Verbs Add Power!

by Stephanie Whetstone

As writers, we want to sound smart and savvy on the page, to fit into the lofty academic world at places like Princeton. Many writers go about it by adding excessive adverbs and adjectives or obscure language to their prose. The theory might be, “If it’s difficult to understand, it must sound intelligent!” I wholeheartedly disagree. The best writing is clear and concise and logically structured. It conveys ideas in a way that invites debate and collaboration, not exclusivity. The true power, intelligence, and elegance of a sentence comes from its powerful verbs.

Too often, writers rely on the old standbys: to do and to be. People talk about “doing science,” for example. But what if instead, we investigated or  explored science? In a cover letter, instead of saying “I did the ordering” or “I was responsible for…,” how about “I managed inventory” or “I directed and implemented…” The active verb attributes responsibility for the action to the subject of the sentence. Adverbs, such as “really” and “very,” can dilute the power of a sentence. You can avoid them by choosing a more intense active verb. For example, instead of “I really tried” you could use “I endeavored.” In place of “I felt very happy,” try “I felt elated.”

The English language offers a plethora of verbs that add precision and specificity to an idea or image. If you walked, did you amble, stroll, saunter, skip, hurry, or traipse? Each of these verbs adds a slightly different dimension to the movement and changes the tone of your sentence.

Here’s a brief list of powerful verbs to consider the next time you write:

Adapted, Advised, Clarified, Coached, Communicated, Conducted, Coordinated, Critiqued, Developed, Enabled, Encouraged, Evaluated, Explained, Facilitated, Focused, Guided, Individualized, Informed, Installed, Instructed, Motivated, Persuaded, Simulated, Stimulated, Taught, Tested, Trained, Transmitted, Tutored.
Don’t stop there, though, there are thousands of strong and agile verbs that can help you say exactly what you are doing!