Writing tip: Use strong verbs—not just 'is' and 'was'

Writing tip: Use strong verbs, not just 'is' and 'was'

In English, verbs are the go-go-go words, the wake-up words. There's no action without a strong verb, an action verb, a doing verb.

Strong verbs make things happen. By contrast, the various forms of the verb to be produce no action: they merely suggest a state of existence, or a condition. Being verbs are static.

Whatever you are writing, check the verbs.

Do you see a hefty proportion of is, was, are and were? If so, replace as many as possible with action verbs. You'll be surprised at how a few simple changes liven up the text.

Strong verbs bring action because they:

  • are easy to understand
  • enforce clarity
  • bring a sense of reality
  • can usually be visualized.

Obviously the following are action verbs:
to jump, run, collapse, explode, fry, fly, flee, flop, float and parapent.

But action verbs don't have to be Outward Bounders. The following are also action verbs:
to inquire, reply, cooperate, say, confuse, rewrite, configure and decide.

Before editing:
The Council's decision was in favour of industrial zoning for the Addington area.

After editing:
The Council zoned the Addington area industrial.

Almost inevitably, verb-editing makes the text more concise. And that's got to be good!

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine


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