Adding Meaning with Strong Verbs
To add meaning and detail to your sentences, use strong verbs. You can also water down your writing with blah, weak verbs. So why doesn’t everybody use strong verbs? The trouble is too many people don’t know how to select verbs that can bench-press with the best. Here are some hints:
Avoid there is
Say you are trying to describe a standard school chair:
There is a curved seat.
There are five slats on the back.
There is a school identification mark on the bottom of the chair.
Nothing’s wrong with these sentences. They’re all grammatically correct, and they’re all accurate. But they probably made you yawn. There is and there are are standard (and therefore boring) expressions. How about swapping them for something stronger? Here you go:
The seat curves to fit your bottom.
Five slats support your back.
The school stamps an identification mark on the bottom of each chair.
In a writing sample for the SAT or other standardized test, graders watch for sophisticated usage. They want to see that you can manipulate language. There is/are sentences aren’t very sophisticated, though they can sometimes be useful. When you find yourself constructing a sentence this way, pause. Can you come up with a more interesting verb?
Don’t overuse have in your writing
Forms of the verb to have can also put your reader to sleep faster than a sedative. Sometimes nothing works better than to have, and of course you need some forms of this verb to indicate tense —the time of the action or state of being. But too often has, had, or have ends up in a sentence because the writer is too tired to think of something more creative. Try changing
The chair has a shiny surface.
The slats have rounded edges as big as my finger.
The chair shone under the fluorescent light.
The rounded edges fit my finger perfectly.
Shone and fit are more interesting than has and have. Plus, after you plop in a good verb, other ideas follow, and the whole sentence improves.
Don’t just “say” and “walk” away when writing
To say and to walk are fine, upstanding members of the verb community, but they don’t give you much information. Why say when you can declare, scream, whisper, hint, bellow, assert, remark or do any one of the zillions of alternatives available to you when you’re describing communication?
For movement, consider stroll, saunter, plod, strut, rush, speed, zig-zag, and look for verbs that go beyond the basics, that add shades of meaning to your sentence. Here are some before-and-after sentence sets to illustrate how more specific verbs pep up your sentences:
Before: Heidi said she was tired of climbing mountains.
After: Heidi contended that she was tired of climbing mountains. (Now you know that she’s speaking with someone who may not believe her.)
Another after: Heidi murmured that she was tired of climbing mountains. (Here Heidi’s a bit shy or perhaps fearful.)
One more after: Heidi roared that she was tired of climbing mountains. (In this sentence no one is going to mess with Heidi!)
Before: Heidi’s hiking partner walked away from her.
After: Heidi’s hiking partner edged away from her. (The partner knows that Heidi’s in one of her moods and trouble is on the way.)
Also after: Heidi’s hiking partner stomped away from her. (Now the partner is angry!)
The last after: Heidi’s hiking partner wandered away from her. (The partner isn’t paying attention.)