Do strong verbs power your writing?

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world for material to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post that could transform your writing by prompting you to use strong verbs…

When I was in grade school many decades ago, I recall my teachers making a big deal about adjectives.

They wanted us to lard our stories with them. We had to underline the nouns and then squeeze in “descriptive” words, before them. Now that I think about it, the exercise was as pointless as putting lipstick on a pig. Actually, it was worse than that. Because they were teaching us to pay attention to the wrong part of speech.

If you want to make your writing more interesting and more powerful, you need to focus on your verbs — those action words of every sentence.

Far too many of us refuse to venture beyond the verbs “to be” and “to have.” Here are some examples of weak verbs:

  • is
  • was
  • am
  • were
  • being
  • are
  • get
  • got
  • have
  • had

Such words may occasionally be necessary “glue” to hold sentences together, but they will never make sentences sing. A recent post on the Write Practice website goes into helpful detail about the power of strong verbs. And the site gives three tips for rooting them out:

  1. Seach for weak verbs. Refer to the bulleted list above and use your computer search key to find them. Then replace them with true action words. Verbs like: burst, chase, jam and operate.
  2. Remove adverbs, replacing the verb they modify with a stronger one. Here are some examples from the Write Practice post:
    • He ran quickly –> He sprinted
    • She said loudly –> She shouted
    • He ate hungrily –> He devoured his meal
    • They talked quietly –> They whispered
  3. Stop hedging. We hedge when we use qualifiers such as “probably,” “maybe,” “sometimes,” “often,” “nearly always,” “I think,” “It seems,” and so on. But by eliminating hedging, we’re forced to strengthen all our language, including verbs.

Buff your vocabulary and start using better verbs. The blog post provides an excellent 270-word list of strong verbs. Consult it. Use it.

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