Style: Verb choice

Milk do not remove, from breakfast room.
Image by MaxVT via Flickr

Word choice in writing always requires a little extra effort. When writing a first draft, we often don’t stop to think about each word we’re using and if it’s the best fit for our message: instead, we charge ahead with fingers blazing.

Upon review, however, we can certainly better our initial word choice, especially when it comes to verbs. Consider the three examples below (taken from Richardson’s text):

  1. There is opposition to the initiative among a majority of taxpayers.
  2. A majority of taxpayers are opposed to the initiative.
  3. Most taxpayers oppose the initiative.

In each sentence, the verb is highlighted. The first sentence is very bland, very lifeless: it speaks of the existence of this opposition with no punch, and no clear subject. The second sentence brings the subject into the foreground, but still feels flimsy. The final sentence, however, is quick and to the point with a clear power in that old subject-verb-object sentence structure we were taught as kids.

That isn’t to say that every sentence should be cut down to SVO. However, by taking a look at sentences, particularly our verb choice, we can see if we’re being a little washed up or boring with our word choice. The clearer the verb’s relation to the rest of the sentence, the more powerful it becomes.

Consider another example:

  1. There is an obvious desire in within her for a healthy, balanced relationship.
  2. She obviously is looking for a healthy, balanced relationship.
  3. She wants a health, balanced relationship.

This also ties into the old Active vs. Passive voice debate. Sometimes, it’s good to distance yourself from the usual structure as it creates an intentional vagueness. If vagueness isn’t your intent, however, check through your verb choices and make sure you’re making strong verb choices to aid in clarity.

This post is part of a mini-series on Style.

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2 Responses to Style: Verb choice

  1. Jodi says:

    Great tips on verb usage! I think I’m going to get a lot of use out of your site, as I’d really like to brush up on my writing skills. Thanks!

  2. Excellent advice and tips for us writers Jaime! Great job!

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