations – how non-blame nouns can help you make a “blameless apology” and sound “diplomatic”.

TB words

Generally the active voice is better because it:

  • clearly identifies the “actor”
  • is more concise, and
  • sounds more vigorous.

However, sometimes you want to “vague it up”. You don’t want to point the finger of blame at anyone.

Let’s just say your client made a mistake because the client misunderstood instructions. It was the client’s fault – but you don’t want to say that.

If you wrote:

We are sorry you misunderstood the instructions.

that is in active voice:  “YOU” misunderstood the instructions – Subject Verb Object.

This active construction makes it clear that the client (YOU) is the one to blame – the one who misunderstood the instructions.

adler typewriter

That’s where NOUNS come in very handy!

Here’s how you harness the no-blame noun!

Find the verb – turn it into a no-blame noun.

verb = misunderstood – change to the noun: misunderstanding

We are sorry for the misunderstanding.


We are sorry there was a misunderstanding.

Can you see how there is no actor – just a vague, diplomatic NOUN.

As a young man working as a political speech writer I learned from more experienced colleagues how to tweak voice and turn verbs into nouns to sound more diplomatic.  If you are interested – I can share plenty of little writing tricks with you!

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Here’s another example:

Instead of writing:

We are sorry YOU got confused


We are sorry we confused you.

1. find the verb – confused

2. turn it into a no-blame noun – confusion

We are sorry for the confusion.

You see – there is this general confusion – but you are not saying who is to blame for “doing” the confusing or getting confused.

Anyway, I better sign off – Bob Dylan lyrics  about confusion are now stuck in my head.

There’s too much confusion. Can’t get no relief.

(Recognise the song?  Several other artists covered this classic)

Oh dear – I have digressed and I have taken you of track. My fault!

I apologise –  I digressed.

OR should I use vague non-blame nouns?

Apologies for the digression!

And if you think the writers in your organisation can benefit from more little writing tricks – please contact me and we can  discuss:



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One comment on “Little Writing Trick #2 – when nouns can save your arse

  1. Pingback: Little Writing Trick #3 – use visual language | efangelist

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