Verbs: The Muscle of Language

When it comes to business writing, nothing gives your ideas more power than a carefully chosen verb. A strong verb drives home a point, carries the weight of your ideas, and motivates your readers.

These four simple tips can help you choose verbs with real muscle. Whatever your reason for writing, whomever you are writing for, strong verbs increase the power of your ideas.

1. Don’t let your verbs be passive
A passive verb is like a passive person. They hang about doing nothing, waiting to receive action. Here’s an example: “The conference was attended by thousands of people.” The emphasis in this sentence is on the object of the action and the subject is relegated to the end. The next time you find yourself disengaged from a piece of writing, take a closer look. I bet you will find passive verbs.

There are some cases where the passive construction is the best alternative, such as when you need to emphasize the recipient of the action. But most of the time, an active verb works better. Here’s an example: “Thousands of people attended the conference.” Notice how much livelier this sentence feels. We like to follow people who get things done. Active verbs have a similar power.

2. Use precise verbs
Inspiring writing achieves results because it gives readers an experience. They take words in through their brain, but they feel them in their bodies. Precise verbs make this possible. Consider the difference between “fell” and “stumbled”.

You might think this idea is better suited to storytelling than technical information. It’s true that a precise verb activates the reader’s imagination, but precise verbs also support understanding.

For example, which of the following sentences has more impact and is clearer?
“The development team must consider the problem.”
“The development team must solve the problem.”

3. Unmask verbs disguised nouns
Certain phrases worm themselves into business language. We read them so often, we think they are the best choice. Unfortunately, many of these phrases are overweight and lazy. They slow understanding of our message. Instead of inspiring action, they lead to complacency.

Often, these phrases take a good strong verb and turn it into a multi-syllable noun. Look for words ending in “tion” or “ment”. Often they can be converted to verbs.

For example:
Verb in disguise: Make a recommendation
Verb unmasked: Recommend

4. Avoid the verb “to be”
If you use active and precise verbs, this problem is less likely to happen. But as a final check, look for all instances of the verb “to be”. Ask yourself if it can be replaced with something stronger.

For example:
To be verb: Grammar is interesting to me.
Stronger choice: Grammar interests me.

Use active and precise verbs, turn lazy noun phrases into powerful verbs, and avoid the “to be” construction. Your writing will have more power to incite action, support understanding, and promote what you have to offer to the world. Let me know how it goes.

© Debbie Bateman 2019. Image purchased from Adobe Stock.

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