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Powerful Verbs

Inventory Your Own Verbs for Powerful Writing

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Verbs are action words, right? We all remember that from elementary school. Verbs describe the action that is taking place.

But verbs don't have to surrender all the fun and emotional power to adjectives--the words that traditionally paint the pictures in our heads. As a matter of fact, the most powerful writers use verbs quite effectively to illustrate their writing.

Review Your Verbs

After you complete a draft of your paper, it might be a good idea to conduct a verb inventory. Just read over your draft and underline all your verbs. Do you see repetition? Are you bored?

Verbs like said, walked, looked, and thought can be replaced with more descriptive words like mumbled, sauntered, eyeballed, and pondered. Here are a few more suggestions:

Looked:

  • gazed
  • stared
  • severed (with his eyes)

Walked:

  • strolled
  • spidered
  • sashayed
  • skulked

Said:

  • suggested
  • uttered
  • bellowed
  • argued

Get Creative With Verbs

One way to make verbs more interesting is to invent them from other word forms. Sounds illegal, doesn't it? But it's not like you're printing dollar bills in your basement.

One type of noun that works well is animal types, since some animals have very strong characteristics. Skunks, for instance, have a reputation for being stinky or spoiling the air.

Do the following statements evoke powerful images?

    He skunked the party up with his cologne...
    She snaked the hallways...
    She wormed her way out of the class...

Jobs as Verbs

Another noun type that works well is names of occupations. We often use doctor as a verb, as in the following sentence:

  • She doctored the paper until it was perfect.

Doesn't that evoke the image of a woman hovering over a piece of writing, tools in hand, crafting and nurturing the paper to perfection? What other occupations could paint such a clear scene? How about police?

  • Mrs. Parsons policed her garden until it was completely pest free.

You can get very creative with unusual verbs:

  • bubble-wrapped the insult (to suggest that the insult was surrounded by "softer" words)
  • tabled your idea

But you do have to use colorful verbs tactfully. Use good judgment and don't overdo the creativity. Language is like clothing--too much color can be just plain odd.

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