Writing with Strong Verbs


Verbs are words we use to describe an action or a state. They represent the central part of every sentence. As the meaning of the sentence depends on them, it is essential that they are effective and clear.

Strong verbs are verbs that help readers imagine or know exactly what the writer is trying to describe. In other words, they convey a stronger degree of meaning than a weaker verb with the same or similar meaning.

Writing with Strong Verbs

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All Tenses

For example:

Charlotte asked me to write a report about what happened yesterday. => Charlotte requested that I write a report about what happened yesterday.

The first sentence is not wrong, but it does not tell us an important piece of information and that is that the narrator was obliged to write a report.
Strong verbs are also words which engage readers' senses. In other words, they make readers feel like they are a part of the story.

For example:

Pancakes are best when eaten with honey or syrup. => Pancakes are best when drizzled with honey or syrup.

Here, verb "drizzle" is a strong verb because it helps us imagine a thin stream of honey or syrup being poured over pancakes. This engages our senses and makes reading more enjoyable.


Which verbs can be weak verbs and how can you make them strong?

While you are free to use any ratio of weak and strong verbs you feel is right, there are certain verbs which are likely to weaken your sentences.
These are:

  • The state of being verbs
  • Verbs followed by adverbs
  • Vague verbs


The state of being verbs

First and foremost, the "state of being" verbs such as be, have, and do (in all of their forms) often need to be replaced by a strong verb. Needless to say, these words are absolutely necessary and will probably comprise a large portion of the total number of verbs used in an article.

Nevertheless, they are often simply put in a sentence because of a lack of creativity, and they compromise the quality of the sentence by not saying much. The state of being verbs rarely point out to a clear action.

Sometimes they are perfectly fine.

For example:

  • He is tall. (There is no other way to say it).
  • I have to do laundry today.

Other times, the sentence will be more effective if the state of being verb is replaced.

For example:

I am delighted to see your performance is better. => I am delighted that your performance improved.

I am sure you will do great. => I am sure you will excel.

The state of being verbs can also be simply redundant. They do not need to be replaced but only taken out of the sentence.

For example:

I will be referring Mark to the principal. => I will refer Mark to the principal.

Being alone in the forest is the thing that makes me scared. => Being alone in the forest makes me scared.


Verbs followed by adverbs

Secondly, verbs which rely on adverbs to convey a clear, descriptive meaning are not considered strong verbs. Most of the time, stronger alternatives exist which can replace the weak verb + adverb structure.

For example:

The day passed slowly. => The day dragged.

His daughter laughed quietly. => His daughter chuckled.

Jenny hurriedly wrote the instructions on a piece of paper. => Jenny scribbled the instructions on a piece of paper.

In all of these examples, the meaning of strong verbs can be described as the basic verb + adverb combination used in the incorrect sentences. For instance, chuckle literally means to laugh quietly, which is why such a structure can be replaced.


Vague verbs

Thirdly, some verbs can be considered to be vague. This means they do not give much information and readers may want to know how the action is done. Sometimes, their vague meaning is fine, but if overused, these vague verbs can confuse the reader about what is going on in the story.

For example:

As the rain was falling, Jacob said "I love you." => As the rain was falling, Jacob whispered "I love you." OR As the rain was falling, Jacob yelled "I love you!"

In this case, stating that Jacob said those words is fine. However, it makes a huge difference to use one strong verb to explain how he did it. Evidently, the picture the reader creates in their mind will greatly differ depending on whether Jacob whispered or yelled.

I think I did the task. => I think I completed the task. OR I think I aced the task.

Put in this context, the verb do makes it unclear what exactly happened with the task. If we replace it with complete, we will know the subject finished doing it. On the other hand, aced implies the subject completed it with great success.


How and when to use strong verbs?

Strong verbs are fantastic additions to your writing. However, they should not be overused. As mentioned before, simpler verbs such as do, have and be also have a place in your writing – maybe even more than strong verbs.

For example:

Everybody in the room arose, burst with joy, and expressed admiration about the arrival of the new pet.

OR

Everybody in the room stood up, feeling joy and admiration about the new pet.

Using too many strong verbs together in the same sentence could make your article readable only by advanced readers. To avoid such a situation, it is best to create a balance of basic (or weaker verbs) and more descriptive ones. The important thing is that these weaker verbs are not the only ones you feel comfortable using.

Instead of making your writing more descriptive and clearer only with adjectives and adverbs, you should improve your writing skills by using multiple strong verbs, too.

Be careful to always put them in a right context. Not every synonym of a basic verb makes perfect sense in every context.

For example:

  • Basic verb: look.
  • Synonyms: glance, gaze, stare, peep, watch.
  • Incorrect example: After receiving the bad news, Hannah glanced at the wall for several minutes.
  • Correct example: After receiving the bad news, Hannah stared at the wall for several minutes.

Although both glance and stare are synonyms of look, glance is not placed correctly in this context because it suggests Hannah looked at the wall only briefly.

We know this is not true because the sentence says she spent several minutes doing it. On the other hand, stare is a good synonym to use because it means Hannah fixedly looked at the wall for a certain period of time.

Last but not least, you can enrich your writing with strong verbs by trying the following rules:

  • use verbs that are more descriptive and will do a better job than a verb + adverb combination (e.g. walking slowly => strolling)
  • try not to make a strong verb weaker by using the passive voice (e.g. The movie was not remembered by Sally. => Sally did not remember the movie.)
  • have + noun normally make a sentence longer and weaker than one strong verb on its own

For example:

I have high expectations that you will do well. => I expect you to do well.

Tom has a terrible pain in his stomach. => Tom's stomach aches.

Remember, strong verbs are not a tool only fiction writers use. They should be embraced in other forms and styles of writing, showing how well-developed your writing skills truly are.


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