Strong Verbs

(grammar > strong verbs)


Strong verbs are verbs that are immediately recognizable and convey an action to the reader. A reader knows what is happening if have your character shout, jump, grab, poke, thrust, strike, punch, push, brood, skulk, slice, bleed or gasp. If you use more strong verbs and less weak verbs and adverbs it will pick up the pace of your article, short story or novel and make it more interesting. Columbia University says if too many weak verbs are used it will "make readers feel like they are slogging through quicksand." Use action verbs to help with description so your reader can absorb the information you are providing without getting stuck in verbal quicksand.

Strong Verb Usage Examples

Ambrose Bierce uses many strong verbs in his compelling short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." His sentences are typically short and use great action verbs. The story is easy to follow and difficult for the reader to put down. Here is one paragraph form the story that uses verbs that include felt, beat, pushed, hurt, swallowed and blew.
"Now he felt the most violent pain he had ever known. He wanted to put the rope back on his neck. He tried but could not. His hands beat the water and pushed him up to the top. His head came out of the water. The light of the sun hurt his eyes. His mouth opened, and he swallowed air. It was too much for his lungs. He blew out the air with a scream."
This short excerpt from Aesop's fable, "The Lion and the Mouse," contains the verbs stalking, roaring and struggling.
"Some days later, while stalking his prey in the forest, the Lion was caught in the toils of a hunter's net. Unable to free himself, he filled the forest with his angry roaring. The Mouse knew the voice and quickly found the Lion struggling in the net."
William Shakespeare uses the descriptive verbs struts and frets in describing life in his famous line from Macbeth.
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more."


Martin Luther King used the descrptive verb "seared" in this excerpt from his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
"This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice."
This portion of the speech would be less emotional and interesting if King had used "mistreated" instead of "seared in the flames of withering injustice."

Strong Verbs in Business Correspondence and Nonfiction

Strong verbs are important for telling your story and getting your point across. They have even greater importance in this workplace. An article in Fast Company notes that using verbs like think, need, want, guess, hope and suppose can make you sound weaker. You need to use words and verbs that express confidence. This is true when are you are writing and when you are speaking.

Strong verbs are also important in resumes. As this article suggests you need to use action verbs when describing your skills.

Articles and books also need strong verbs. Find the action and point it out to the reader. Even recipes have action. Julia Child uses many great verbs when writing her recipes. The article points out many of them: 100 Verbs for Recipes, from Julia Child.

How to Find Verbs Lacking in Power

You don't have to make every single verb sound like you are writing an action sequence in a comic book, but you should try and improve your work if you find it lacks oomph. The best method is to read it aloud. If it sounds dull or slow-paced then you should check for verbs that can be replaced. Here are some more methods for finding replaceable verbs: