Return to: GROK Dot Com 10/15/2001

Pump Up Your Verbs

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 - 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:


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!

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Return to: GROK Dot Com 10/15/2001

2001 Future Now