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Strong Verbs

Strong Verbs

Author: Rebecca Oberg

This learning packet should review:
-Action Verbs
-How to use concise, direct verbs when writing
-How to avoid roundabout phrases

This interactive learning packet offers students information on using active verbs to spice up and improve all types of writing. Through informative and entertaining multimedia clips, interactive slide show presentations, and engaging text, students come away from this packet armed with the definitions, examples, practice, and inspiration they need to successfully strengthen their writing through the use of active verbs.

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Action Verbs: Definitions, Examples, and Practice

This interactive slide show presentation reviews several key verb basics, including the definitions of several kinds of verbs. Action verbs are the primary focus, and the presentation offers definitions, examples, opportunities for practice, and other relevant information.

Source: See slide show for source citation.

Using Action Verbs as the Main Verb of the Sentence

This informational clip shows viewers how to transform their writing from weak and limp to strong and powerful, using the simple tip of transforming all of the main verbs in a sentence to action verbs.

Source: YouTube

Why Are Action Verbs Important When Writing Speeches?

Using action verbs is a good idea for writing overall, but is especially useful for writing speeches. This helpful video clip shows the importance of using action verbs when writing and performing speeches. This information applies to writing styles outside of just speeches--in the end, action verbs create opportunities for sensory details and engaging writing, no matter the writing style.

Source: YouTube

Tips for Using Active Verbs

Strong Action Verbs: How to Grab Readers' Attention With Vivid Verbs, Powerful Verbs

These creative writing tips show how to harness the tremendous power in action verbs:

#1: Vivid Verbs Are Powerful Verbs

Verbs energize. An action verb generates more drama and emotion than a noun, adjective or adverb of similar meaning. Compare:

The children wept when their dog died.(Strong verbs: wept, died)
The children shed tears over the death of their dog. (Nouns: tears, death)
The children were sad when their dog was dead. (Weak verb to be + adjectives: sad, dead)

Use vivid verbs, powerful verbs, to fizz up the action, paint word-pictures, and evoke feelings in your readers.

#2: Active Verbs Grab Attention

Use active verbs rather than passive. Active verbs rivet readers' attention; passive verbs weaken your writing. Compare:

Kim broke the jar.(Active verb)
The jar was broken by Kim. (Passive verb)

The first example is strong, precise and concise; the second sounds insipid.

The active verb in the first example charges the sentence with a vitality and directness that compels attention. In the second example, however, the passive verb has slowed down the action and made the sentence unnecessarily wordy.

#3: Active Verbs Add Vim and Vitality

Active verbs get things done fast; passive verbs impede action. Compare:

Jack fired the rocket.(Active verb)
The rocket was fired by Jack (Passive verb)

Use active verbs to quicken the pace. Like this:

...the carriage dashed through streets and swept round corners, with women screaming before it, and men clutching each other and clutching children out of its way. At last, swooping at a street corner by a fountain, one of its wheels came to a sickening little jolt, and there was a loud cry from a number of voices, and the horses reared and plunged.
(From A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens)

#4: Concise Verbs Are Strong Verbs

Some forms of verbs are more concise, direct and dramatic than others. Compare:

The clock is striking twelve.
The clock strikes twelve.

Verbs ending in -ing (for example, striking, prowling, shouting) are weaker than their shorter forms (strike, prowl, shout).

#5: Powerful Verbs Are Concise and Precise

Be as concise as possible; prefer the single verb to the roundabout phrase.

Do not say:
He did not remember to feed the dog.
She did not pass the music exam.

Say instead:
He forgot to feed the dog.
She failed the music exam.

#6: Examples of Action Verbs

A strong verb creates a mood or an image simply by its sound or connotations: for example, instead of the word walk, use more evocative words like saunter, stride, strut or swagger. Water can gush, gurgle, spurt or squirt out; villains may scoff, sneer, jeer or taunt; and as for the loot, let it gleam, glitter, sparkle or dazzle.

Vivid verbs appeal to the reader's senses of sight, sound, touch or smell. Like these:

Falstaff sweats to death,
And lards the lean earth as he walks along.

(From Henry IV, Part 1, Act 2, Scene 2, by William Shakespeare)

Tonight the winds begin to rise
And roar from yonder dropping day:
The last red leaf is whirl'd away,
The rooks are blown about the skies;

The forest crack’d, the waters curl’d,
The cattle huddled on the lea;
And wildly dash’d on tower and tree
The sunbeam strikes along the world.

(From In Memoriam, by Alfred Lord Tennyson)

#7: Strong Verbs & Verb Music

Strong verbs also evoke the music of words. When choosing verbs, discern with your inner ear: do the sounds of the words carry the meaning and mood you want to convey? Is it melody or discord that you hear? Do the verbs stimulate this word music for readers?

Look again at the description of the brewing storm in the previous section (Creative Writing Tips #6: excerpt from In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson). Feel the intense vigor of the verbs, hear the roar of the music. Compare it to the following example, where the verbs march to a different beat, a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of exuberant activity:

But as soon as the Mariner, who was a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity, found himself truly inside the Whale’s warm, dark, inside cupboards, he stumped and he jumped and he thumped and he bumped, and he pranced and he danced, and he banged and he clanged, and he hit and he bit, and he leaped and he creeped, and he prowled and he howled, and he hopped and he dropped, and he cried and he sighed, and he crawled and he bawled, and he stepped and he lepped, and he danced hornpipes where he shouldn’t, and the Whale felt most unhappy indeed.
(From Just So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling)

When to Use Passive Verbs

When is it better to use passive verbs? When the story calls for a change of pace: for example, to slow down the action, reduce tension, or stretch the narrative.

Choose passive verbs also when you want to emphasize the receiver of the action; like this:

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief...
He was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment for our peace fell upon him,
and by his stripes we are healed.

(From The Bible, Isaiah 53: 3a, 5)

Verb: That's What's Happening!

This classic Schoolhouse Grammar Rock video clip gives an entertaining and memorable review of verb basics.

Source: Schoolhouse Rock, YouTube