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Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009 at 6:00 am

Pump Up Your Verbs

By The Grok
February 10th, 2009

Remember how, a while back, we talked about the benefits of using active verbs in your copy (Think Active!)? You must have got some benefit from that discussion – it’s one of my most popular articles ever. So I think it’s time we played Fun With Grammar again (if only your 9th grade English class had been so application-oriented).

If you buy that the passive voice is death to persuasive writing (which was the point of that other little piece), then I’d like you to consider that you pack persuasive punch not with adjectives and adverbs, but with verbs. You want your copy to capture, delight, motivate and excite your visitors, don’t you? You want your copy to be the next best thing to a live person eloquently speaking in their ears, right? Then let me introduce you to the under-used, over-looked but infinitely versatile verb.

The goal of your online endeavor is to get your visitors to take action. One of the cornerstones of your site is your copy (and copy exists not just as text on a page but words in graphics or videos as well) – all the words communicating not only your message but the entire realm of possibility you offer.

Your copy works to persuade and fill the minds of your visitors with images that make them eager for what you offer. Your copy engages, compels and provides momentum so your visitors move through your conversion process to the close and beyond. But screen space is at a premium, and good copy doesn’t come cheap. Every word costs you something, so you want to make the most of every word you use.

My good friend, Professor Chris Maddock, from the Wizard Academy offers the following comparison. The first sample paints its picture with adjectives and adverbs (in red), the second with verbs and verb forms (also in red).

Sample 1

I went slowly along the sandy shore. The small, cold waves lazily came on in long, thin fingers of white foam. The sky was slate-gray and blew a thin, humid wind reticently toward the dark beach. (36 words)

Sample 2

I crept close to the shore. The waves limped in and collapsed in dying fingers of foam. The sky brooded, darkened, then persuaded the reticent wind toward the beach. (29 words)

Now read the two samples aloud. Listen to how your voice sounds as you read them. Feel a difference? Do you think one delivers more punch? I sure do! Sample 1 feels slow, dull and plodding – too many modifiers. Sample 2 is crisper, more compelling, more exciting.

Not only do verbs and their associated forms (gerunds and participles) generate motion, they also convey character: creeping, limping, collapsing, dying – all create a strong mental image and mood – mandatory for effective copy. Sample 1 created its mood with ten adjectives and three adverbs; Sample 2 used only two adjectives (and one of those a verb form) and no adverbs, yet achieved a more powerful result.

“The verb is the heartthrob of a sentence,” says Karen Elizabeth Gordon in The Transitive Vampire, while Strunk and White, in Elements of Style (I’m told it’s the Grammar Gospel) instruct, ” Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place [yours truly adds the same can be said of adverbs for verbs]. – it is nouns and verbs that give to good writing its toughness and character.”

The cool thing about verbs is they can do so much for you and take up less space doing it! Here are some ideas:

Mood

Verbs can help communicate meaning and quality in a sentence without bogging down the language with unnecessary modifiers.

I go to the store.

I trudge to the store.

In both sentences, I’ll arrive at the same place (and in the same number of words), but the second example gives you a much better idea of how I’ll get there and what mood I’m in.

Verbs as Adjectives

Folks have grammar nightmares when someone mentions participles, but a participle is nothing more than a verb used as an adjective (a word that modifies a noun).

Vanquished by his foe, the commander knelt on the ground. (vanquished commander)

Dripping with rain, the mouse scurried under a toadstool. (dripping mouse)

The surrendered document lay on the table. (surrendered document)

Verbs as Nouns

Ditto the nightmare stuff when it comes to gerunds, but gerunds are just verbs with -ing endings that work as nouns.

Giving is better than receiving.

His fear is losing control.

She adores listening to bagpipes.

Verbs, in all their incarnations, breathe essence and vitality into your writing. By their very nature, they are action-oriented and quickly draw your reader into a powerful mental universe of activity, sound and feeling. They also pull your reader through the text. Verbs are like seductresses with come-hither gestures! Use them well, and your reader will stay hooked.

Want more colorful, engaging, concise, persuasive copy? Then, the next time you go to your library of word books, check out a good verb!

Add Your Comments

Comments (32)

  1. Thanks for this! Words are everywhere why use the same boring ones or waste space on empty descriptions.

    Punch out your expression; make an impact.

    Nimbly,
    Jennifer

  2. Oh, the beauty of using words to create a punch. I hope I can polish up my writing soon too.

  3. [...]   [Pump Up Your Verbs] [...]

  4. I laud this article with praising compliments, clapping hands and acknowledging expressions.

  5. These lines are great for some movies ;) !

  6. This is an excellent article and reflects an important process to keeping your reader coming back for more!

  7. We seek ways in putting action to our ideas, this clearly points out that we also have an inborn desire to put action in our daily writing and vocabulary.

  8. Good tips! Thinking positive and giving people a reason to act on your sales copy is the key.

  9. Great stuff. I’d love to see you use this strategy to rework copy from existing sites into more persuasive copy — to highlight how your verb-happy theory applies in marketing. Can you do something like that in a follow-up, please?

    And who wrote this article @ Future Now? It’s too bad you don’t show the ‘actual’ writer anymore…

    ~jw

  10. You’ve hammered the nail on the head. Too many rookie copywriters attempt to spruce up their copy with adjectives and adverbs.

    But the best copy is energized with strong, active, vivid verbs that literally hypnotize readers with visual imagery.

    You’ve provided some very nice examples. Great post.

    Joshua Aaron Stanley

  11. [...] Pump Up Your Verbs [...]

  12. Very nice piece! The example of saying it out loud and seeing the difference in your voice was amazing…I think I am going to try to read all of my future posts aloud ;)

  13. A very excellent and thorough way of getting your point across.

    ALTERNATELY

    You slammed your point home forcefully by presenting so many powerful examples.

  14. Great follow-up article to Think Active. Thanks!

  15. “She adores listening to bagpipes.” Ha ha! Who says that?

  16. Wow! I knew active voice was king and passive voice was dead. But little did I know that nouns and verbs could pack such punch!

  17. Nice post. It really brings home our whole intention as copywriters – that is, to build strong images in our readers’ minds in an attempt to stir those ‘buying emotions’!

  18. I have never been a fan of grammar. I have always leaned toward science, math and technology; however, the older I get and the more business focused I become, the more important the issue of words become as well! Good article and I like the lessons on gerunds and participles.

  19. Creatively pumping up your verbs will musclize your written words. Gerunding my commenting gets me groveling for more.

  20. I had never realized that we add ing to a noun and we can turn almost any noun into a verb. If I am talking about a vacuum cleaner and I say Hoovering it would probably mean vacuuming. If I am talking about the FBI and spying on Americans and I say Hoovering it would probably mean something different.

  21. My writing capabilities suck. But having effective English grammar skills is the best asset you have on the net. Words make people get their credit cards out and buy ;)

  22. [...] copy can always be improved by pumping up your verbs and writing in active not passive voice. You can change a couple of setting in Microsoft Word to [...]

  23. [...] contenu peut toujours être amélioré par l’affinage du choix de vos verbes et l’écriture à la voix active, non passive.Vous pouvez paramétrer Microsoft Word pour [...]

  24. [...] copy can always be improved by pumping up your verbs and writing in active not passive voice. You can change a couple of setting in Microsoft Word to [...]

  25. In general writing I agree this is helpful; however, I believe too many verbs dilute a website content with non-relavant info for search engines. While it may read better (and convert better), the search engines are also potentially going to rank lower.

  26. I do not agree.

    Why should verbs give you a lower ranking. That doesn’t make sense.

  27. Good Tip.

  28. I’m astonished, never thought about it. First I didn’t understand it and i couldn’t believe that this would make a difference until i said it loud.

    Amazing job!

  29. thanks you!!

  30. Great site!

    YourNetBiz

  31. Very good blog, thanks for information!

  32. I knew active voice was king and passive voice was dead. But little did I know that nouns and verbs could pack such punch!

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