Choose Your Language: Verbs with Verve

Posted on June 17, 2011 by Carol F

Quality content is more than clearly written, it’s compelling as well. It has a distinctive voice that clearly sounds like a unique writer. With that in mind, work on your verb choices to create compelling, unique content. Verbs work like mules, pulling your prose and your readers forward — if you choose them well. Much more important than adjectives and adverbs, verbs are often referred to as the “engine of the lanugage” by creative writing teachers.

The first verb you think of is often not the best verb. For example, any form of “to be” (is, are, was, were, being), “become,” “put” and “get” are all limp noodles. This is not to say that you can never use them, but writers who press themselves toward better writing purge these verbs whenever possible. They use them while drafting and keep right on writing, but return to them later for retrofitting. Some of them will remain. It is, after all, a bit much to replace every instance of “to be.” But many will go the way of yesterday’s newspaper.

Whether you write poetry, a blog, quality content articles or news articles, strong verbs will always improve your writing. For example, look at the difference between these two sentences:

He walked through the snow toward his grandmother’s house.

He trudged through the snow toward his grandmother’s house.

The second sentence, with its verb “trudge” clouds with an ominous meaning that the first one just doesn’t capture. When you abandon “walk” for “trudge,” you add all the implied meaning of hard labor, determination and dread. If you were to use “skip” instead of “trudge,” you would add a different set of implications. “Walk,” a first-thought verb, does none of that work.

Four ways to create better quality content and brighten your writing with strong verbs include awareness, using your word-processor, eliminating adverbs and turning nouns into verbs. Awareness is a matter of continued effort. The more you try, the more you will catch those lightweight first-thought verbs. You will also begin to notice verbs in other people’s writing, which is itself a way of heightening your awareness.

As your awareness develops, compile a list of the weak verbs that you use most often. For example, “get,” “got” and “become.” After you finish a draft, use the find function on your word processor to locate, eradicate and replace them. Use a thesaurus when you’re stumped.

If you notice that you use a lot of adverbs, you probably aren’t giving enough thought to your verbs. Find one strong verb to replace both the adverb and the verb. The example sentence above might have read, “He walked slowly and heavily through the snow, toward his grandmother’s house.” But “trudge” does the work of both the original adverbs and verb. “Trudge” transcends the mundane and results in higher quality content.

More challenging, but sometimes particularly fruitful, is reading your prose for words that act as both nouns and verbs. For example, “scissor.” You might write, “That morning, he used a scissor to cut his beard, watching whiskers fall into the sink.” Get rid of the weak “use” and change the noun, scissor, to the more interesting verb: “That morning, he scissored through his whiskers, watching them fall into the sink.” Notice the second version is also less wordy and more concise. Sometimes this technique will lead you to completely revise a sentence or passage.

After you apply these techniques, your writing will improve. You will create higher quality content, tighter, more resonate prose, and break into a more distinctive, engaging voice.

Carol F. is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments. WriterAccess is powered by ideaLaunch.


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