Use Your Verbs



by Joel Orr

An easy way to empower your writing, build your voice, and help your audience better ‘see’ your message is to utilize verbs over qualifiers like adjectives and adverbs. It’s easy to fall into a habit of using words as they’re ‘assigned’ – adjectives show, so I guess we’ll use them to show – and that habit actually limits visualization and creation within writing.

Perhaps instead of:

‘A red (adj) car quickly (adv) drove (verb) down the road,’
one might write,

‘A blazing (verbal/participle) red car screamed (verb) across the asphalt.’

Such precise and intentional use of verbs to show meaning adds texture and depth to writing while also actually chipping away at wordiness. Think of our words as currency – they have value, and we don’t want to just give them away. Not to mention, with inflation, too many words weaken the individual value of each one.

He cried (useless verb) softly (adv).

. . . is a boring sentence that doesn’t tell us much and makes me cringe, even though I wrote it on purpose. Is he embarrassed? Is he hiding in the bathroom and heartbroken? Scared underneath the bed? Maybe he’s a dad at a wedding and he’s trying not to let his daughter catch him crying as he gives her away at the altar? We know nothing!

Now, of course, one sentence won’t give us the full background, but putting my verbs in charge will at least help craft a more thorough image in one sentence.

He wept (verb).

Oh. He was really heartbroken. Maybe he just watched the opening sequence of Up. And look at that, we learned more about this man while using 1/3 fewer words in the second sentence!

So, writers of all ages, for whatever reason you write, remember: Show (verb!) with your verbs.



Guest post contributed by Joel Orr. Joel received a Master’s of English Literature and is now a writer, tutor, and editor. Check out more information on his website.

21 thoughts on “Use Your Verbs

  1. Strong descriptive verbs work overtime with little effort, I agree. I spend more writing time refining my verbs, deleting adverbs, and limiting adjectives or making them work harder for me. It has paid off. My writers’ group tells me my writing has improved significantly. Verbs move the action forward and keeps the reader reading.


  2. Word choice is an issue with me. I want to use active voice as much as I can, but sometimes, the verbs I use don’t convey the message I’m trying to send.

    Thanks for the tips.


  3. Good reminder. I’ve been working on this lately, and it’s changed the way I feel when I reread my own writing For instance, yesterday I wrote a little something about a girl walking out of a bar in anger, and instead of saying “walked,” I substituted “strode,” and I could feel her strength.


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