Skip to main content

Vital Verbs

Remember back in the dark days of your school years when you had to learn the parts of speech?  A noun is the name of a person, place, or thing. When asked what a verb was, you smugly answered, A verb is a word that indicates action, or some such definition. Fine. You got that straight.

Since then, you've uttered or written verbs in the hundreds of thousands.
Verbs are great words. They enable us to describe actions or states of being or feelings we'd be hard pressed to convey without them. "John outside the house. John inside the house. John in bed."

Primitive, to say the least. With the help of verbs, we can say, "John came home and went directly to bed." Still, if verbs are indispensable in our speech and in our writing, why do we neglect them so?

Yes, we neglect them terribly. There are countless verbs just sitting in our dictionaries that are rarely taken out and used, seldom get to feel themselves flowing out of our mouths or proudly sitting on the paper on which we write. You have to feel sorry for them.

Why are they neglected? You can blame it on the nouns and adjectives. They're the real culprits. We can't express a worthwhile thought without a noun.

Without a noun (or pronoun), how do we indicate the very subject we are talking/writing about? In the example above, without nouns, you'd have, "outside the," "inside the," and "in ." It wouldn't make any sense.

Adjectives we can sometimes live without, but for the most part we have been brainwashed since those same school days to use adjectives. As writers, we use them extensively, carefully choosing, then eliminating, then choosing again, until we feel we have the perfect adjectives to describe our protagonist, our settings, our emotions. I suspect much of your time as a writer is devoted to being so very particular in the adjectives you use.

That's great. That's important.
To get back to the poor, neglected verbs. Oh, we use them all right. We use the few hundred (if that many) in our vocabulary. We use what we need, we use the ones we're comfortable with, we use the same old, tired, hackneyed verbs day in and day out. What are those verbs? They're the dead verbs.

The ones which may tell others that something happened, but never tell anything more than that, never give the reader an image of a special kind of action.

Let's go back to the example above. I used two verbs, "came" and "went." All those two verbs tell you is that John was no longer outside his house, and is now in his bed. What if I had said, "John flew though the front door and dashed upstairs to his bed."? You get a picture: for whatever reason, John was in a hurry. How about this:  "John staggered through the front door and crawled up the stairs to his bed." Do you get the impression John is intoxicated or sick or injured?

Let's try a few other simple examples. "Mary entered the room" vs. "Mary glided into the room" or "Mary stumbled into the room" or "Mary inched her way into the room." Each of these paints a picture of more than mere transference of locale.

It's cruel for your heroes and villains  to be limited to listless verbs. These characters are the very essence of your action. They should barge into, seldom just come into; they may sometimes snarl, snap, snicker, smirk, or shout, instead of just say; they're also able to punch, plunder, pillage, plow under, or pelt, but seldom merely touch. Even your minor characters should be as colorful in their actions. Just because they are not the stars of your masterpiece doesn't mean they don't play important and exciting parts.

Charles Dickens knew that probably better than any other writer. His most minor characters are sometimes as unforgettable as his major players.

A suggestion: On the following list of dead verbs, notice the alternatives:
action: walk
alternatives: stroll, amble, jog, dash, sprint, stagger,
action: lie (down)
alternatives:  sprawl, lounge, curl up, stretch out
action: say
alternatives: mumble, stutter, spew, shout, protest
action: look
alternatives: scan, squint, glare, study
You get the idea.

Now, try this. Go to something you've written recently. Scan through and pick out a number of dead verbs. You know the kind, the ones which just sit there and don't tell you much of anything about the action. Try replacing them with verbs which tell the reader precisely what just happened. Reread, and you'll see how your writing comes out of its coma, and begins to take on a new, interesting life.

Finally, keep in mind that in writing as in all of life, moderation and common sense should prevail. Don't have your work look like a thesaurus, using every verb ever conceived. This is especially true in sentences where you use other descriptive words. Don't let your heroine always float into a room, squeal with delight, or wither others with her sarcasm. The villains should not always bluster, rampage, or bulldoze.

Remember, there are plenty of times when it's preferable for your characters to merely say, just come or go, or quietly nod, but use enough real action verbs to add color to your writing, and use them when appropriate. Those poor, listless verbs do, after all, serve a purpose, and that purpose is to vitalize your other verbs.


Popular posts from this blog

Top 10 [FREE] Writing Courses on Youtube That Are Packed With Massive Value

This is a friendly reminder that the best things in life really are FREE, and that includes full spectrum writing courses on Youtube that teach you just about everything you will need to know about operating as a competent, reliable, and skilled copywriter. Sure, you could pay for courses and there's nothing wrong with that. But why not take advantage of a free opportunity? Here are  Top 20 [FREE] Writing Courses on Youtube That Are Packed With Massive Value. 1. Simple Learning's Copywriting Course In this course, writers will learn how to write write product descriptions, multiply sales, and how to influence your readers. Course contains very little fluff - only the most important principles are shared throughout the video.  2. Simplilearn's Full Course Content Marketing Tutorial For Beginners Every content writer and marketer wants that coveted #1 spot on Google. Heck, most want to get to the front page at the very least. This course is all about ranking high on Google an

Article Submissions - Pointing You in the Right Direction

All of you who have been thinking of publishing articles probably seem to be noticing a lot more ads showing up when you search Google for article submission sites. So what does this all mean for you? Well it leaves you the choice of where you wish to submit your article to. Lately new software is out that can let people get an article directory up and running in just a couple of hours and it seems every little fish wants a piece of the action. So how do you choose the correct article directory for your article submission? Here are a few tips to get you in the right direction: Design - You probably are asking yourself why the design of the article directory has anything to do with how good this directory is for you. Well it is, it shows how serious the owners of the site are taking it - the more professional and maintained it looks the longer the site will be online and the more popularity it will gain. RSS Feeds - Make sure the article directory you are submitting

How To Generate Repeat Sales With Your Self-Published Book

The most valuable thing you can collect if you are selling your book from a website when a visitor comes to your book's sales site is not their money... it's their email address and/or other contact information. If you have no clue how to create a website, do not worry about feeling intimidated. It is actually a lot easier than you think. You can also learn a lot by doing a search for a phrase at like "how to make a website" and "free html tutorial." You will find tons of very good free training that way and can learn how in no time. Anyone can learn the basics of creating a website in just one day. Ok, back to collecting your website visitors contact information. I know, I know you’re probably saying... "I'm an author. I want to write my book, sell my book and become a recognized expert. WHY do I need to get their contact information?" How To Make Money Writing Easy, 350-500 Word Web Articles If You Can Type, You