5 Ways Stronger Verbs Can Improve Your Writing

Everyone talks about the importance of “strong verbs”, and Stephen King is infamously quoted as recommending getting rid of your adverbs. So, let’s do a quick grammar refresher and see exactly how to do this for your writing.

Grammar Refresher

A verb is the action of your sentence, or a state of being. “Stand”, “is”, rid”, and “show” are all verbs.

An adverb is a word that describes the verb. See add + verb = adverb. These are often easily spotted, because many of them end in the letters -LY. “Easily, “mealy”, even the word “strong” can be adverbs — if you’re talking about a “strong shove.”

Let’s talk about the five ways using stronger verbs makes for better writing.

1. Rids your sentence of mealy words

If she could just get her head wrapped around it, it would be easy.

versus, just jumping to that verb “wrapped”

If she could wrap her head around it, it would be easy.

2. Decrease your reliance on adverbs

She went quickly through the woods.

versus switching to a stronger verb and erasing the adverb “quickly”

She raced through the woods.

3. Shows the action with precision

She went quickly through the woods.

You might think she’s speed walking, checking behind her often. Versus

She raced through the woods.

Where it’s clear she’s running, and probably not being cautious.

4. Shorter sentences pack more punch

The longer a sentence is, the longer it takes a reader to get through it. That sort of pacing often conveys to the pacing of the scene. When you read books, many have shorter sentences where you find heavy action. Then, longer descriptive sentences when the character has a moment to look around.

Versus

Longer sentences take longer to read. That conveys to the scene’s pacing. Heavy action often has shorter sentences. Longer descriptive sentences occur when the character can look around.

5. Make sure you’re not in passive voice

The cake was eaten by the man.

In this, the active participant, the man, is the object of the sentence, with the recipient, the cake, as the subject. If we switch it around, we get a shorter sentence that prioritizes the actor in the sentence, and avoids a “to be” verb (was).

The man ate the cake.

Verbs to Avoid

Some verbs are weak by nature–a combination of over-use and imprecision. Here are some to minimize your usage of:

  • all forms of ‘to be’: am, is, was, were, be, being, been
  • have/has/had
  • feels
  • come/came
  • do/does/did
  • put
  • get/got
  • go/went
  • take/took
  • think/thought
  • know/knew
  • see/saw
  • show/showed
  • leave/left

Do you have any favorite sentences you’ve reworked? I’d love to see them here!

p.s. This post was for Patrick, who loves strong verbs and never met a noun he didn’t hate — in someone else’s draft.

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