Concrete Nouns 

Use concrete nouns in legal writing to enhance clarity, precision, and engagement. Replace abstract terms with specific, sensory-based nouns for more straightforward prose.
  • Joe Regalia
Legal writing, by its very nature, deals with complex concepts and intricate regulations. It's an area where abstract ideas and theoretical notions often take center stage. But while abstract nouns—words that represent ideas, conditions, or things that can't be seen, touched, or counted—are a necessary part of legal language, overreliance on them can lead to unnecessarily complicated prose that obscures meaning and confuses readers. This chapter will explain why legal writers should favor concrete nouns—words that represent things perceivable through the senses—over abstract ones, and how this choice influences the use of verbs in legal writing.

The Problem with Abstract Nouns

Abstract nouns, such as "justice," "freedom," "authority," or "equality," are powerful words that capture broad concepts. However, they also carry a degree of vagueness because they lack specific, tangible referents. This can make legal writing feel detached and theoretical, causing the reader to lose interest or struggle to grasp the writer's point.
Furthermore, abstract nouns often lead to abstract verbs, creating sentences that lack clarity and force. 
Consider the phrase, "a rise in the unemployment rate." The subject of this sentence, "a rise," is an abstract noun. It's paired with the verb "is," creating an expression that, while technically accurate, feels indirect and abstract.
Contrast the above example with the phrase, "more people cannot find work." Here, "people" is a concrete noun, and "cannot find work" is a specific, active verb phrase. This sentence directly presents the problem: people are struggling to find employment. It's immediate, clear, and paints a vivid picture that the reader can easily understand.

Using Concrete Nouns in Legal Writing has Several Advantages

Concrete nouns refer to specific things that can be perceived through the senses. They help ground abstract ideas in reality, making them easier for the reader to understand.


Concrete nouns are typically more precise than their abstract counterparts, allowing the writer to convey their meaning more accurately.


Concrete nouns help create a more vivid picture in the reader's mind, making the writing more engaging and easier to remember.


Sentences built around concrete nouns often use simpler, more direct verbs, resulting in clearer and more straightforward prose.

Make the Most of Concrete Nouns in Legal Writing

Consider the following strategies:

Replace Abstract Nouns with Concrete ones: Wherever possible, replace abstract nouns with concrete equivalents. Instead of writing about a "violation of rights," you might write about a "person whose speech was silenced," for instance.

Be Specific:
Concrete nouns are most effective when they are specific. Rather than write about "assets," specify "houses," "cars," "stocks," or "cash."

In the End

Workers is better than workforce
Pay is better than compensation
Sales is better than revenue
Rich people is better than high net worth individuals
Spies is better than intelligence community 
Scholars or teachers are usually better than academic community
Joe Regalia co-founder Joe Regalia combines his experience as both practitioner and professor to create exciting new ways to teach legal skills.  Learn more about Joe

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