If you’ve heard of Superman, you’ve heard Kryptonite, that luminescent, green, space-stuff which brings our hero to his knees. But what does Superman’s one weakness have to do with writing? We freelance writers have our own version of the dreaded ore: weak verbs.
If you work as an ebook ghostwriter and use the phrase: “To be or not to be,” some smart aleck – I mean smart-thinking – editor might smack you down for being weak. If you want to be a superhero for your client, you must learn to shake free of those weak verb bonds.
What Makes a Verb Weak?
The technical definition of a weak verb is not that helpful. The gurus at Columbia University call them “pithy verbs.” I like that. They are comfortable, familiar; they are the verbs you use when your mom is around.
To Be a Weak Verb?
Forms of “to be” and “to have” are two classic examples. Verbs should poke a motionless noun into action, not just sit there like lumps of letters.
- I have the tendency to write long, drawn out sentences that go nowhere fast.
If you break that sentence down, you see “have the” doesn’t do much of anything. With my superpower, I can eliminate that weak verb and improve the sentence.
- I tend to write long, drawn out sentences that go nowhere fast.
I still write long, drawn out sentences … I just do it better.
What if It is Just There to Help?
There is a difference between a verb taking up space and one there to help.
- I was hoping to be an ebook ghostwriter.
In this case, “was” is just helping out. A weak verb combined with a partner forms a strong bond. If you take out the weak verb and the sentence makes no sense, put it back quickly before anyone sees you.
Dull is the New Weak
Modern writers take the technical definition of a weak verb and expand on it to include the dull and lifeless.
- I eat ice cream by the truck load.
If you can see past the hyperbole in that sentence, you will notice a very dull verb. True enthusiasts don’t eat ice cream; they devour it. When it comes to dull writing, the author, not the verb, is weak.
How to Spot the Villains
Look for the obvious culprits first.
- There is
- To be
- To have
Next, do a search for “ly” words. The spidery sense in you may back up a weak verb with an adverb hoping no one will notice.
Last, read each sentence and make sure all the verbs contribute. If you find a lazy one, make it go away.
If Only Superman Had a Can of Spinach
If you ask me, Superman had it all wrong. The true superhero is Popeye because at least he had a resource. If you get stuck on a weak, dull verb, pull out your can of spinach – we call it a thesaurus – and find one that pops instead.
Darla F is a fiction writer that spends most of her time writing engaging in grammatically correct content. Once she hits it big, she plans to buy an island and live like J.D. Salinger.