Summary nouns

A summary noun summarises an idea which has been expressed earlier in a paragraph; either within the same sentence or in a previous sentence. Here are some examples from the UNDP text, “Privatising Basic Utilities in Sub-Saharan Africa: The MDG Impact”. The summary nouns are highlighted in yellow, and the text they refer back to are highlighted in blue. The notes below each quotation give more explanation.

Notice that these summary nouns are often preceded by:

  • this + SINGULAR NOUN

  • these + PLURAL NOUN

  • such a + SINGULAR COUNTABLE NOUN

  • such + UNCOUNTABLE NOUN or PLURAL COUNTABLE NOUN.


However, in the 1980s the debt crisis and the ensuing contraction of budgets prompted a re-appraisal of public sector provision (highlighted in blue 'a re-appraisal of public sector provision'.) Donors began lobbying for the restructuring of public services (highlighted in blue 'restructuring of public services'); by the 1990s, they were demanding full-scale privatisation. However, implementation of such reforms (highlighted in orange 'such reforms') has been slow.

The “reforms” referred to here are changes in the approach governments took to providing public services, from a review, to proposals for re-structuring, to a demand for privatisation. This is a brief summary of changes in attitudes, from public ownership and management to a call for privatisation.

Figure 1 depicts global comparisons on payments, which apply to Africa as well. Higher payments by the poor do not imply that they are indeed willing to pay more (Highlighted in blue ' Higher payments by the poor do not imply that they are indeed willing to pay more'). Policymakers and donors often jump to this conclusion (Highlighted in orange 'this conclusion') in order to justify higher tariffs.

Here “jumping to a conclusion” means judging a situation or coming to a decision without having examined the evidence sufficiently. Here the authors suggest that policymakers and donors often incorrectly assume that, because higher tariffs for water are paid by the poor, the poor can afford them. In a different part of the text they explain that some poor people are forced to use unsafe and unhygienic (but free) water sources, because they cannot afford the high tariffs, leading to the spread of disease.

A principal challenge for achieving financial sustainability of water and electricity utilities in sub-Saharan Africa is non-payment for services. Some consumers fail to pay simply because they cannot afford to do so (Highlighted in blue 'Some consumers fail to pay simply because they cannot afford to do so.'). Others do not pay for reasons unrelated to income. In practice, distinguishing between these two groups (Highlighted in orange 'these two groups') is difficult.

The “two groups” are:

  • consumers who do not pay, because they cannot afford to

  • consumers who do not pay for other reasons (presumably they do not want to pay).

What can be done to enforce payment? Disconnecting services (Highlighted in blue 'disconnecting services') is often used by private providers. Some public providers also resort to such harsh methods (Highlighted in orange 'such harsh methods'). Some consumers begin immediately to pay after being disconnected but many poor households (Highlighted in blue 'poor households') cannot do so. In some countries, such as Namibia, the debts that such families  (Highlighted in orange 'such families') owe to local utility providers continue to accumulate based on accrual of interest, resulting in some cases in eviction from their homes.

Here we have two examples.

In the first example the authors show their disapproval of disconnecting consumers from services by referring to them as “harsh methods”. In the second example the term “families” is used for stylistic reasons, to avoid repeating the word “households”.

Thus, many governments have had to re-align their expectations. They now focus on creating the right conditions for private investors, having put full-scale privatisation on the back-burner. (Highlighted in blue'Thus, many governments have had to re-align their expectations. They now focus on creating the right conditions for private investors, having put full-scale privatisation on the back-burner. '). This approach (Highlighted in orange ''This approach) also involves resorting to short-term management contracts with private firms as an interim measure.

In this extract “this approach” refers to the change in approach to water privatisation taken by many governments, scaling back from full-scale privatisation to more modest involvement by the private sector.

In the next Step, you will practise choosing suitable summary nouns to express different ideas, depending on the context.

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This article is from the free online course:

An Intermediate Guide to Writing in English for University Study

University of Reading