On Writing Well: Making Verbs Work

Everyone Needs Verbs

Have you ever read a sentence without a verb? No, right? It’s impossible! A few phrases and fragments may squeeze by without employing a verb or two, but any sentence worth it’s weight can’t manage without a couple of verbs.

Verbs are the building blocks of writing. Without them, no action would ever take place – we would neither eat, sleep, wake, or die without the help of these important words, nor would we ever celebrate, mourn,  share or betray. In short, we would not live. So verbs need attention. A lot more attention than we pay to them in our day-to-day writing. As the integral part of a sentence, verbs need thoughtful handling.

Here are my top tips on verbs, and how to make them stronger.

Using expressive verbs:

Here’s the thing with verbs. As writers we use the same set of verbs over and over in our writing. Yet, verbs can work really hard for us if we will let them. They can be expressive and explosive and powerful, if only we would think a tad harder.

For instance, look at this sentence:

He came into the room.

And then, look at these:

He sauntered into the room

He limped into the room

He crashed into the room

He ambled into the room

He skipped into the room.

All that has changed is the verb – yet the sentences communicate entirely different scenarios. Scenarios that you could labor over, with long-winded over-explanation, or quickly execute, employing terse, expressive, hard-working verbs. The choice is yours.

Using active verbs

Here’s the rule. It is simple. If there is no compelling reason against it, use active verbs. Active verbs are better. They work harder. Communicate faster. And make your sentences stronger. This is a fact.

When can I use passive verbs?

So when could you use passive verbs? Passive verbs diffuse tension, indirectly ask permission, and soothe ruffled feathers. So any time that you are moving towards these emotions, go ahead and use passive verbs if you wish.

4 thoughts on “On Writing Well: Making Verbs Work

  1. Excellent. I do not know how I missed this post. You have offered wonderful examples. KUDOS!

    Verbs are so important. I like to tell my students that I want to “see” their story as opposed to be dictated boring events. Verbs (active) will add the depth and imagery many readers desire.

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