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Subsection 7.3.4 Using Strong Verbs

While we use “to be” frequently in our every day speech, the verb is often too weak as the main verb in formal writing. Uses of “to be” include: to be, being, am, is, are, was, and were.

Writers prefer not to overuse “to be” because English contains plenty of stronger (i.e., more active, informative, and interesting) verbs. “To be” also frequently indicates that you are using passive voice. Using “to be” too much thus makes your writing boring or too passive. Which passage below do you prefer?

“I was going to Diversions when I saw something that was interesting. It was my friend, Sally. Sally was outside and was sleeping on her chemistry textbook.”

“On my way to Diversions, I happened upon an interesting (and funny) sight: my friend, Sally, had fallen asleep outside, using her chemistry textbook as a pillow!”

Warning 7.3.9. Thesaurus Use.

Try using a thesaurus to find alternative words, but use caution! Sometimes thesauruses mislead writers when the writer doesn't fully understand the connotation or typical uses of a synonym.

Here's a list of Some Strong Verbs to consider using. There are short definitions to give you an idea of what the word means, but be sure to look up any words you use to make sure that the contexts in which you're using them align with their meaning. There may also be alternative meanings that aren't listed here, so the dictionary and thesaurus will still be your friends.

A nametag sticker bears the text, "Hello my name is Herb the Strong Verb." Below it is a black-and-white graphic of a shirtless retro wrestler.

Example 7.3.10. Some Strong Verbs.

Affirm

to assert or support

Allude

to point out indirectly

Amalgamate

to combine or unite pieces into a whole, to merge

Ameliorate

to make better

Ascertain

to find out or make sure

Bolster

to reinforce, support

Censure

to criticize severely

Concede

to acknowledge or grant something

Concur

to agree

Contend

to assert or argue

Contest

to oppose, challenge, or argue against

Demur

to object, be reluctant

Differentiate

to make a distinction between

Elucidate

to explain, make clear

Enable

to make able or powerful, to make possible

Engender

to lead to, to produce or cause

Essay

to try, attempt

Exacerbate

to make worse, exasperate

Excoriate

to criticize or denounce severely

Function

to act as, operate

Laud

to praise

Mitigate

to lessen severity or intensity, to alleviate

Obfuscate

to obscure

Pervade

to permeate, spread throughout

Present

to offer, give, introduce, show

Squander

to waste, spend, use irresponsibly

Stymie

to stop, block

Substantiate

to support something with evidence

Supplant

to take the place of, replace

Vilify

to defame or slander

Note 7.3.11.

You don't need to fill your writing with big, obscure words; instead, you'll want to use more complex words where appropriate to convey meaning more precisely and concisely.