Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Not so Humble Verb

The verb is a powerful tool when a writer knows how to wield it. It is the action word of the sentence. It strives, it yearns, it strikes, it sings. Verbs bring our sentences alive.

So why settle for a bland verb? Why not use the magical verbs, the verbs that conjure strong images in the readers mind and bring a little excitement into our sentences?

She ran. (How did she run?) She shot, galloped, jogged, raced.
He walked. (How did he walk?) He ambled, strolled, hiked, meandered.
See how the above examples create a sharper image of the character’s action?

Other things to consider:
Are too many of your verbs passive? I was being taught to play piano.
Do you use too many ‘is’, ‘was’, ‘were’? ‘The coffee cup was on the bench’ – as opposed to, ‘The coffee cup sat on the bench’.

There are so many more examples. I know some people collect verbs as a thesaurus collects synonyms. Do you collect verbs? Do you have some favourite verbs you like to use?


  1. Not really but that's an idea. I like strolled, sauntered, and stuff like that.

  2. I never realize that I've developed a liking for a particular word until I revise a ms and find it over and over again. I think I like "sprinted" and "shrugged." I definitely use shrugged way too much.

  3. lol yep, when we write our first drafts it's common to favour words. It's ok though because it keeps us writing and we can always edit them out later on :)

  4. I love unusual verbs Lynda. I like 'he burned to kiss her' rather than 'he longed to kiss her' etc. You're right, great use of verbs makes writing sing. I always look for a better verb. Great post.
    Thanks for dropping by and following another of my blogs (well, I've seen you on another so far.)

  5. Hmmm.Can't think of any particular verb that I like but I love to learn new ones all the time. Have a great day sister and God bless.

  6. I totally agree with you! Dead verbs are so boring... I feel great writing is mostly nouns and verbs. Every word should count! And the passive always irritates me. It's just so lifeless and wordy! Cool blog. I'm always happy to find someone who respects and loves words like I do. I bet you would agree that writing is fun!

  7. I love strong verbs - they create such powerful images in my brain!

  8. It's so weird how you read my mind. I was just thinking about this today and the other day I was thinking about our reps and you posted your blog before this one. do-do do-do

    I am Thesaurus Girl.. I even have my very own cape and I wear it proudly. :) I LOVE WORDS! I adore coming up with a better way of expressing what I have to say. I have burned up the Word thesaurus and now I have perpetually opened on my computer here.

    I guess my question would be... if I am writing YA, or MG do I want to whip out the thesaurus or keep it simple? Any thoughts?

    Great post!!

  9. I enjoy using verbs with punch. My only caution is not to use an unusual verb too often.

    Synonym Finder is a great resource for finding just the right action word.

  10. Love this post ~ Natalie Goldberg suggests writing 10 - 20 random nouns on one page & then a matching number of verbs related to an occupation (i.e., chef) on another and then mixing the nouns with the verbs for practice.

  11. Words are very valuable. WE want to use them wisely. Great post.


  12. L'Aussie, 'burned' rather than 'longed' is another great example. It's just pushing the words that little bit further without clogging up prose with lots of wordy description.

    Rcubes, same. New words/verbs open up our world of writing. Blessings.

    Loveable, that's exactly right: every word should count. Welcome to my blog. I'm glad you like :) And yes writing is fun!

  13. Jemi, yep, and strong verbs create those pictures with ease and style.

    Bonnie, good point. When we overuse the same verbs, particularly unusual ones, they tend to stand out too much and lose their power.

    Dawn, that's a great exercise. It would help the mind think differently and open up new possibilities.

    Clarissa, what value would you put on words? A penny for your thoughts? ;) *chuckle* -- apologies, I couldn't help it ;)

  14. Michelle, great question! You asked: "if I am writing YA, or MG do I want to whip out the thesaurus or keep it simple?"

    my answer: We can still 'keep it simple' by using the 'right' words. More often than not the right word is the simplest. In the case of verbs, their very power is in their simplicity.

    In terms of 'dumbing' your writing down for those markets, I don't think you need to unless you're in the habit of using multisyllabic words. (It's the syllables that weigh a word down and slows the reader.) But even then, I wouldn't recommend dumbing anything down. Those readers are smart cookies and they will respond to 'intelligent' writing.

  15. I love verbs! There are so many great ones - this is a good reminder to make our verbs as strong as we can. Thanks Lynda!

  16. I collect words I love. Period. Verbs are great. Strong nouns are also really good. Strong nouns with the perfect verb is MAGIC :)

  17. This is a moving target, but lately I love the word "loped."

    Especially if it's our hero making his long-legged lope across the parking lot while the breathless object of his affection awaits.


  18. this is so true and something i wish they'd teach in seventh grade grammar. it seemed like the teachers pushed adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors and never explained exactly how AMAZinG verbs are!!

  19. I can't recollect any special verbs at the moment, but I agree that a more descriptive verb is more interesting than a mundane one. Conversely though, I think sometimes writers can get overly gimmicky with verbs to the extent that it detracts from what the writer is saying.

    Tossing It Out

  20. *raises hand* I am so guilty of the passive verb in my first couple drafts of ALL wips. One of my first revision steps is finding all the "was, were, is" and making them active. Don't even get me started on my over use of "that, just, so"s ... that would be another post entirely ;)

  21. I edit out as many 'to be' verbs as possible. But sometimes the need for flow and sentence variation demands they stay. I look at my verb useage more closely on edits than in first pass. Also, my other writing sins.

    I am hooked on 'bludgeoned' lately. LOL

  22. you do know that those "magical verbs" of yours give headaches to us poor little translators :)))) Especially since English has such a rich vocabulary and so many synonyms, so it can get tricky when you're translating it into a language with a smaller dictionary :( That's my everyday hell :)

  23. Oooh, have I got a ton of favorite verbs! This is why I love using a thesaurus; it's one of the Great Writer Tools.

  24. Jessica, loped is a great verb. I giggled a little with your example ;)
    I like the alliteration in it.

    Vic, lol. I don't remember being taught much grammar in school at all. Maybe one lesson only. Maybe.

    Arlee, you make a very good point. Any overused 'rule' or 'break of rule' will lose its power.

  25. WindyA, yarp, same here. Passive is a bad habit but in my first draft (the one no one reads) I don't care if it keeps me moving. Occasionally I'll wince as I type, then shrug it off ;) Gotta love editing!

    M Pax, exactly. Sometimes it's ok to keep the passive. Passive words have a different purpose and create a different feel. (As long as it's not the majority of our writing). Hmm, you've given me an idea for another post ;)

  26. Dezmond, hahahaha. I'd not thought of it that way before. I've read only one book translated into English from another language. Think it was German. It was called "Perfume". At first I was worried about it being a translation, but it was great.

    Amanda, I love the thesaurus but I mainly use it as inspiration. It usually only leads me to words that will in turn grant me enough inspiration to come up with my own words. Oh, and it reminds me of the words my slow brain has forgotten ;)

  27. I like the title of your blog and the content of this post. I'm off to make my verbs a little more magical. Bye for now.

  28. Welcome to my blog. Thanks for popping by and following :)

  29. I do my best to stay away from using the same ones! I love to be different and I often have my characters pick out their favorite words. With that in mind I can get a feel of what would make my character and I relate better!

    Great post!

  30. Jen, yep, variety is important. Overly repeated words tend to draw attention to the writing in a bad way. I like that you get your characters to pick out their favourite words :)


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