Powerful Verbs and Nouns
“Write with verbs and nouns. The adverb signifies the failure to find the right verb; the adjective, failure to find the right noun.” – Donald Murray
“Whatever the thing you wish to say, there is but one word to express it, but one verb to give it movement, but one adjective to qualify it; you must seek until you find this noun, this verb, this adjective.” -Gustav Flaubert
“Cut these words and they would bleed.” – Emerson
“To write simply is as difficult as to be good.” – W.Somerset Maugham
Use words with muscles: action verbs and concrete nouns.
Verbs: Verbs will be your most useful writing tools. They give a sentence energy and move it forward. Active verbs push hard; passive verbs are whimpy.
Avoid verb phrases. Substitute a succinct single verb:
|make adjustmentsgive instructions to
make mention of
in order to
in the majority of cases
is reflective of
can be compared to
is capable of
–Use specific verbs and avoid vague ones. Use action verbs instead of verbs of being (is, are, was, were, be, being , been).
Instead of I was happy
ry I danced with delight
or I cavorted with joy.
Nouns: Avoid using two or three nouns in a row.
Instead of winter storm warning situation
Try it’s going to snow.
Instead of hostage standoff situation
Try people taken hostage
“Choose the passive when you don’t know who did it, your readers don’t care who did it, or you don’t want them to know who did it.” – Joseph M. Williams
How would you rather be characterized—as a passive or an active person?
Would you like to be described as dull or exciting?
Passive sentences are dull, usually, because the verbs are not active. Sometimes this is done purposely. Think of politicians, masters of passive language, who would say, “A number of people were killed today” as opposed to “We killed a number of people.”
Passive language helps the writer avoid showing responsibility, and so it is often used to make the writing impersonal. Granted, this is sometimes useful, but generally the passive voice makes for boring writing and should only be used deliberately. [Passive Voice]