strong verbs for essay writing

273 Strong Verbs That’ll Spice Up Your Writing

Do you ever wonder why a grammatically correct sentence you’ve written just lies there like a dead fish?

I sure have.

Your sentence might even be full of those adjectives and adverbs your teachers and loved ones so admired in your writing when you were a kid.

But still the sentence doesn’t work.

Something simple I learned from The Elements of Style years ago changed the way I write and added verve to my prose. The authors of that little bible of style said: “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs.”

Even Mark Twain was quoted, regarding adjectives: “When in doubt, strike it out.”

That’s not to say there’s no place for adjectives. I used three in the title and first paragraph of this post alone.

The point is that good writing is more about well-chosen nouns and strong verbs than it is about adjectives and adverbs, regardless what you were told as a kid.

There’s no quicker win for you and your manuscript than ferreting out and eliminating flabby verbs and replacing them with vibrant ones.

  • How To Know Which Verbs Need Replacing

Your first hint is your own discomfort with a sentence. Odds are it features a snooze-inducing verb.

As you hone your ferocious self-editing skills , train yourself to exploit opportunities to replace a weak verb for a strong one.

At the end of this post I suggest a list of 273 vivid verbs you can experiment with to replace tired ones.

Want to download a copy of this strong verbs list to reference whenever you write? Click here. What constitutes a tired verb? Here’s what to look for:

  • 3 Types of Verbs to Beware of in Your Prose

1. State-of-being verbs

These are passive as opposed to powerful:

Am I saying these should never appear in your writing? Of course not. You’ll find them in this piece. But when a sentence lies limp, you can bet it contains at least one of these. Determining when a state-of-being verb is the culprit creates a problem—and finding a better, more powerful verb to replace it— is what makes us writers. [Note how I replaced the state-of-being verbs in this paragraph.]

Resist the urge to consult a thesaurus for the most exotic verb you can find. I consult such references only for the normal word that carries power but refuses to come to mind.

I would suggest even that you consult my list of powerful verbs only after you have exhaust ed all efforts to come up with one on your own. You want Make your prose to be your own creation, not yours plus Roget or Webster or Jenkins. [See how easy they are to spot and fix?]

Impotent: The man was walking on the platform.

Powerful: The man strode along the platform.

Impotent: Jim is a lover of country living.

Powerful: Jim treasures country living.

Impotent: There are three things that make me feel the way I do…

Powerful: Three things convince me…

2. Verbs that rely on adverbs

Powerful verbs are strong enough to stand alone.

The fox ran quickly dashed through the forest.

She menacingly looked glared at her rival.

He secretly listened eavesdropped while they discussed their plans.

3. Verbs with -ing suffixes

Before: He was walking…

After: He walked…

Before: She was loving the idea of…

After: She loved the idea of…

Before: The family was starting to gather…

After: The family started to gather…

  • The Strong Verbs List
  • Disillusion
  • Reverberate
  • Revolutionize
  • Supercharge
  • Transfigure

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280+ Strong Verbs: 3 Tips to Strengthen Your Verbs in Writing 

by Joe Bunting | 0 comments

Strong verbs transform your writing from drab, monotonous, unclear, and amateurish to engaging, professional, and emotionally powerful.

Which is all to say, if you're not using strong verbs in your writing, you're missing one of the most important stylistic techniques.

strong verbs for essay writing

Why listen to Joe? I've been a professional writer for more than a decade, writing in various different formats and styles. I've written formal nonfiction books, descriptive novels, humorous memoir chapters, and conversational but informative online articles (like this one!).

In short, I earn a living in part by writing (and revising) using strong verbs selected for each type of writing I work on. I hope you find the tips on verbs below useful! And if you want to skip straight to the verb list below, click here to see over 200 strong verbs.

Hemingway clung to a writing rule that said, “Use vigorous English.” In fact, Hemingway was more likely to use verbs than any other part of speech, far more than typical writing, according to LitCharts :

Hemingway's use of parts of speech.

But what are strong verbs? And how do you avoid weak ones?

In this post, you'll learn the three best techniques to find weak verbs in your writing and replace them with strong ones. We'll also look at a list of the strongest verbs for each type of writing, including the strongest verbs to use.

What are Strong Verbs?

Strong verbs, in a stylistic sense, are powerful verbs that are specific and vivid verbs. They are most often in active voice and communicate action precisely.

The Top 7 Strong Verbs

Here are the top 7 I found when I reviewed a couple of my favorite books. See if you agree and tell me in the comments.  

Think about the vivid and specific image each of these strong verbs conjures. Each one asserts precision.

It's true that writers will use descriptive verbs that best fit their character, story, and style, but it's interesting to note trends.

For example, Hemingway most often used verbs like: galloped, punched, lashed, and baited. Each of these verbs evokes a specific motion, as well as a tone. Consider how Hemingway's verbs stack up against weaker counterparts:

Table of Hemingway's verbs compared to weaker, less precise verbs. Examples: galloped versus hurried, punched versus hit, lash versus hit, bait versus bother

None of the weaker verbs are incorrect, but they don't pack the power of Hemingway's strong action verbs, especially for his story lines, characters, and style. These are verbs that are forward-moving and aggressive in tone. (Like his characters!)

Consider how those choices differ significantly than a few from Virginia Woolf's opening page of Mrs. Dalloway :

Table of Virginia Woolf's verbs, including: burst versus break, plunged versus dip, flapped versus wave, stiffened versus set, and perched versus sat

Notice how Woolf's choices create the vibrant, descriptive style that marks her experimental novel and its main character. Consider the difference between “perched” and “sat.” “Perched” suggests an image of a bird, balancing on a wire. Applied to people, it connotes an anxiousness or readiness to stand again. “Sat” is much less specific. 

The strongest verbs for your own writing will depend on a few things: your story, the main character,  the genre, and the style that is uniquely yours. How do you choose then? Let's look at three tips to edit out weak, boring verbs. 

How to Edit for Strong Verbs FAST

So how do you root out those weak verbs and revise them quickly? Here are a few tips. 

1. Search for Weak Verbs

All verbs can be strong if they're used in specific, detailed, and descriptive sentences.

The issue comes when verbs are overused, doing more work than they're intended for, watering down the writing. 

Here are some verbs that tend to weaken your writing:

Did you notice that most of these are “to be” verbs? That's because “to be” verbs are linking verbs or state of being verbs. Their purpose is to describe conditions.

For example, in the sentence “They are happy,” the verb “are” is used to describe the state of the subject. 

There's nothing particularly wrong with linking verbs. Writers who have a reputation for strong writing, like Ernest Hemingway or Cormac McCarthy, use linking verbs constantly.

The problem comes when you overuse them. Linking verbs tend to involve more telling  vs. showing .

Strong verbs, on the other hand, are usually action verbs, like whack, said, ran, lassoed, and spit (see more in the list below). 

The most important thing is to use the best verb for the context, while emphasizing specific, important details.

Take a look at the following example early into Hemingway's  For Whom the Bell Tolls :

The young man, who was studying the country, took his glasses from the pocket of his faded, khaki flannel shirt, wiped the lenses with a handkerchief, screwed the eyepieces around until the boards of the mill showed suddenly clearly and he saw the wooden bench beside the door; the huge pile of sawdust that rose behind the open shed where the circular saw was , and a stretch of the flume that brought the logs down from the mountainside on the other bank of the stream.

I've highlighted all the verbs. You can see here that Hemingway does use the word “was,” but most of the verbs are action verbs, wiped, took, screwed, saw, etc. The result of this single sentence is that the audience pictures the scene with perfect clarity.

Here's another example from Naomi Novick's Deadly Education:

He was only a few steps from my desk chair, still hunched panting over the bubbling purplish smear of the soul-eater that was now steadily oozing into the narrow cracks between the floor tiles, the better to spread all over my room. The fading incandescence on his hands was illuminating his face, not an extraordinary face or anything: he had a big beaky nose that would maybe be dramatic one day when the rest of his face caught up, but for now was just too large, and his forehead was dripping sweat and plastered with his silver-grey hair that he hadn’t cut for three weeks too long.

Vivid right? You can see that again, she incorporates weaker verbs (was, had) into her writing, but the majority are highly descriptive action verbs like hunched, illuminating, spread, plastered, and dripping.

Don't be afraid of linking verbs, state verbs, or helping verbs, but emphasize action words to make your writing more powerful.

2. Remove Adverbs and Replace the Verbs to Make Them Stronger

Adverbs add more detail and qualifications to verbs or adjectives. You can spot them because they usually end in “-ly,” like the word “usually” in this sentence, or frequently, readily, happily, etc.

Adverbs get a bad rap from writers.

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs,” Stephen King said.

“Adverbs are dead to me. They cannot excite me,” said Mark Twain . 

“I was taught to distrust adjectives,” said Hemingway, “as I would later learn to distrust certain people in certain situations.”

Even Voltaire jumped in on the adverb dogpile, saying, “Adjectives are frequently the greatest enemy of the substantive.”

All of these writers, though, used adverbs when necessary. Still, the average writer uses them far more than they did.

Adverbs signal weak verbs. After all, why use two words, an adverb and a verb, when one strong verb can do.

Look at the following examples of adverbs with weak verbs replaced by stronger verbs:

  • He ran quickly –> He sprinted
  • She said loudly –> She shouted
  • He ate hungrily –> He devoured his meal
  • They talked quietly –> They whispered

Strive for simple, strong, clear language over padding your writing with  more  words. 

You don't need to completely remove adverbs from your writing. Hemingway himself used them frequently. But cultivating a healthy distrust of adverbs seems to be a sign of wisdom among writers.

3. Stop Hedging and “Eliminate Weasel Words”

Amazon's third tip for writing for employees is “Eliminate Weasel Words,” and that advice applies to verbs too.

Instead of “nearly all customers,” say, “89 percent of customers.”

Instead of “significantly better,” say, “a 43 percent improvement.”

Weasel words are a form of hedging.

Hedging allows you to avoid commitment by using qualifiers such as “probably,” “maybe,” “sometimes,” “often,” “nearly always,” “I think,” “It seems,” and so on.

Hedge words or phrases soften the impact of a statement or to reduce the level of commitment to the statement's accuracy.

By eliminating hedging, you're forced to strengthen all your language, including verbs.

What do you really think about something? Don't say, “I think.” Stand by it. A thing is or isn't. You don't  think  it is or believe it is. You stand by it.

If you write courageously with strength of opinion, your verbs grow stronger as well.

strong verbs for essay writing

Beware the Thesaurus: Strong Verbs are Simple Verbs

I caveat this advice with the advice to beware thesauruses.

Strong writing is almost always simple writing. 

Writers who replace verbs like “was” and “get” with long, five-syllable verbs that mean the same thing as a simple, one-syllable verb don't actually communicate more clearly.

To prepare for this article, I studied the verb use in the first chapters of several books by my favorite authors, including Ernest Hemingway's  For Whom the Bell Tolls  and Naomi Novik's Deadly Education.

Hemingway has a bigger reputation as a stylist and a “great” writer, but I found that Novik's verb choice was just as strong and even slightly more varied. 

Hemingway tended to use simpler, shorter verbs, though, often repeating verbs, whereas Novik's verbs were longer and often more varied.

I love both of these writers, but if you're measuring strength, simplicity will most often win.

In dialogue this is especially important . Writers sometimes try to find every synonym for the word, “said” to describe the exact timber and attitude of how a character is speaking.

This becomes a distraction from the dialogue itself. In dialogue, the words spoken should speak for themselves, not whatever synonym the writer has looked up for “said.” 

Writers should use simple speaker tags like “said” and “asked” as a rule, only varying that occasionally when the situation warrants it.

270+ Strong Verbs List

We've argued strong verbs are detailed, descriptive, action verbs, and below, I list over 200 strong verbs to make your writing better.

I compiled this list directly from the first chapters of some of my favorite books, already mentioned previously,  For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway,  Deadly Education  by Naomi Novik, and The Undoing Project   by Michael Lewis.

This is a necessarily simplified list, taken only from the first chapters of those books.  There are thousands of strong verbs, usually action verbs, but these are a good start.

I've also sorted them alphabetically and put them into present tense.

  • Collaborate
  • Intellectualize

The Best Way to Learn to Use Strong Verbs

The above tips will help get you started using strong verbs, but the best way to learn how to grow as a writer with your verbs is through reading.

But not just reading, studying the work of your favorite writers carefully and then trying to emulate it, especially in the genre you write in.

As Cormac McCarthy, who passed away recently, said, “The unfortunate truth is that books are made from books.”

If you want to grow as a writer, start with the books you love. Then adapt your style from there.

Which tip will help you use more strong verbs in your writing today? Let me know in the comments.  

Choose one of the following three practice exercises:

1. Study the verb use in the first chapter of one of your favorite books. Write down all of the verbs the author uses. Roughly what percentage are action verbs versus linking verbs? What else do you notice about their verb choice?

2. Free write for fifteen minutes using only action verbs and avoiding all “to be” verbs and adverbs.

3. Edit a piece that you've written, replacing the majority of linking verbs with action verbs and adverbs with stronger verbs.

Share your practice in the Pro Practice Workshop here , and give feedback to a few other writers. 

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Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris , a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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Powerful Verbs for Your Writing

Inventory Your Own Verbs for Powerful Writing

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  • M.Ed., Education Administration, University of Georgia
  • B.A., History, Armstrong State University

Verbs are action words, right? We all remember that from elementary school. Verbs describe the action that is taking place.

But verbs don't have to surrender all the fun and emotional power to adjectives —the words that traditionally paint the pictures in our heads. As a matter of fact, the most powerful writers use verbs quite effectively to illustrate their writing.

Review Your Verbs

After you complete a draft of your paper, it might be a good idea to conduct a verb inventory. Just read over your draft and underline all your verbs. Do you see repetition? Are you bored?

Verbs like said, walked, looked, and thought can be replaced with more descriptive words like mumbled, sauntered, eyeballed, and pondered . Here are a few more suggestions:

  • severed (with his eyes)

Get Creative With Verbs

One way to make verbs more interesting is to invent them from other word forms. Sounds illegal, doesn't it? But it's not like you're printing dollar bills in your basement.

One type of noun that works well is animal types, since some animals have very strong characteristics. Skunks, for instance, have a reputation for being stinky or spoiling the air.

Do the following statements evoke powerful images?

  • He skunked the party up with his cologne... She snaked the hallways... She wormed her way out of the class...

Jobs as Verbs

Another noun type that works well is names of occupations. We often use doctor as a verb, as in the following sentence:

  • She doctored the paper until it was perfect.

Doesn't that evoke the image of a woman hovering over a piece of writing, tools in hand, crafting and nurturing the paper to perfection? What other occupations could paint such a clear scene? How about police ?

  • Mrs. Parsons policed her garden until it was completely pest free.

You can get very creative with unusual verbs:

  • bubble-wrapped the insult (to suggest that the insult was surrounded by "softer" words)
  • tabled your idea

But you do have to use colorful verbs tactfully. Use good judgment and don't overdo the creativity. Language is like clothing--too much color can be just plain odd.

List of Power Verbs

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The Ultimate Strong Verbs List And Guide To Power Up Your Writing

Why should it matter so much whether your verbs are strong or weak?

And how do you even know if you’re using weak verbs?

If you know the answer to the question, “What is a verb?” and if you enjoy reading, it won’t take long to answer the bigger question of how to replace weak verbs with strong ones.

Because you know the purpose of the verb isn’t just to give you a pencil tracing of what’s going on.

It’s supposed to show you as much as possible with an economy of words .

This is why adverbs get so little love from writers nowadays.

They try to compensate for the inadequacies of weak verbs, but all they end up doing is making the sentence harder to read (without cringing).

Who knew there were two types of verbs, anyway, though?

Don’t all verbs basically do the same thing?

Well, yes and no.

Weak verbs can tell your reader what’s happening, but only strong verbs can catapult them right into the action.

Want to know how? Of course, you do!

What writer doesn’t want to master the art of captivating their readers with strong, evocative language?

And to help you do this, we’ve included a strong verbs list, which you can draw from to turn a basic narration into a full-color IMAX in-house movie.

But how do you tell a weak verb from a strong one?

Strong Verbs Vs. Weak Verbs

Replacing to be verbs, to be verbs list, power verbs, vivid verbs, forceful verbs, interesting verbs, descriptive verbs, cooler ways to say “said”, strong action verbs, what are strong verbs.

Strong verbs are the best verbs for a specific context because they do the following:

The strongest verb is the one that communicates exactly what someone is doing and how they are doing it — without any need for an adverb.

By contrast, the weakest verb is the easiest one to use, and it communicates as little as possible while giving you the basic idea of what’s going on.

Sometimes, a weak verb is the one to use, but if all or most of your verbs are weak, your writing will be dull and lifeless. It won’t paint a clear picture, and it won’t evoke an emotional response.

And it’s way too easy to put down.

While strong verbs are specific, weak verbs are general.

For example, you can say someone ran down the hallway, and that gives you the basic idea of what’s happening, but it’s also bland.

But if you say he bolted down the hallway, you communicate more of the urgency or even panic behind it.

You show the reader some of the emotion behind the action. Weak or “basic” verbs don’t do that.

When you use weak verbs like “ran” or “walked” or “smiled,” it’s tempting to use an adverb or a clichéd adverbial phrase to make the verb sound more interesting by telling the reader how the subject is doing something.

Strong verbs SHOW. Weak verbs — and their supporting adverbs — TELL.

The adverbs don’t really make the verb more compelling. They add detail but without making the action feel more real.

The character running frantically down the hallway is as much a stick figure as the one running like a cheetah. But the character bolting down the hallway makes the reader wonder what might be pursuing him or what’s at stake.

Or if the reader already knows the why, the word “bolted” is more satisfying than simply “ran.”

As the more appropriate verb, it feels more like the appropriate response to the danger at hand, and it leads the reader deeper into the story .

Strong verbs paint clearer and more vivid images in the reader’s mind, making them care more about what will happen next. They add an extra dimension to the character taking action.

How easy is it, though, to replace your weak verbs with strong ones?

Weak verbs are everywhere because they’re easy to use.

If there was a supermarket for verbs, the weak ones would be at eye-level and right across from the ice cream freezer. We’re only human.

The weakest of the weak verbs are “to be” verbs (also called simply “be verbs”). They’re not evil incarnate, though. and there are times when they’re the best words to use.

If you can say the same thing with a strong verb — in a way that doesn’t sound like you’re forcing it in there — go with it. But don’t try to make every verb a strong one.

No one wants to read something that sounds like the writer swallowed a thesaurus and chased it with some ipecac, but try to mix it up as much as you can.

When your reader’s attention is at stake, it’s worth it to find verbs that will get the response you want.

It’s also worth changing combinations like the following to eliminate the extra “to be” verb:

These verbs are used alone and as part of compound verbs like “are used” and “has been scared.”

If you’re yawning right now, you’re not alone. While there’s definitely a place for “to be verbs,” don’t let them do all the work.

Don’t beat yourself up, though, if you look through something you’ve written and you find that most of your verbs (or even all of them) are weak verbs. As I mentioned earlier, they’re low-hanging fruit. We all use them.

But when you’re more conscious of the verbs you choose, chances are your readers will be more conscious, too.

If you’re not already familiar with the “to be” verbs, here’s a list:

The Ultimate Strong Verbs List

We’ve broken the following list of strong verbs into subsets to help you more quickly find the strong verb with the exact quality you want — from vivid to forceful to fun.

Verbs do have a tone, and even verbs that mean generally the same thing won’t work equally well in the same context.

If your character is having a nighttime phone conversation within earshot of her sleeping captors, you’ll want to avoid dialogue tags with verbs like “broadcasted,” “blabbered,” or “announced.”

The thesaurus does open the door to a whole new universe of more evocative verbs, though, and the lists below give you a taste.

Part of what makes the verb appropriate, though, is the sound it makes and how it affects the rhythm of your sentence.

So, read the word aloud in the context of your sentence and make sure it reads easily, sounds like it belongs there, and creates the right visual effect.

The same verb can belong to multiple categories, based on the impact you want to make and on the mood you’re in as you read this.

Take a slow read through the lists that follow and take note of the ones that stand out for you.

If you’re rereading one of your sentences and feeling the need for a more powerful verb — one that grabs the reader’s attention and leaves them in no doubt as to your meaning — see if one of the following verbs are a better fit.

Maybe they’ll at least get your mind so in tune with powerful verbs that you have an easier time thinking of just the right one.

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Some verbs just don’t create a vivid enough picture for your reader . You want a verb with visuals that pop in your reader’s mind.

The following should give you some ideas.

If you’re looking for a verb with a strong and undeniable presence — one that gets the message across with a one-two punch and without apologies — consider the verbs in this list.

Maybe you just want a verb that sounds more interesting than your original choice — but without sounding forced or flowery.

You don’t want purple prose, but you do want to keep your reader interested. So, mix it up with one of the dazzling verbs below.

Some verbs are just more fun than others. It’s not a competition; it’s just how it is.

Some verbs get all the oohs and ahhs but none of the laughs. They’re cool with it. They know their place.

Some verbs just do a better job of describing how a character is doing something.

It paints a clearer picture, so the reader is better able to visualize what’s going on.

These might not be the most vivid verbs, but they do show you more detail than your average “basic” verb.

You’ll find some of these in the other lists, but it makes sense to gather up other ways to say “said” into a list of their own.

Sometimes, “said” is just fine. But if you’re using a lot of dialogue tags, and you’d like to show a little more of how your character is saying something (with making things awkward), a list of strong “said” verbs will come in mighty handy.

Don’t overdo them, though. And if you can indicate who’s speaking without using a dialogue tag at all, so much the better.

The following verbs are also helpful in other contexts where you might use the word “said.”

Side Note: I’m omitting the word “exclaimed” on purpose; the word is overused and pure torture to read.

With strong action verbs, you can almost physically feel their impact. You should also be able to picture the action each word represents. Look through the following list and see what visuals and sounds come to mind. 

Was this list of strong verbs helpful?

Now that you have a fair sampling of strong verbs to choose from, we hope you keep this post handy, and that it serves you well.

Remember that it’s not so much a question of good verbs vs. bad verbs.

The weakness of a “to be” verb or a general verb doesn’t make it bad; it just makes it less communicative. It has less of an impact than a strong verb.

But as we mentioned before, sometimes a weak verb is honestly the best fit. Think of dialogue, for example. How many people do you know who always use strong verbs in every spoken sentence?

I don’t know any. And that’s okay. Sometimes, phrases using weak verbs — like “Need more coffee” — say everything you need to say. So, no verb shaming allowed.

May your ingenuity and compassion influence everything you do today.

In your writing, don't ignore those little words that convey an action, an occurrence, or a state of being. This strong verbs list is your ultimate guide to using descriptive and powerful verbs the right way to captivate your readers.

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Table of Contents

Collaboration, information literacy, writing process, strong verbs.

Strong verbs are verbs that convey a lot of precise meaning without the help of modifiers or qualifications. Using strong verbs is usually an appropriate stylistic choice. Strong verbs make your writing more concise, help you avoid vague descriptions, and can keep your readers interested. When you don’t use a variety of strong verbs, you risk losing your readers’ interest with repetitive and bland verbs.

To identify whether you’re using strong verbs, identify all the verbs in your writing, evaluate whether those verbs are repetitive, and decide whether those verbs convey precise and evocative meanings.

1. Firs t,  review a representative sample of peer writing and highlight all of the verbs. 

Systematic poverty  is  a consequence of structural disparities, not individual choices. In contemporary American society, people often have to select  either personal fulfillment or economic security. But many people  do not even have  that choice. Inadequate education, healthcare, and nutrition all  make  people less likely  to have  the opportunity  to get  personal fulfillment or economic security, let alone both.

2.  Second, evaluate wether your verbs are repetitive.  For example, we can evaluate the verbs in the excerpt above: 

Verbs:  is ,  have to select ,  do not have ,  make ,  to have ,  to get

In the excerpt, 3 out of 6 verbs are some version of have . This feels very repetitive.

Note: Technically, the infinitives like “to select” and “to have” are not functioning grammatically like verbs in these sentences. These infinitive verbs can still contribute to a passage’s feeling of repetitiousness and imprecise meaning.

3.  Third, decide whether your verbs convey precise meanings or rely on surrounding words to create meaning.  For example, we can evaluate the verbs in the except just above. 

Is ,  have , and  get  are all relatively imprecise verbs. They’re all-purpose because they can play a lot of roles in a sentence and don’t necessarily give us a strong sense of the action in a particular sentence. For example, “she  is  happy” conveys the same meaning as “she  grinned  broadly,” but the verb  grin  provides much more specific information than  is  does. It’s also a more interesting verb because it helps the reader conjure a mental image rather than just imagine an intangible feeling.

To select  and  make  both convey relatively precise meanings.  To select  lets us know that a choice is being made, and  make  lets us know that either an action is forced to happen or something is fabricated. Of course,  force  and  fabricate  both convey stronger and more precise meanings, so they might be better choices for your writing.

Based on our evaluation, the sample excerpt repeatedly uses verbs that do not convey precise meanings. It is lacking in strong verbs.

How can I revise my writing to include more strong verbs?

To include more strong verbs, identify and replace repetitive and non-precise verbs. If necessary, revise other parts of sentences to accommodate the new strong verbs. For example, the sample paragraph above can be revised to the following:

Systematic poverty  results  from structural disparities, not individual choices. In contemporary American society, people often  must choose  between either personal fulfillment or economic security. But many people  do not even have  that choice. Inadequate education, healthcare, and nutrition all rob people of the opportunity  to achieve  personal fulfillment or economic security, let alone both.

In this example, many of the verbs are repetitive or non-specific. Even when they have relatively specific meanings (like  have to select  and  make ), replacing them with less common and more specific verbs can make the passage more interesting and clarify the writer’s views.

Revised : Systematic poverty  results  from structural disparities, not individual choices. (Here, the phrase  is a consequence of  is replaced by a single verb,  results .)

Revised : In contemporary American society, people often  must choose  between either personal fulfillment or economic security. ( Must choose  is more succinct than  have to select  and eliminates the repetitive  have .)

Revised : But many people  do not even have  that choice. (Once the other uses of  have  are replaced, this use is no longer repetitive.)

Revised : Inadequate education, healthcare, and nutrition all  rob  people of the opportunity  to achieve personal fulfillment or economic security, let alone both. ( Rob  reveals the strong emotion raised by the injustice the author is writing about.  To achieve  fits the tone of this formal passage better than  to get .)

The overall effect of these new, strong verbs is a passage that conveys information clearly and hints at the writer’s emotional engagement with the subject matter.

What are some common reasons for an ineffective lack of strong verbs?

There are many reasons writing may lack strong verbs. If your writing lacks strong verbs, check to see if any of these characteristics might be the reason:

  • Overreliance on  is  and  has .   Is  and  has  are both very versatile verbs. In some cases they’re necessary to using the right tense (e.g. “I  had seen the prancercise video,” “The video  is  going viral.”) or they’re the most appropriate verb for the sentence (e.g. “I  have  a fever,” “I  am hot.”). However, it’s easy to get in the habit of relying on these verbs. See the difference in this example when  is  and  has  are replaced with strong verbs.

Original: Malcolm  has  a hard time writing papers. He  is  very good at drawing, though.

Revised: Malcolm  struggles  with writing papers. He  draws  very well, though.

  • Excessive nominalizations.  Nominalizations are nouns created from other types of words, like adjectives, adverbs, and verbs. Examples include  demonstration  from  demonstrate ,  destruction  from  destroy , and  hopefulness  from  hopeful . Using nominalizations is not necessarily wrong. However, using excessive nominalizations can bog down a piece of writing by replacing strong verbs with nominalizations of those verbs. In the revised example, the strong verbs make the action of the sentence clearer and better illustrated.

Original: Watson and Crick made the  announcement  of the  discovery  of DNA in 1953.

Revised: Watson and Crick  announced  that they  had discovered  DNA in 1953.

  • Toning it down.  Some writing occasions tempt us to avoid displaying strong emotion or seeming to take stand on an issue. While this avoidance is sometimes appropriate, sometimes it can suck the life out of writing, making it seem boring or dull. See how the revised example reveals more about the author’s perspective on the issue at hand.

Original: Exporting e-waste to developing countries  can lead  to poor environmental consequences.

Revised: Exporting e-waste to developing countries destroys  the environment.

Should writing always include a variety of strong verbs?

In some cases, using more generic verbs can be appropriate. Technical writers who draft instructions for broad audiences often choose simple, well-known verbs which will be most accessible to the widest variety of readers. For example, although  fabricate  may be the most technically accurate choice, make  might be the more accessible and appropriate.

When in doubt, consult a thesaurus to find stronger verbs–be cautious, though. A thesaurus is a great resource when used properly. Be sure that the word you choose is actually the best word for the situation!

Brevity - Say More with Less

Brevity - Say More with Less

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

Coherence - How to Achieve Coherence in Writing

Coherence - How to Achieve Coherence in Writing

Diction

Flow - How to Create Flow in Writing

Inclusivity - Inclusive Language

Inclusivity - Inclusive Language

Simplicity

The Elements of Style - The DNA of Powerful Writing

Unity

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Dr. Karen Palmer

When revising your paper, one thing to look for is your verb use. Using wimpy verbs can make your writing appear uninteresting and lackluster. However, using strong verbs livens up your writing and keeps readers interested. In each of the sections below, we identify some ideas for strengthening your verbs. You can use the Find feature in Word to search for each of these types of weak verbs and determine how you might make revisions that will make your writing more interesting.

Video licensed Creative Commons license.

Avoid “State of Being” Verbs

Read through your paper and look for any forms of the verbs be, do, and have.

am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been

do, does, did, doing, done

have, has, had, having

These are verbs that reflect a state of being, rather than action. To spice up your writing, try to change at least some of those ‘state of being’ verbs to more active options. =

He had a lot of clothes.

His clothes overflowed his closets.

Notice that when we eliminate the state of being verb, the sentence gets much more interesting!

Avoid Verbs Followed by an Adverb

Look for any places in your writing where a verb is followed by an adverb.

She walked slowly.

He ate quickly.

Replace these pairs of verbs and adverbs with a stronger verb that conveys the feeling of the adverb. 

She dragged her feet.

He gulped his food.

Use Active Voice

Two sentences can generally say the same thing but leave an entirely different impression based on the verb choices. For example, which of the following sentences gives you the most vivid mental picture?

A bald eagle was overhead and now is low in the sky near me.

A bald eagle soared overhead and then dove low, seemingly coming right at me.

Even though the passive voice might include an action verb, the strength of the action verb is lessened by the structure of the sentence. Also, the passive voice tends to create unnecessary wordiness.

Read the following sentences and think of a way to reword each using an action verb in active voice.

1. Original: The zebras were fed by the zoo workers. (eight words)

2. Original: Water was spewed in the air by the elephant. (nine words)

3. Original: The home of the hippopotamus was cleaned up and made tidy by Hank the Hippo Man. (sixteen words)

When to Use Passive Voice

Sometimes passive voice actually is the best option. The point is to only use passive voice when you consciously decide to do so. There are several different situations where the passive voice is more useful than the active voice.

  • When you don’t know who did the action:  The paper had been moved.
  • When you want to hide who did the action:  The window had been broken.
  • When you want to emphasize the person or thing the action was done to (or the person or thing that performed the action is not important): Caroline was hurt when Kent broke up with her. or The park was flooded all week.
  • When you do not want to place credit, responsibility, or blame: A mistake was made in the investigation that resulted in the wrong person being on trial.
  • When you want to maintain the impression of objectivity: It was noted that only first graders chose to eat the fruit.
  • A subject that can’t actually  do  anything:  Caroline was hurt when she fell into the trees.
  • When you want to avoid using a gendered construction and pluralizing is not an option: If the password is forgotten by the user, a security question will be asked.

However, some instructors and/or disciplines prefer that the passive voice not be used. This could be due to requirements for writing in that discipline, or it could be a way for an instructor to be sure students don’t overuse the passive voice. Overuse of the passive voice makes writing dull, so be sure you are using it appropriately.

Avoid “There is/There are/It is” Constructions

You might have developed a tendency to use another rather dull and unimaginative form of passive voice, by starting sentences with “there is,” “there are,” “there were,” “it is,” or “it was.” Read each of the following examples of this kind of passive voice construction . In your head, think of a way to reword the sentence to make it more interesting by using an action verb.

Look through your paper and circle any sentence that begin with “There is” or “There are” or “It is.” These sentence openings can make your writing seem dull and repetitive. Try removing “There is” or “There are” to make your sentences more interesting.

It is interesting to study literature.

vs The study of literature interests me.

As a rule, try to express yourself with action verbs instead of forms of the verb “to be.” Sometimes it is fine to use forms of the verb “to be,” such as “is” or “are,” but it is easy to overuse them (as in this sentence—twice). Overuse of such verbs results in dull writing.

Read each of the following sentences and note the use of the verb “to be.” In your head, think of a way to reword the sentence to make it more interesting by using an action verb. Then look at how each revision uses one or more action verbs .

Original: A photo was snapped, the tiger was upset, and Elizabeth was on the ground.

Revision: Elizabeth innocently snapped the photo and the lion let out a roar that sent Elizabeth scrambling backward until she fell down.

1. Original: A giraffe’s neck is long and thin, but it is as much as five hundred pounds in weight.

2. Original: An elephant is able to drink eighty gallons of water and is likely to eat one thousand pounds of vegetation in a day.

3. Original: There are thousands of butterflies in the Butterfly House.

4. Original: There were four giraffes eating leaves from the trees.

Attributions

  • “Choosing Appropriate Verb Tenses”, section 15.2 from the book Writers’ Handbook (v. 1.0). For details on it (including licensing), click here .
  • The Passive versus Active Voice Dilemma. Authored by: Joe Schall. Provided by: The Pennsylvania State University. Located at:  https://www.e-education.psu.edu/styleforstudents/c1_p11.html . License:  CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • Content adapted from “ Writing in Active Voice and Uses of Passive Voice ” licensed under CC BY NC SA 3.0 . 

The RoughWriter's Guide Copyright © 2020 by Dr. Karen Palmer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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KathySteinemann.com: Free Resources for Writers and Poets

Word lists, cheat sheets, and sometimes irreverent reviews of writing rules. kathy steinemann is the author of the writer's lexicon series..

strong verbs for essay writing

Strong Verbs Cheat Sheet: A Word List for Writers

Strong Verbs Cheat Sheet

Ambiguous Verbs Dilute Writing

Which of these sentences prompts a more powerful image?

He walked to the door.

He plodded to the door.

The second example shows us a character who might be tired, lonely, or depressed. One verb paints a powerful picture.

Some sources insist that writers should show — almost to the exclusion of tell. A frequent consequence of this approach is word bloat . However, well-chosen verbs deliver precise meanings. They invigorate narrative without increasing word count.

Harness Strong Verbs and Their Diverse Nuances

The child was under her guardian’s care.

This statement offers a basic fact but no details that might further the story.

Review the following three revisions. Each one replaces was with a stronger alternative:

The child thrived under her guardian’s care.

This child is healthy. We intuit a caring guardian who probably feeds the girl well and attends to her physical and emotional needs.

The child endured under her guardian’s care.

The second child might be alive in spite of her guardian’s care. Perhaps he abuses her physically or emotionally.

The child subsisted under her guardian’s care.

The third child survives, albeit at a minimal level. Perhaps the guardian doesn’t provide a healthy diet or a clean environment.

Let’s Evaluate Another Scenario

Alyssa walked toward the table while she looked at the grandfather clock next to the china cabinet. The clock chimed midnight. She pulled out her phone and touched the screen. Three hours. Henry had been gone for three hours.

Here, we see a woman who is waiting for Henry. However, we don’t know whether she’s worried or angry . Let’s change the underlined verbs:

Alyssa trudged toward the table while she stared at the grandfather clock next to the china cabinet. The clock chimed midnight. She dragged out her phone and fondled the screen. Three hours. Henry had been gone for three hours.

The strong verbs show an Alyssa who seems worried, perhaps even depressed. She fondles the screen of her phone. Maybe her screensaver is a photo of Henry.

Alyssa stomped toward the table while she glared at the grandfather clock next to the china cabinet. The clock chimed midnight. She jerked out her phone and jabbed the screen. Three hours. Henry had been gone for three hours.

Do you have any doubt that this Alyssa is angry?

A Final Set of Examples

Sparks appeared in the hallway, and smoke blew into the coffee room. Trent went to the fire alarm and pulled the handle. He listened . No sound from the alarm. He moved toward the emergency exit.

In view of the circumstances, Trent seems illogically nonchalant.

Sparks erupted in the hallway, and smoke billowed into the coffee room. Trent raced to the fire alarm and wrenched the handle. He concentrated . No sound from the alarm. He inched toward the emergency exit.

This Trent acts suitably anxious, but he exhibits care while he moves through the smoke toward the emergency exit.

The Cheat Sheet

The following list contains several common verbs, along with suggested alternatives.

appear: emerge, erupt, expand, flash into view, materialize, pop up, solidify, spread out, surface, take shape, unfold, unfurl, unwrap

be: bloom, blossom, endure, exist, flourish, last, live, manage, persevere, persist, prevail, remain, stay, subsist, survive, thrive

begin: activate, commence, create, initiate, launch, originate [Do you need begin, start, or their relatives? Writing is usually stronger without them.]

believe: accept, admit, affirm, conjecture, hope, hypothesize, imagine, postulate, presume, speculate, surmise, suspect, trust

blow: billow, blast, curl, drift, eddy, flow, flutter, fly, gasp, glide, gust, puff, roar, sail, scud, sough, storm, surge, swell, undulate, waft, whirl

break: crush, decimate, demolish, destroy, disintegrate, flatten, fracture, fragment, raze, shatter, smash, snap, splinter, split

bring: bear, carry, cart, drag, draggle, ferry, fetch, forward, haul, heave, heft, lug, relay, schlep, send, shuttle, tow, transport

close: bang shut, bar, block, blockade, bolt, bung, cork, fasten, latch, lock, obstruct, plug, seal, secure, slam, squeeze shut, stopper

come: advance, approach, arrive, draw near, drive, enter, fly, near, proceed, reach, show up, slip in, sneak, travel, turn up

cry: bawl, bellow, bleat, blubber, howl, keen, mewl, moan, snivel, scream, sob, squall, squeal, wail, weep, whimper, whine, yelp

disappear: atomize, crumble, disband, disperse, dissipate, dissolve, evaporate, fade away, fizzle out, melt away, scatter, vaporize

do: accomplish, achieve, attempt, complete, consummate, enact, execute, fulfill, implement, perform, shoulder, undertake

eat: bolt, chomp, consume, devour, dine, gobble, gnaw at, gorge, guzzle, ingest, inhale, munch, nibble, pick at, scarf, wolf down

feel (1): appreciate, bear, encounter, endure, experience, face, tolerate, stand, suffer, suspect, undergo, weather, withstand

feel (2): brush, caress, finger, fondle, grope, knead, manipulate, massage, palpate, pat, paw, poke, press, prod, rub, stroke, tap

get: annex, acquire, appropriate, attain, capture, clear, collect, earn, gain, gather, gross, land, procure, purchase, score, secure, steal, win

give: award, bequeath, bestow, confer, contribute, deliver, donate, grant, lend, offer, present, proffer, turn over, volunteer, vouchsafe

go: abscond, bolt, escape, exit, flee, fly, hightail it, journey, retire, retreat, sally, scram, set out, split, travel, vamoose, withdraw

have: boast, brandish, conserve, control, display, enjoy, flaunt, hoard, husband, keep, maintain, own, possess, preserve, retain

help: abet, aid, alleviate, assist, augment, back, bolster, comfort, encourage, improve, relieve, rescue, sanction, succor, support

hold: capture, clasp, clench, cling, clutch, cuddle, embrace, enfold, envelop, grapple, grasp, grip, hug, pinch, seize, snatch, squeeze

jump: bob, bobble, bounce, bound, caper, cavort, clear, frisk, hop, hurdle, jolt, jounce, leap, leapfrog, rocket, romp, skip, spring, vault

know: appreciate, comprehend, fathom, follow, grasp, identify, perceive, realize, recollect, recognize, register, twig, understand

let: accept, acquiesce, allow, approve, authorize, consent, empower, enable, facilitate, license, okay, permit, sanction, suffer, tolerate

like: admire, adore, adulate, cherish, dote, enjoy, esteem, honor, idolize, relish, respect, revere, savor, treasure, venerate, worship

listen: earwig, concentrate, eavesdrop, focus on, heed, monitor, overhear, pay attention, perk the ears, snoop, spy, take note

look: eye, examine, gape, gawk, gaze, glance, glare, goggle, inspect, ogle, peek, peer, rubberneck, scrutinize, stare, study, survey

move: advance, budge, climb, creep, edge, gallivant, inch, progress, reposition, shift, sidle, slide, slink, slip, slither, stir, tiptoe, travel

occur: arise, befall, betide, chance, coalesce, crop up, crystalize, ensue, eventuate, manifest, supervene, surface, transpire

pull: drag, draw, extract, haul, jerk, lug, mine, pluck, schlep, seize, snatch, tow, trawl, troll, tug, tweak, twist, withdraw, wrench, yank

put: arrange, deposit, drop, dump, lay, leave, lodge, organize, park, place, plant, plonk, plunk, position, push, release, stash, wedge

run: bolt, charge, dart, dash, gallop, hurtle, jog, lope, race, rush, scamper, scurry, scoot, shoot, speed, sprint, tear, trot, zip, zoom

see: detect, differentiate, discover, distinguish, glimpse, identify, notice, observe, perceive, recognize, sight, spot, view, witness

shake: agitate, churn, convulse, jiggle, joggle, jostle, judder, quake, quiver, rock, seethe, shudder, sway, tremble, vibrate, wobble

sit: alight, collapse into, drop into, fall into, flop, hang, loll, lounge, park, perch, recline, rest, roost, settle, slump into, sprawl, straddle

smile: beam, brighten, dimple, flash the teeth, glow, grin, leer, light up, radiate delight, simper, smirk, sneer, snigger, sparkle, twinkle

speak: articulate, chat, chatter, converse, enunciate, gossip, mumble, murmur, natter, orate, parley, proclaim, verbalize, vocalize, whisper

stand (1): abide, bear, brook, countenance, endure, live through, suffer through, stomach, survive, tolerate, undergo, weather

stand (2): arise, bob up, get to one’s feet, get up, jump out of one’s seat, jump up, leap up, push out of one’s seat, rise, rise up, spring up

stand (3): peacock, pose, position oneself, posture, seesaw, shift from foot to foot, strike a pose, sway, teeter, teeter-totter, wobble

take: carry, cart, conduct, convey, deliver, escort, ferry, guide, marshal, shepherd, shoulder, steer, tote, transfer, transport, usher

talk: argue, blather, burble, confer, converse, debate, deliberate, discuss, lecture, maunder, prate, splutter, sputter, stammer, stutter

tell: announce, apprise, assert, avow, chronicle, claim, declare, describe, disclose, divulge, maintain, narrate, proclaim, report, reveal

think: conceive, concoct, contemplate, deliberate, dream, envisage, imagine, invent, meditate, muse, ponder, reflect, visualize, weigh

touch: caress, elbow, finger, fondle, graze, handle, jab, jostle, manhandle, mess, pat, scrape, scratch, shove, stroke, tap, tousle

turn: circle, gyrate, gyre, pirouette, pivot, reel, revolve, rotate, spin, spiral, swivel, twirl, twist, twizzle, wheel, whip around, whirl

understand: absorb, believe, cognize, comprehend, conclude, decipher, fathom, grasp, interpret, make out, make sense of, unravel

use: apply, channel, deploy, employ, establish, exercise, exploit, harness, maneuver, manipulate, practice, ply, utilize, wield

walk: amble, dance, drift, march, meander, parade, patrol, plod, promenade, saunter, slog, stomp, stroll, trek, tromp, trudge, wander

watch: eyeball, follow, guard, inspect, observe, police, protect, safeguard, scan, scrutinize, stalk, study, surveil, survey, track, view

work: aspire, drudge, endeavor, exert oneself, fight, grind, labor, slog, skivvy, strain, strive, struggle, sweat, toil, travail, wrestle

Ready for a Few Verb Aerobics?

Replace the underlined words with stronger choices.

With a scowl on her face , Endora put her arms across her chest and looked at Samantha. “You haven’t looked like that since your father won the Mr. Universe Pageant two centuries ago. What’s up?”

“Oh, nothing.” Samantha smiled . “Darrin just received a promotion, and we’re going to the Bahamas to celebrate.”

“Goodie. I can babysit while you’re gone.”

“Sorry, Mom. The kids are going with us.”

A thunderclap sounded . The house shook . Endora looked at her daughter. “They’re what?”

Suggested solution

Endora crossed her arms and scowled at Samantha. “You haven’t looked like that since your father won the Mr. Universe Pageant two centuries ago. What’s up?”

“Oh, nothing.” Samantha grinned . “Darrin just received a promotion, and we’re going to the Bahamas to celebrate.”

A thunderclap boomed . The house juddered . Endora glared at her daughter. “They’re what?”

Notes: Put her arms across her chest becomes crossed her arms . Dialogue remains as is to seem realistic, including Samantha’s repetition of going . The short sentences in the final paragraph speed the action and amplify the tension.

What’s that noise? Angela turned around. She listened .

Maximus appeared in the mist. She moved toward him — close, closer. She touched his arm. He spoke so quietly she couldn’t understand his words.

Puzzled, she looked into his eyes . He looked back with opaque amber orbs.

She shook .

What’s that noise? Angela whipped around. She concentrated .

Maximus materialized in the mist. She inched toward him — close, closer — and caressed his arm. He mumbled so quietly she couldn’t decipher his words.

Puzzled, she peered into his eyes. He stared back with opaque amber orbs.

She trembled .

Notes: Each verb in the suggested solution was selected from the cheat sheet.

Timmy put his tooth under his pillow and smiled at Mummy. “When will the Tooth Fairy come?”

She touched his forehead. “Not until you’re asleep. When she hears you snoring, she’ll sneak in. You’ll never see her, because she makes herself invisible.”

He closed his eyes and made a snoring noise .

Mummy touched his hair. “Nuh-uh. She’s too smart to fall for that.”

“Awwww. But I want to see her.”

Timmy stashed his tooth under his pillow and beamed at Mummy. “When will the Tooth Fairy come?”

She stroked his forehead. “Not until you’re asleep. When she hears you snoring, she’ll sneak in. You’ll never see her, because she makes herself invisible.”

He squeezed his eyes shut and faked a snore .

Mummy tousled his hair. “Nuh-uh. She’s too smart to fall for that.”

Notes: Once again, dialogue is untouched. The replacements are straightforward.

Are You Interested in More Word Lists and Writing Tips?

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8 thoughts on “ Strong Verbs Cheat Sheet: A Word List for Writers ”

Very thoughtful and practical- I support your efforts.

Thanks, John.

I always enjoy your worthsmithing, Kathy, and this is one of your best. I’ll be sharing it with my writing critique group. Thanks! Lakota

Thanks, Lakota!

And thanks again for your advice on how writers can increase productivity and perseverance .

Thank you posting. I love it. Sounds strange I have aphasia a language disorder I got after having strokes. Did not take up writing before strokes wanted to. But now here I am and your message make purrrr fect sense. May I show my speech therapist? Copy it out and show her? blessings

Sure, Donna. Feel free to share. Do you find that your symptoms are improving with time and therapy?

Love your posts Kathy. Thank you. 🙂

Thanks for reading and sharing them, Debby!

Comments are closed.

threw the looking glass banner long

Make Your Writing Pop: An Essential List of Strong Verbs

Strong verbs are an important part of any piece of writing. They can make your sentences more vivid and engaging, allowing your readers to visualize the scene in their minds. Strong verbs also help add a sense of action and movement to your writing, making it more exciting and interesting. They can also help to make your writing more concise and direct, helping to get your point across quickly and effectively.

Replace These Verbs in Your Writing

Change your verbs with “ing” suffixes.

Changing your verbs that have an “ing” suffix is an important part of writing. It helps make your sentences more interesting and lively, as well as helping to create a better flow. Plus, it can help you avoid sounding repetitive. Here are a few examples of how you can switch up your “ing” verbs:

Before: I was running to the store. After: I sprinted to the store or I ran to the store.

Before: He was eating lunch. After: He devoured lunch or he ate lunch.

Before: She was walking home. After: She strolled home or she walked home.

By making small changes like these, you can add some extra flavor to your writing and make it more engaging for readers.

Replace Your Adverbs With Verbs

Replace Your Adverbs With Verbs is an important writing tool to help make your writing more vivid and engaging. It’s a great way to make your sentences more concise and effective by swapping out adverbs for verbs. This can help your writing stand out from the crowd and make it more memorable.

Here are a few before and after examples:

Before: She quickly ran away. After: She sprinted away.

Before: He softly whispered the secret. After: He murmured the secret.

Before: She angrily slammed the door shut. After: She banged the door shut.

A quick way to do this while editing is simply to search for “ly” and replace some of the words with more vivid verbs.

Replace Your State-of-Being Verbs

Replacing state-of-being verbs is an important step for making your writing more interesting and active. State-of-being verbs are words like “is,” “was,” “were,” and “am” that describes a state of being, but don’t really add any action to your writing. Instead of using these verbs, you can replace them with stronger, more descriptive verbs that will make your writing come alive!

Here are a few examples:

Before: He was happy. After: He grinned with delight.

Before: She is sad. After: She sobbed uncontrollably.

Before: They were angry. After: They fumed with rage.

So, keep an eye out for the boring old state-of-being verbs that look like the following, and consider replacing them:

Be en, Had, Do, Does, Did, Can, Are, Could, Am, Is, Will, Would, Should, May, Have, Has, M ight, Mus,t Sh all, Would, Was

List of 300 Strong Verbs

Now let’s get into the meat and potatoes, a huge list of strong verbs to replace the more boring ones in your writing, and bring the piece to life!

1. Accelerate 2. Achieve 3. Acquire 4. Act 5. Adapt 6. Address 7. Administer 8. Advance 9. Advocate 10. Affirm 11. Amplify 12. Analyze 13. Appraise 14. Apprehend 15. Approve 16. Argue 17. Arrange 18. Articulate 19. Ascertain 20. Assemble 21. Assess 22. Assign 23. Assimilate 24. Assure 25. Attain 26. Augment 27. Authenticate 28. Balance 29. Ban 30. Bankroll 31. Bar 32. Bolster 33. Bridge 34. Broaden 35. Budget 36. Build 37. Calculate 38. Call 39. Capitalize 40. Cast 41. Catalog 42. Centralize 43. Certify 44. Challenge 45. Chart 46. Clarify 47. Classify 48. Coalesce 49. Collaborate 50. Command 51. Commence 52. Commit 53. Compile 54. Comply 55. Compose 56. Comprehend 57. Compress 58. Conceive 59. Conclude 60. Condense 61. Conduct 62. Confer 63. Configure 64. Confirm 65. Connect 66. Consolidate 67. Construct 68. Consult 69. Contain 70. Contemplate 71. Continually 72. Contract 73. Contradict 74. Control 75. Convert 76. Coordinate 77. Correlate 78. Corroborate 79. Create 80. Critique 81. Cultivate 82. Curtail 83. Decentralize 84. Decipher 85. Declare 86. Decode 87. Deduce 88. Defend 89. Define 90. Deliberate 91. Deliver 92. Demonstrate 93. Denote 94. Depict 95. Derive 96. Describe 97. Designate 98. Determine 99. Develop 100. Devise 101. Diagnose 102. Differentiate 103. Direct 104. Discern 105. Discharge 106. Disclose 107. Discontinue 108. Discriminate 109. Disseminate 110. Distinguish 111. Divert 112. Document 113. Draft 114. Duplicate 115. Elaborate 116. Eliminate 117. Embrace 118. Enact 119. Encapsulate 120. Encompass 121. Encourage 122. Endorse 123. Engage 124. Enhance 125. Enlist 126. Enrich 127. Ensure 128. Establish 129. Evaluate 130. Examine 131. Execute 132. Exert 133. Expand 134. Expedite 135. Experiment 136. Explicate 137. Explore 138. Express 139. Fabricate 140. Facilitate 141. Fashion 142. Finalize 143. Forge 144. Formulate 145. Foster 146. Function 147. Generate 148. Govern 149. Grasp 150. Guide 151. Harmonize 152. Hasten 153. Identify 154. Illuminate 155. Illustrate 156. Implement 157. Improve 158. Inaugurate 159. Incorporate 160. Increase 161. Indicate 162. Induce 163. Infer 164. Initiate 165. Innovate 166. Inspect 167. Install 168. Instigate 169. Instruct 170. Integrate 171. Interpret 172. Interview 173. Introduce 174. Invent 175. Investigate 176. Isolate 177. Justify 178. Launch 179. Leverage 180. Liberate 181. List 182. Locate 183. Maximize 184. Mediate 185. Moderate 186. Monitor 187. Motivate 188. Negotiate 189. Nominate 190. Normalize 191. Obtain 192. Operate 193. Optimize 194. Order 195. Organize 196. Originate 197. Overcome 198. Participate 199. Perceive 200. Perfect 201. Perform 202. Persuade 203. Pinpoint 204. Pioneer 205. Plan 206. Prepare 207. Prescribe 208. Present 209. Preserve 210. Prioritize 211. Process 212. Procure 213. Produce 214. Program 215. Promote 216. Propose 217. Prosecute 218. Protect 219. Provision 220. Publish 221. Pursue 222. Qualify 223. Quantify 224. Query 225. Rate 226. Rationalize 227. Reaffirm 228. Realign 229. Reassess 230. Rebuild 231. Reconcile 232. Reconstruct 233. Recruit 234. Refine 235. Reformulate 236. Regulate 237. Reinforce 238. Reiterate 239. Rejuvenate 240. Relate 241. Release 242. Remedy 243. Render 244. Renew 245. Renovate 246. Reorganize 247. Rephrase 248. Replicate 249. Report 250. Represent 251. Reproduce 252. Require 253. Resolve 254. Respond 255. Restructure 256. Retain 257. Retrieve 258. Revise 259. Revitalize 260. Revolutionize 261. Reward 262. Route 263. Salvage 264. Satisfy 265. Secure 266. Segment 267. Select 268. Separate 269. Simulate 270. Solicit 271. Solve 272. Spearhead 273. Specify 274. Standardize 275. Stimulate 276. Strategize 277. Streamline 278. Structure 279. Substantiate 280. Supplement 281. Sustain 282. Synthesize 283. Tailor 284. Target 285. Testify 286. Transform 287. Translate 288. Transmit 289. Unify 290. Unite 291. Utilize 292. Validate 293. Verify 294. Veto 295. Visualize 296. Vitalize 297. Voluntarily 298. Weigh 299. Withdraw 300. Work

You might also be interested in learning all about how to make your own tongue twisters .

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Words to Use in an Essay: 300 Essay Words

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Hannah Yang

words to use in an essay

Table of Contents

Words to use in the essay introduction, words to use in the body of the essay, words to use in your essay conclusion, how to improve your essay writing vocabulary.

It’s not easy to write an academic essay .

Many students struggle to word their arguments in a logical and concise way.

To make matters worse, academic essays need to adhere to a certain level of formality, so we can’t always use the same word choices in essay writing that we would use in daily life.

If you’re struggling to choose the right words for your essay, don’t worry—you’ve come to the right place!

In this article, we’ve compiled a list of over 300 words and phrases to use in the introduction, body, and conclusion of your essay.

The introduction is one of the hardest parts of an essay to write.

You have only one chance to make a first impression, and you want to hook your reader. If the introduction isn’t effective, the reader might not even bother to read the rest of the essay.

That’s why it’s important to be thoughtful and deliberate with the words you choose at the beginning of your essay.

Many students use a quote in the introductory paragraph to establish credibility and set the tone for the rest of the essay.

When you’re referencing another author or speaker, try using some of these phrases:

To use the words of X

According to X

As X states

Example: To use the words of Hillary Clinton, “You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health.”

Near the end of the introduction, you should state the thesis to explain the central point of your paper.

If you’re not sure how to introduce your thesis, try using some of these phrases:

In this essay, I will…

The purpose of this essay…

This essay discusses…

In this paper, I put forward the claim that…

There are three main arguments for…

Phrases to introduce a thesis

Example: In this essay, I will explain why dress codes in public schools are detrimental to students.

After you’ve stated your thesis, it’s time to start presenting the arguments you’ll use to back up that central idea.

When you’re introducing the first of a series of arguments, you can use the following words:

First and foremost

First of all

To begin with

Example: First , consider the effects that this new social security policy would have on low-income taxpayers.

All these words and phrases will help you create a more successful introduction and convince your audience to read on.

The body of your essay is where you’ll explain your core arguments and present your evidence.

It’s important to choose words and phrases for the body of your essay that will help the reader understand your position and convince them you’ve done your research.

Let’s look at some different types of words and phrases that you can use in the body of your essay, as well as some examples of what these words look like in a sentence.

Transition Words and Phrases

Transitioning from one argument to another is crucial for a good essay.

It’s important to guide your reader from one idea to the next so they don’t get lost or feel like you’re jumping around at random.

Transition phrases and linking words show your reader you’re about to move from one argument to the next, smoothing out their reading experience. They also make your writing look more professional.

The simplest transition involves moving from one idea to a separate one that supports the same overall argument. Try using these phrases when you want to introduce a second correlating idea:

Additionally

In addition

Furthermore

Another key thing to remember

In the same way

Correspondingly

Example: Additionally , public parks increase property value because home buyers prefer houses that are located close to green, open spaces.

Another type of transition involves restating. It’s often useful to restate complex ideas in simpler terms to help the reader digest them. When you’re restating an idea, you can use the following words:

In other words

To put it another way

That is to say

To put it more simply

Example: “The research showed that 53% of students surveyed expressed a mild or strong preference for more on-campus housing. In other words , over half the students wanted more dormitory options.”

Often, you’ll need to provide examples to illustrate your point more clearly for the reader. When you’re about to give an example of something you just said, you can use the following words:

For instance

To give an illustration of

To exemplify

To demonstrate

As evidence

Example: Humans have long tried to exert control over our natural environment. For instance , engineers reversed the Chicago River in 1900, causing it to permanently flow backward.

Sometimes, you’ll need to explain the impact or consequence of something you’ve just said.

When you’re drawing a conclusion from evidence you’ve presented, try using the following words:

As a result

Accordingly

As you can see

This suggests that

It follows that

It can be seen that

For this reason

For all of those reasons

Consequently

Example: “There wasn’t enough government funding to support the rest of the physics experiment. Thus , the team was forced to shut down their experiment in 1996.”

Phrases to draw conclusions

When introducing an idea that bolsters one you’ve already stated, or adds another important aspect to that same argument, you can use the following words:

What’s more

Not only…but also

Not to mention

To say nothing of

Another key point

Example: The volcanic eruption disrupted hundreds of thousands of people. Moreover , it impacted the local flora and fauna as well, causing nearly a hundred species to go extinct.

Often, you'll want to present two sides of the same argument. When you need to compare and contrast ideas, you can use the following words:

On the one hand / on the other hand

Alternatively

In contrast to

On the contrary

By contrast

In comparison

Example: On the one hand , the Black Death was undoubtedly a tragedy because it killed millions of Europeans. On the other hand , it created better living conditions for the peasants who survived.

Finally, when you’re introducing a new angle that contradicts your previous idea, you can use the following phrases:

Having said that

Differing from

In spite of

With this in mind

Provided that

Nevertheless

Nonetheless

Notwithstanding

Example: Shakespearean plays are classic works of literature that have stood the test of time. Having said that , I would argue that Shakespeare isn’t the most accessible form of literature to teach students in the twenty-first century.

Good essays include multiple types of logic. You can use a combination of the transitions above to create a strong, clear structure throughout the body of your essay.

Strong Verbs for Academic Writing

Verbs are especially important for writing clear essays. Often, you can convey a nuanced meaning simply by choosing the right verb.

You should use strong verbs that are precise and dynamic. Whenever possible, you should use an unambiguous verb, rather than a generic verb.

For example, alter and fluctuate are stronger verbs than change , because they give the reader more descriptive detail.

Here are some useful verbs that will help make your essay shine.

Verbs that show change:

Accommodate

Verbs that relate to causing or impacting something:

Verbs that show increase:

Verbs that show decrease:

Deteriorate

Verbs that relate to parts of a whole:

Comprises of

Is composed of

Constitutes

Encompasses

Incorporates

Verbs that show a negative stance:

Misconstrue

Verbs that show a negative stance

Verbs that show a positive stance:

Substantiate

Verbs that relate to drawing conclusions from evidence:

Corroborate

Demonstrate

Verbs that relate to thinking and analysis:

Contemplate

Hypothesize

Investigate

Verbs that relate to showing information in a visual format:

Useful Adjectives and Adverbs for Academic Essays

You should use adjectives and adverbs more sparingly than verbs when writing essays, since they sometimes add unnecessary fluff to sentences.

However, choosing the right adjectives and adverbs can help add detail and sophistication to your essay.

Sometimes you'll need to use an adjective to show that a finding or argument is useful and should be taken seriously. Here are some adjectives that create positive emphasis:

Significant

Other times, you'll need to use an adjective to show that a finding or argument is harmful or ineffective. Here are some adjectives that create a negative emphasis:

Controversial

Insignificant

Questionable

Unnecessary

Unrealistic

Finally, you might need to use an adverb to lend nuance to a sentence, or to express a specific degree of certainty. Here are some examples of adverbs that are often used in essays:

Comprehensively

Exhaustively

Extensively

Respectively

Surprisingly

Using these words will help you successfully convey the key points you want to express. Once you’ve nailed the body of your essay, it’s time to move on to the conclusion.

The conclusion of your paper is important for synthesizing the arguments you’ve laid out and restating your thesis.

In your concluding paragraph, try using some of these essay words:

In conclusion

To summarize

In a nutshell

Given the above

As described

All things considered

Example: In conclusion , it’s imperative that we take action to address climate change before we lose our coral reefs forever.

In addition to simply summarizing the key points from the body of your essay, you should also add some final takeaways. Give the reader your final opinion and a bit of a food for thought.

To place emphasis on a certain point or a key fact, use these essay words:

Unquestionably

Undoubtedly

Particularly

Importantly

Conclusively

It should be noted

On the whole

Example: Ada Lovelace is unquestionably a powerful role model for young girls around the world, and more of our public school curricula should include her as a historical figure.

These concluding phrases will help you finish writing your essay in a strong, confident way.

There are many useful essay words out there that we didn't include in this article, because they are specific to certain topics.

If you're writing about biology, for example, you will need to use different terminology than if you're writing about literature.

So how do you improve your vocabulary skills?

The vocabulary you use in your academic writing is a toolkit you can build up over time, as long as you take the time to learn new words.

One way to increase your vocabulary is by looking up words you don’t know when you’re reading.

Try reading more books and academic articles in the field you’re writing about and jotting down all the new words you find. You can use these words to bolster your own essays.

You can also consult a dictionary or a thesaurus. When you’re using a word you’re not confident about, researching its meaning and common synonyms can help you make sure it belongs in your essay.

Don't be afraid of using simpler words. Good essay writing boils down to choosing the best word to convey what you need to say, not the fanciest word possible.

Finally, you can use ProWritingAid’s synonym tool or essay checker to find more precise and sophisticated vocabulary. Click on weak words in your essay to find stronger alternatives.

ProWritingAid offering synonyms for great

There you have it: our compilation of the best words and phrases to use in your next essay . Good luck!

strong verbs for essay writing

Good writing = better grades

ProWritingAid will help you improve the style, strength, and clarity of all your assignments.

Hannah Yang is a speculative fiction writer who writes about all things strange and surreal. Her work has appeared in Analog Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, The Dark, and elsewhere, and two of her stories have been finalists for the Locus Award. Her favorite hobbies include watercolor painting, playing guitar, and rock climbing. You can follow her work on hannahyang.com, or subscribe to her newsletter for publication updates.

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The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

What this handout is about

This handout will help you determine and achieve the most effective writing style for the context in which you’re writing.

What do we mean by style?

Have you ever wondered what your instructors mean when they write “wordy” or “awk” in the margins of your paper? Do you sometimes sense that your sentences could be stronger, clearer, shorter, or more effective? Do you often feel that you know what you mean but do not know how to say it? If you sometimes get feedback from your instructors that you need to “tighten your prose” or “look at your word choice,” these can all be reactions to writing style.

Part of the problem with style is that it’s subjective. Different readers have different ideas about what constitutes good writing style, and so do different instructors and different academic departments. For example, passive voice may be used differently in the sciences than in the humanities. You may have an instructor who keeps circling items in your paper and noting “word choice” or “awkward” and another who comments only on content. Confusingly, some of what readers identify as writing problems may technically be grammatically correct. A sentence can be wordy and still pass all the rules in the grammar handbooks. This fact may make it harder for you to see where a reader’s reaction is coming from. Feedback on style can help you avoid distracting from your argument and learn to express your ideas more directly, elegantly, and persuasively in the eyes of an intended audience.

Say what you mean

First, remember that your goal in academic writing is not to sound intelligent, but to get your intelligent point across. You may be reading complicated textbooks and articles, and even when they don’t make sense to you, they all sound smart. So when you have to write a paper, you may try to imitate this type of writing. But sometimes when you imitate a complicated style, you sacrifice communicating and being understood.

Say it in the appropriate tone

You may also receive feedback on style if you write exactly like you speak to your friends over lunch at Lenoir. We’ve written this pamphlet in a chatty, friendly style, hoping that you’ll read it and think, “This isn’t such a painful way to learn about style.” This may not be the appropriate style for every academic paper. Some instructors may invite slang and colloquialisms in their assignments, but most won’t. When in doubt, aim for clear, broadly accessible language, and don’t assume that because a discipline is “artsy” or “out there” that instructors in that discipline want you to write creatively.

These cautions don’t mean you should write all your sentences in a choppy, obvious, “see Jane run” style. It just means that you should make sure that your instructor isn’t distracted from what you are trying to say by how you are saying it.

How to improve

If you learn how to recognize matters of style in your writing, you will have more control over your writing—the way someone reads your paper will be a result of choices you have made. If those choices are deliberate, you’ll have more control over how the reader reacts to your argument. So let’s look at what instructors often perceive as the biggest style “crimes.” You probably don’t have trouble with all of these, so focus your attention on those issues most relevant to your own writing. First we’ll explain some common, style-related writing problems, then we’ll show you some handy tips for finding them, and finally we’ll work on correcting them in your revision process. (That’s right: at first you may have to include a revision devoted entirely to style in your writing process, at least until you get used to recognizing and correcting these issues as you write.)

This term is used to cover a couple of style problems that involve using more words than you absolutely need to say something. Especially when we talk, we use a lot of little “filler” words that don’t actually have anything to add to the meaning of our sentences. (The previous sentence has several examples—see if you can take five words out of it without losing any of its meaning.) In writing, these filler words and phrases become more obvious and act as delays in getting the reader to your point. If you have enough delays in your sentence, your readers might get frustrated. They might even start skimming your paper, which seems a shame after all of your efforts to communicate with them.

Your wordiness may derive from a problem unrelated to your writing style: uncertainty about your topic, lack of a developed argument, or lack of evidence. If you’re not sure what you want or have to say, you may have trouble saying it. As you struggle to find what you mean or play with a vague idea or concept, you may write garbled or rambling sentences. If this happens to you, it doesn’t mean that you are a “bad” writer or that you have a “bad” writing style or “bad” ideas. It simply indicates that you are using writing as a way to think—to discover your point. It’s okay to let yourself think on the page and write to discover precisely what you mean. Taking thirty minutes (or more) to let yourself write and clarify your point for yourself may save you lots of time later. Write to yourself until you can quickly explain to a friend what you are writing about, why you believe it, and what evidence supports your position. Then, sit down to write your paper with your reader in mind. Note: Some writers, in an effort to make a page limit, will be wordy on purpose—this tactic will be obvious to the reader, and most instructors will be less than impressed. If you find yourself struggling to meet length requirements, see our handout on how to read an assignment for some tips. If you are still way off on page length and our handout hasn’t helped you, you may want to talk to your instructor. (If that seems too daunting a task, take a look at our handout about asking for feedback .)

Wordy constructions such as cliches, qualifiers, and redundant pairs are easy to fix once you recognize your tendency to use them. Read several of your old papers and see if you can locate any of these tendencies or consider whether they have become a habit for you in your writing:

  • Problem : Clichés Example : France bit off more than it could chew in Vietnam, and America’s intervention was too little, too late. How to correct it : Clichés stand in for more precise descriptions of something. Slow down and write exactly, precisely what you mean. If you get stuck, ask yourself “why? or “how?” Better example : As the French faltered in Vietnam, even American intervention could not save the collapsing regime.
  • Problem : Lots of qualifiers (very, often, hopefully, practically, basically, really, mostly) Example : Most people usually think that many puppies are generally pretty cute. How to correct it : Eliminate some of these qualifiers and you will have a stronger, more direct point. Some qualifiers are necessary, but you should use them carefully and thoughtfully. Better example : Most people think that puppies are cute.
  • Problem : Using two words that mean the same thing. Example : Adrienne fulfilled all our hopes and dreams when she saved the whole entire planet. How to correct it : Choose the most precise term and delete the extra one. Better example : Adrienne fulfilled all our hopes when she saved the planet.

Some “wordy” constructions take a little more practice locating and correcting:

  • Problem : Overuse of prepositional phrases (prepositions are little words such as in, over, of, for, at, etc.) Example : The reason for the failure of the economic system of the island was the inability of Gilligan in finding adequate resources without incurring expenses at the hands of the headhunters on the other side of the island. How to locate and correct this problem : Locate this problem by circling all of the prepositional phrases in your paper. A few are okay, but several in a sentence (as demonstrated here) make the reader struggle to find and follow your subject and point. Correct this problem by reading the sentence, looking away from it, and writing or saying out loud what you meant when you wrote the sentence. Try asking yourself “Who did what to whom?” Replace the first sentence with your new sentence. Better example : Gilligan hurt the economic system of the island because he couldn’t find adequate resources without angering the headhunters.

Verb trouble

Nouns (person, place, thing, or concept) and verbs (words that describe an action or state of being) are the hearts and souls of all sentences. These become the essential elements—what your grammar teacher may have called the “subject” and the “predicate” or the “actor” and “action” of every sentence. The reader should be able to clearly locate the main subject and verb of your sentences and, ideally, the subject and verb should be close together in the sentence. Some style “crimes” are varied symptoms of one problem: the subjects and verbs or the actor and action of your sentence are hiding from the reader.The reader has trouble following who is doing what to whom. Instructors may write comments like “passive voice” or “weak verbs” in your paper’s margins. While using passive voice or weak verbs is grammatically correct, it may make the reader work too hard to decipher your meaning. Use passive voice and weak verbs strategically once you get the hang of them. If you’re still struggling to figure out what they are, you need to aim for “active voice” and “strong verbs” to improve your writing.

  • Problem : Passive voice. When you hide the actor by putting it somewhere after the action (not in the usual subject part of the sentence) and add a “to be” verb, you are using passive voice. For more detailed coverage, see our handout on the passive voice . Examples : Here’s a passive sentence with the actor at the end of the sentence (not at the beginning, where you would usually expect the subject): The alien remains were lost by the government. Some passive sentences omit actor entirely : The alien remains were lost. The car was wrecked. Better (active) examples : The government lost the alien remains. I wrecked the car. How to locate and correct this problem : Locate passive voice in your papers by circling every “to be” verb (am, is, are, was, were, be, been, being ) in your paper. Not all of these verbs will indicate a passive construction or one you want to change, but if the “to be” verb is sitting next to another verb, especially one that ends in “ed,” (“was lost”, “was wrecked”) then you may be using passive voice. If you have trouble finding “to be” verbs, try finding the subject, verb, and object in each sentence. Can the reader tell who or what is doing the action in your sentence? Correct passive constructions by putting that actor back in the subject of the sentence and getting rid of the “to be” verb. Note that you may have to add information in the sentence; you have to specify who in your sentence and thereby keep the reader from guessing—that’s good.
  • Problem : Nominalization—a fancy term for making verbs and adjectives into nouns. Again, sometimes you want to use nominalization and may do so purposefully. But too much nominalization in a paper can sound abstract and make the reader work to decipher your meaning. (Professional academic writing often has a lot of nominalization—that’s one reason why you may struggle with some of your assigned reading in your courses!) Examples : The discovery of the aliens was made by the government. The car wreck was a result of a lack of visual focus. How to locate and correct the problem: Locate nominalization in your papers by circling all of the nouns. Do you have several in a single sentence? You might be hiding the action (the verb) of your sentence inside of a noun. Correct nominalization by returning the abstract noun to its function as verb or adjective. This will take practice—focus on making the sentence simpler in structure (actor and action): The government discovered the aliens. My sister wrecked the car when she forgot to wear her glasses. Also, look for sentences that begin with the following phrases: there is, there are, this is, that is, it is. Sometimes you need these phrases to refer to an immediately preceding sentence without repeating yourself, but they may be hiding nominalizations. Example : There is a need for further study of aliens. How to locate and correct this problem: Circle these phrases in your paper and try omitting them from the sentence. Who is doing what to whom? Better example: We need to study aliens further.
  • Problem: Weak verbs. If you have located and corrected passive voice and nominalization problems in your essay but your sentences still seem to lack meaning or directness, look for “weak” verbs. Verbs such as “to be” verbs and “have” verbs can often be replaced by “strong” verbs, verbs that carry specific meaning. Concentrate on what the subject of your sentence does and make that the verb in the sentence. Example : The aliens have a positive effect on our ecosystem. How to locate and correct this problem: Locate weak verbs by circling all of the “to be” and “have” verbs in your paper. Correct weak verbs by omitting them and replacing them with a more meaningful verb. Notice that you will need to add information as you specify the nature of the action. Answer the question: “What does the subject really do ?” Better example: The aliens improve our ecosystem.

Ostentatious erudition

You may be inclined to improve your style by sounding more “collegiate” or by using multi-syllabic words. Don’t ever do so without looking up those words to make sure you know exactly what they mean. And don’t blindly accept the recommendations of your word processing program’s thesaurus—these tools may be dangerous unless you double-check the meaning of the words in a dictionary. Many times, an inappropriate synonym will make you sound like you don’t know what you are talking about or, worse yet, give the impression that you are plagiarizing from a source you don’t understand. Never use a word you can’t clearly define. It’s okay to use big words if you know them well and they fit your overall tone—just make sure your tone is consistent. In other words, don’t say “That miscreant has a superlative aesthetic sense, but he’s dopey.”

You may use overly “erudite” words because you think it is wrong to use the same words over and over again in an essay. In fact, it’s often okay to repeat the same word(s) in your paper, particularly when they are significant or central terms. For example, if your paper discusses the significance of memory represented by the scent of wisteria in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom, you are going to write the words “memory” and “wisteria” a lot. Don’t start saying “recollection,” “reminiscence,” “summoning up of past events,” and “climbing woody vine” just to get a little variation in there. A thesaurus might even lead you to say that the significance of nostalgia is represented by the odiferous output of parasitic flowering vegetation. Such sentences may cloud rather than clarify your point.

Now you are ready to edit

You are probably not guilty of every style “crime” in this handout. If you consistently struggle with one of these issues, focus your attention on that one. If you struggle with two or more, work on one at a time. If you try to fix all of them at once, you may find your approach too scattered or the task just plain overwhelming. You may also find that you use different styles for different assignments, with different responses from instructors. Whatever the case, the next time you finish a paper, take the issue you want to address and isolate it. Edit your paper using our “locate and correct” suggestions for that one issue. Ignore everything else (spelling, punctuation, content) and look for only that one issue. This strategy may sound time-consuming, but by isolating your style problems, you will find them easier to fix. As you become more proficient, you will include fewer and fewer style problems in your initial draft, and therefore your draft will need less editing. In the end, you will be a better writer—so what are a few minutes now?

If, after reading this handout and looking at your own writing, you are still struggling to understand style problems, bring a few of your old papers to an appointment at the Writing Center. Using already finished papers will help your tutor show you where your chronic style problems occur, why they occur, and how you can fix them.

By the way, a lot of students who come to the Writing Center almost immediately locate their own problem sentences when they read them aloud. Try this technique yourself, before you hand in your paper. Check out our handout on proofreading techniques for more tips.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Lanham, Richard A. 2007. Revising Prose , 7th ed. New York: Pearson Longman.

Strunk, William, and E. B. White. 2000. The Elements of Style , 4th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Williams, Joseph, and Joseph Bizup. 2017. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace , 12th ed. Boston: Pearson.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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444+ Strong Verbs for More Powerful Writing and Storytelling

Picture this: You’re on a writing adventure, and you’re armed with a quiver full of arrows. These arrows are your words, your tools of the trade. But what if I told you that not all arrows are created equal? Some are dull, while others are sharp, gleaming, and ready to pierce the hearts of your readers. Which ones would you choose?

That’s right, you’d go for the most lethal, the most captivating, the most powerful arrows in your arsenal. In the world of writing, these arrows are known as strong verbs.

Now, buckle up and join me as we embark on a journey to uncover the secrets behind these magical linguistic weapons. Together, we’ll learn how to wield strong verbs like a pro and transform your piece of writing into a riveting masterpiece. Are you ready to become a true wordsmith? Let’s dive in!

What Are Strong Verbs?

Strong verbs are specific, precise words that convey a clear action or emotion. They paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind, making your writing more dynamic and compelling. Strong verbs stand on their own, without the need for adjectives or adverbs, and they often replace weaker, more generic verbs.

Strong Verb Definition: A precise and impactful word that conveys an action, state, or emotion, enhancing the clarity and imagery of your writing.

Strong verbs are essential for creating a vivid, immersive experience for readers. They serve as the driving force behind the action, helping to bring characters (whether they are round or flat characters ) and scenes to life. With the right choice of verbs, writers can paint a picture that is both engaging and emotionally resonant, allowing readers to become invested in the story.

In addition to their impact on storytelling, strong verbs offer a range of benefits that can enhance your writing overall:

  • Clarity: Strong verbs provide clear, concise descriptions of actions, making it easier for readers to understand your message.
  • Engagement: Powerful verbs draw readers in, keeping them interested and invested in your content.
  • Emotion: Vivid verbs help evoke emotions, allowing readers to connect with your writing on a deeper level.
  • Pacing: Using strong verbs can enhance the pacing of your narrative, sustaining momentum and ensuring a smooth flow.
  • Variety: A diverse range of verbs prevents your writing from becoming repetitive, helping your readers to maintain their levels of attention.
  • Impact: Strong verbs create powerful imagery, leaving a lasting impression on readers and making your content memorable.

Craft of Writing Quiz (Easy)

strong verbs for essay writing

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Strong Verbs vs. Weak Verbs

While strong verbs are specific, vivid, and powerful, weak verbs are vague, generic, and lack the impact needed to hold a reader’s attention.

A boxer with red boxing gloves smashing the weak verb "to make", whereupon the strong verbs "to create", "to forge" and "to tinker" pop out

Weak verbs tend to dilute the message and make the writing less dynamic. In contrast, strong verbs help paint a clear picture, allowing readers to visualize the action and connect with the story emotionally. By replacing weak verbs with their stronger counterparts, you can significantly improve the quality and impact of your writing.

Here are five examples of weak verbs and useful strong verbs that can replace them:

3 Types of Weak Verbs to Replace

Recognizing weak verbs in your writing is the first step towards creating more vivid content. Here are three common types of weak verbs to look out for in your writing.

The sentence "The storm ravages the coastline." on a sheet of paper with a fountain pen and the phrase "is fierce" crossed out

1. State-of-Being Verbs

State-of-being verbs often contribute to weak writing as they lack action or specificity. These verbs include:

Replacing state-of-being verbs with strong action verbs can enhance clarity and make your writing more engaging.

Weak: The storm is fierce.

Strong: The storm ravages the coastline.

Weak: He does everything his boss tells him to do, although he dislikes him.

Strong: Despite his aversion for him, he always obeys his boss.

Weak: They had a secret now.

Strong: They remained silent about it and never shared the story with anyone.

2. Verbs That Rely on Adverbs

When a verb needs an adverb to provide additional information, it’s often a sign of a weak verb. Replacing the verb-adverb combination with a single, stronger verb can make your writing more concise and impactful.

Weak: She opened the door quietly.

Strong: She tiptoed through the door.

Weak: He looked around analytically.

Strong: He examined the room and those in it.

Weak: The horse moved quickly.

Strong: The horse galloped across the field.

3. Verbs With -ing Suffixes

Verbs with an -ing suffix can sometimes weaken your writing, particularly when they create a continuous tense or a gerund that isn’t necessary. Replacing them with a simple present or past tense verb can make your writing more direct.

Weak: The leaves were rustling in the breeze.

Strong: The leaves rustled in the breeze.

Weak: She was hesitating before making her decision.

Strong: She hesitated before making her decision.

Weak: The sun was setting behind the mountains.

Strong: The sun set behind the mountains.

The Ultimate Strong Verbs List

Unlock the potential of your writing with our handpicked selection of strong verbs. These powerful words will serve as inspiration for you to craft vivid, compelling stories that grab your readers’ attention.

  • Commiserate
  • Contemplate
  • Deteriorate
  • Disintegrate
  • Reverberate
  • Revolutionize
  • Supercharge

Tips & Tricks for Using Strong Verbs

Using strong verbs can significantly elevate your writing, making it more vivid and intriguing for readers. Here are some practical tips and tricks to help you incorporate strong verbs into your writing effectively.

A bodybuilder in a red undershirt training with a dumbbell and a pattern of countless strong verbs as background

Read Widely

One of the best ways to develop a robust vocabulary, including a wide range of strong verbs, is to read widely. By exposing yourself to various genres and styles, you’ll naturally come across new verbs and expand your understanding of their usage.

Vary Your Verbs

While it’s essential to use strong verbs, be mindful not to overuse the same verbs repeatedly. Overusing a specific verb can make your writing monotonous. Instead, try to mix up your strong verbs list to keep your readers hooked. Experiment with different verbs to see which ones best convey the actions, emotions, and energy in your writing.

Convey Emotions

Strong verbs can evoke powerful emotions and create vivid images in the reader’s mind. Think about how a verb can convey the emotional intensity of a scene or action. For example, instead of using “said”, consider using more expressive verbs like “whispered,” “murmured,” “bellowed,” or “shouted” to add depth and emotion to your writing. This is important in any genre, but is crucial in stories where the inner world and perception of the characters carry the weight of the plot , such as romance novels or horror stories .

Use Active Voice

Incorporating strong verbs often goes hand-in-hand with using the active voice. The active voice makes your writing more engaging and direct, as it focuses on the subject performing the action. This emphasis on action can also help you select more powerful verbs. For instance, instead of writing “The letter was read by Emma,” write “Emma tore open the letter, her eyes racing across the words.” The active voice and the strong verbs “tore” and “racing” make the sentence more dynamic.

Revise and Edit

Finally, remember that strong verbs are often discovered during the revision and editing process. As you go through your drafts, keep an eye out for opportunities to replace weak verbs with more compelling options. Use your growing knowledge of vivid verbs to transform your writing, and don’t be afraid to make changes to enhance your prose.

Craft of Writing Quiz (Hard)

strong verbs for essay writing

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Lesson Plan: Writing With Strong Verbs: Teach Students (or Yourself) How to Make Your Writing More Powerful

Lesson Plan: Writing With Strong Verbs:  Teach Students (or Yourself) How to Make Your Writing More Powerful

The Problem

I felt good about myself. I had taught my students how to combine sentences and eliminate unnecessary adverbs from their writing. I had

not, however, taught them strong verbs for writing, nor had I answered the question, “What is a strong verb?”

My students’ bland writing tainted everything. All my food tasted bland. All my favorite movies became bland. Even my own writing became bland. I had to do something fast, so I called my Mom, told her I’d be home late and to feed my dinner to the cat.

I had work to do. I had to teach my students how to use strong verbs for writing. Here’s what I came up with:

What is a Strong Verb?

Poor writing, the kind that is often found in student essays, relies on adverbs and adjectives. Good writing relies on verbs, strong verbs.

  • Strong verbs show instead of tell. In each example you can see how much better the second sentence is.

Example: The tiger ate the antelope.

The tiger devoured the antelope.

Example: The Buffalo injured the hunter.

The Buffalo gored the hunter.

  • Single verbs show better than verb/adverb combinations.

Example: He uses time wisely when writing essays.

He maximizes time when writing essays.

Example: The lion ferociously ate the gazelle.

The lion gobbled the gazelle (note the serendipitous use of alliteration).

  • Be verbs ( am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been ) suck the life out of your writing!

Example: He was bludgeoned by the boxer.

The boxer bludgeoned him.

Example: The pedestrian was run over by the school bus.

The school bus ran over the pedestrian.

  • Have/has/had combined with a noun encourage readers to wedge their head in a vice.

Example: I had an argument with the referee.

I argued with the referee

Example: I had dinner with the sheriff.

I dined with the sheriff.

Procedures for Revision

  • Instruct students to copy the above information in their notebooks.
  • Instruct students to identify all verbs in their draft.
  • Instruct students to identify sentences in the draft that violate the guidelines for writing strong verbs.
  • Instruct students to rewrite those sentences.
  • Instruct students not to use the same verb over and over, especially at the beginning of a list of instructions.
  • Divide students into pairs and instruct them to read their rough draft to each other. This works best if both students read at separate times.
  • Tell students to listen for weak verbs.
  • Make a final revision, exchanging weak verbs for strong verbs.
  • Write the best revisions on the board.
  • For extra fun, make it part of a paragraph challenge .

* This lesson was inspired by Mini Lessons for Revision by Susan Geye, 1997, Absey & Co. Spring, TX.

Click here for a complete 1st semester curriculum map for language arts with lesson plans and links.

This post is part of the series: Better Grammar Equals Better Writing

Grammar builds the foundation for good writing: the better the grammar, the better the writing.

  • Teaching Students How to Combine Sentences and Improve their Writing
  • Lesson Plan: Eliminate Weak Verb-Adverb Combinations
  • Lesson Plan: Eliminate “To Be” Verbs
  • Lesson Plan: Write With Strong Verbs
  • Lesson Plan: Active Voice vs. Passive Voice
  • Revising Pronouns and Antecedents with this Lesson Plan
  • Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement Made Easy
  • Lesson Plan: Understanding Independent and Dependent Clauses
  • Teach Your Kids to Eliminate Fragments and Run-ons in Their Writing
  • Lesson Plan: Use Parts of Speech to Improve Sentence Beginnings

50 Verbs of Analysis for English Academic Essays

In English, we often have to analyze data, research, or facts. Do you know how to do this effectively, while using the appropriate verbs of analysis? This list of 50 verbs of analysis in English will help you.

Note: this list is for advanced English learners (CEFR level B2 or above). All definitions are from the Cambridge Dictionary online . 

Definition: to have an influence on someone or something, or to cause a change in someone or something.

Example: Experts agree that coffee affects the body in ways we have not yet studied.

Definition: to increase the size or effect of something.

Example: It has been shown that this drug amplifies the side effects that were experienced by patients in previous trials.

Definition: to say that something is certainly true .

Example: Smith asserts that his findings are valid, despite criticism by colleagues.

Characterizes

Definition: Something that characterizes another thing is typical of it.

Example: His early paintings are characterized by a distinctive pattern of blue and yellow.

Definition: to say that something is true or is a fact , although you cannot prove it and other people might not believe it.

Example: Smith claims that the study is the first of its kind, and very different from the 2015 study he conducted.

Definition: to make something clear or easier to understand by giving more details or a simpler explanation .

Example: The professor clarified her statement with a later, more detailed, statement.

Definition: t o collect information from different places and arrange it in a book , report , or list .

Example: After compiling the data, the scientists authored a ten-page paper on their study and its findings.

Definition: to judge or decide something after thinking carefully about it.

Example: Doctor Jensen concluded that the drug wasn’t working, so he switched his patient to a new medicine.

Definition: to prove that a belief or an opinion that was previously not completely certain is true .

Example: This new data confirms the hypothesis many researchers had.

Definition: to join or be joined with something else .

Example: By including the criticisms of two researchers, Smith connects two seemingly different theories and illustrates a trend with writers of the Romanticism period.

Differentiates

Definition: to show or find the difference between things that are compared .

Example: Smith differentiates between the two theories in paragraph 4 of the second part of the study.

Definition: to reduce or be reduced in s i ze or importance .

Example: The new findings do not diminish the findings of previous research; rather, it builds on it to present a more complicated theory about the effects of global warming.

Definition: to cause people to stop respecting someone or believing in an idea or person .

Example: The details about the improper research done by the institution discredits the institution’s newest research.

Definition: to show.

Example: Smith’s findings display the effects of global warming that have not yet been considered by other scientists.

Definition: to prove that something is not true .

Example: Scientists hope that this new research will disprove the myth that vaccines are harmful to children.

Distinguishes

Definition: to notice or understand the difference between two things, or to make one person or thing seem different from another.

Example: Our study seems similar to another one by Duke University: how can we distinguish ourselves and our research from this study?

Definition: to add more information to or explain something that you have said.

Example: In this new paper, Smith elaborates on theories she discussed in her 2012 book.

Definition:  to represent a quality or an idea exactly .

Example: Shakespeare embodies English theater, but few can understand the antiquated (old) form of English that is used in the plays.

Definition: to copy something achieved by someone else and try to do it as well as they have.

Example: Although the study emulates some of the scientific methods used in previous research, it also offers some inventive new research methods.

Definition: to improve the quality , amount , or strength of something.

Example: The pharmaceutical company is looking for ways to enhance the effectiveness of its current drug for depression.

Definition: to make something necessary , or to involve something.

Example: The scientist’s study entails several different stages, which are detailed in the report.

Definition: to consider one thing to be the same as or equal to another thing.

Example: Findings from both studies equate; therefore, we can conclude that they are both accurate.

Establishes

Definition: to discover or get proof of something.

Example: The award establishes the main causes of global warming.

Definition: to make someone remember something or feel an emotion .

Example: The artist’s painting evokes the work of some of the painters from the early 1800s.

Definition: to show something.

Example: Some of the research study participants exhibit similar symptoms while taking the medicine.

Facilitates

Definition: to make something possible or easier .

Example: The equipment that facilitates the study is expensive and of high-quality.

Definition: the main or central point of something, especially of attention or interest .

Example: The author focuses on World War II, which is an era she hasn’t written about before.

Foreshadows

Definition: to act as a warning or sign of a future event .

Example: The sick bird at the beginning of the novel foreshadows the illness the main character develops later in the book.

Definition: to develop all the details of a plan for doing something.

Example: Two teams of scientists formulated the research methods for the study.

Definition: to cause something to exist .

Example: The study’s findings have generated many questions about this new species of frog in South America.

Definition:   to attract attention to or emphasize something important .

Example: The author, Dr. Smith, highlights the need for further studies on the possible causes of cancer among farm workers.

Definition: to recognize a problem , need, fact , etc. and to show that it exists .

Example: Through this study, scientists were able to identify three of the main factors causing global warming.

Illustrates

Definition:   to show the meaning or truth of something more clearly , especially by giving examples .

Example: Dr. Robin’s study illustrates the need for more research on the effects of this experimental drug.

Definition: to communicate an idea or feeling without saying it directly .

Example: The study implies that there are many outside factors (other than diet and exercise) which determine a person’s tendency to gain weight.

Incorporates

Definition: to include something as part of something larger .

Example: Dr. Smith incorporates research findings from 15 other studies in her well-researched paper.

Definition: to show, point , or make clear in another way.

Example: Overall, the study indicates that there is no real danger (other than a lack of sleep) to drinking three cups of coffee per day.

Definition: to form an opinion or guess that something is true because of the information that you have.

Example: From this study about a new medicine, we can infer that it will work similarly to other drugs that are currently being sold.

Definition: to tell someone about parti c ular facts .

Example: Dr. Smith informs the reader that there are some issues with this study: the oddly rainy weather in 2017 made it difficult for them to record the movements of the birds they were studying.

Definition: to suggest , without being direct , that something unpleasant is true .

Example: In addition to the reported conclusions, the study insinuates that there are many hidden dangers to driving while texting.

Definition: to combine two or more things in order to become more effective .

Example: The study about the popularity of social media integrates Facebook and Instagram hashtag use.

Definition: to not have or not have enough of something that is needed or wanted .

Example: What the study lacks, I believe, is a clear outline of the future research that is needed.

Legitimizes

Definition: to make something legal or acceptable .

Example: Although the study legitimizes the existence of global warming, some will continue to think it is a hoax.

Definition: to make a problem bigger or more important .

Example: In conclusion, the scientists determined that the new pharmaceutical actually magnifies some of the symptoms of anxiety.

Definition: something that a copy can be based on because it is an extremely good example of its type .

Example: The study models a similar one from 1973, which needed to be redone with modern equipment.

Definition: to cause something to have no effect .

Example: This negates previous findings that say that sulphur in wine gives people headaches.

Definition: to not give enough c a re or attention to people or things that are your responsibility .

Example: The study neglects to mention another study in 2015 that had very different findings.

Definition: to make something difficult to discover and understand .

Example: The problems with the equipment obscures the study.

Definition: a description of the main facts about something.

Example: Before describing the research methods, the researchers outline the need for a study on the effects of anti-anxiety medication on children.

Definition:   to fail to notice or consider something or someone.

Example: I personally feel that the study overlooks something very important: the participants might have answered some of the questions incorrectly.

Definition: to happen at the same time as something else , or be similar or equal to something else .

Example: Although the study parallels the procedures of a 2010 study, it has very different findings.

Converse International School of Languages offers an English for Academic Purposes course for students interested in improving their academic English skills. Students may take this course, which is offered in the afternoon for 12 weeks, at both CISL San Diego and CISL San Francisco . EAP course graduates can go on to CISL’s Aca demic Year Abroad program, where students attend one semester at a California Community College. Through CISL’s University Pathway program, EAP graduates may also attend college or university at one of CISL’s Pathway Partners. See the list of 25+ partners on the CISL website . Contact CISL for more information. 

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Academic Writing - Education & CCSC students: Verbs

  • Publication Style
  • Assignment Question
  • Assignment Genre
  • Literature Searches
  • Referencing
  • Anthropomorphism

Reporting Verbs

Expand your vocabulary of reporting verbs

There are many verbs available apart from stated  or reported  when writing literature reviews. Consider employing verbs from the lists below.

RMIT Study and Learning Centre. Retrieved 2019, from  www.rmit.edu.au

Tentative reporting verbs

hypothesise

Neutral reporting verbs

Strong reporting verbs.

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Guest Essay

The Most Important Writing Exercise I’ve Ever Assigned

An illustration of several houses. One person walks away from a house with a second person isolated in a window.

By Rachel Kadish

Ms. Kadish is the author of the novel “The Weight of Ink.”

“Write down a phrase you find abhorrent — something you yourself would never say.”

My students looked startled, but they cooperated. They knew I wouldn’t collect this exercise; what they wrote would be private unless they chose to share it. All that was required of them was participation.

In silence they jotted down a few words. So far, so good. We hadn’t yet reached the hard request: Spend 10 minutes writing a monologue in the first person that’s spoken by a fictitious character who makes the upsetting statement. This portion typically elicits nervous glances. When that happens, I remind students that their statement doesn’t represent them and that speaking as if they’re someone else is a basic skill of fiction writers. The troubling statement, I explain, must appear in the monologue, and it shouldn’t be minimized, nor should students feel the need to forgive or account for it. What’s required is simply that somewhere in the monologue there be an instant — even a fleeting phrase — in which we can feel empathy for the speaker. Perhaps she’s sick with worry over an ill grandchild. Perhaps he’s haunted by a love he let slip away. Perhaps she’s sleepless over how to keep her business afloat and her employees paid. Done right, the exercise delivers a one-two punch: repugnance for a behavior or worldview coupled with recognition of shared humanity.

For more than two decades, I’ve taught versions of this fiction-writing exercise. I’ve used it in universities, middle schools and private workshops, with 7-year-olds and 70-year-olds. But in recent years openness to this exercise and to the imaginative leap it’s designed to teach has shrunk to a pinprick. As our country’s public conversation has gotten angrier, I’ve noticed that students’ approach to the exercise has become more brittle, regardless of whether students lean right or left.

Each semester, I wonder whether the aperture through which we allow empathy has so drastically narrowed as to foreclose a full view of our fellow human beings. Maybe there are times so contentious or so painful that people simply withdraw to their own silos. I’ve certainly felt that inward pull myself. There are times when a leap into someone else’s perspective feels impossible.

But leaping is the job of the writer, and there’s no point it doing it halfway. Good fiction pulls off a magic trick of absurd power: It makes us care. Responding to the travails of invented characters — Ahab or Amaranta, Sethe or Stevens, Zooey or Zorba — we might tear up or laugh, or our hearts might pound. As readers, we become invested in these people, which is very different from agreeing with or even liking them. In the best literature, characters are so vivid, complicated, contradictory and even maddening that we’ll follow them far from our preconceptions; sometimes we don’t return.

Unflinching empathy, which is the muscle the lesson is designed to exercise, is a prerequisite for literature strong enough to wrestle with the real world. On the page it allows us to spot signs of humanity; off the page it can teach us to start a conversation with the strangest of strangers, to thrive alongside difference. It can even affect those life-or-death choices we make instinctively in a crisis. This kind of empathy has nothing to do with being nice, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Even within the safety of the page, it’s tempting to dodge empathy’s challenge, instead demonizing villains and idealizing heroes, but that’s when the needle on art’s moral compass goes inert. Then we’re navigating blind: confident that we know what the bad people look like and that they’re not us — and therefore we’re at no risk of error.

Our best writers, in contrast, portray humans in their full complexity. This is what Gish Jen is doing in the short story “Who’s Irish?” and Rohinton Mistry in the novel “A Fine Balance.” Line by line, these writers illuminate the inner worlds of characters who cause harm — which is not the same as forgiving them. No one would ever say that Toni Morrison forgives the character Cholly Breedlove, who rapes his daughter in “The Bluest Eye.” What Ms. Morrison accomplishes instead is the boldest act of moral and emotional understanding I’ve ever seen on the page.

In the classroom exercise, the upsetting phrases my students scribble might be personal (“You’ll never be a writer,” “You’re ugly”) or religious or political. Once a student wrote a phrase condemning abortion as another student across the table wrote a phrase defending it. Sometimes there are stereotypes, slurs — whatever the students choose to grapple with. Of course, it’s disturbing to step into the shoes of someone whose words or deeds repel us. Writing these monologues, my graduate students, who know what “first person” means, will dodge and write in third, with the distanced “he said” instead of “I said.”

But if they can withstand the challenges of first person, sometimes something happens. They emerge shaken and eager to expand on what they’ve written. I look up from tidying my notes to discover students lingering after dismissal with that alert expression that says the exercise made them feel something they needed to feel.

Over the years, as my students’ statements became more political and as jargon (“deplorables,” “snowflakes”) supplanted the language of personal experience, I adapted the exercise. Worrying that I’d been too sanguine about possible pitfalls, I made it entirely silent, so no student would have to hear another’s troubling statement or fear being judged for their own. Any students who wanted to share their monologues with me could stay after class rather than read to the group. Later, I added another caveat: If your troubling statement is so offensive, you can’t imagine the person who says it as a full human being, choose something less troubling. Next, I narrowed the parameters: No politics. The pandemic’s virtual classes made risk taking harder; I moved the exercise deeper into the semester so students would feel more at ease.

After one session, a student stayed behind in the virtual meeting room. She’d failed to include empathy in her monologue about a character whose politics she abhorred. Her omission bothered her. I was impressed by her honesty. She’d constructed a caricature and recognized it. Most of us don’t.

For years, I’ve quietly completed the exercise alongside my students. Some days nothing sparks. When it goes well, though, the experience is disquieting. The hard part, it turns out, isn’t the empathy itself but what follows: the annihilating notion that people whose fears or joys or humor I appreciate may themselves be indifferent to all my cherished conceptions of the world.

Then the 10-minute timer sounds, and I haul myself back to the business of the classroom — shaken by the vastness of the world but more curious about the people in it. I put my trust in that curiosity. What better choice does any of us have? And in the sanctuary of my classroom I keep trying, handing along what literature handed me: the small, sturdy magic trick any of us can work, as long as we’re willing to risk it.

Rachel Kadish is the author of the novel “The Weight of Ink.”

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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IMAGES

  1. Why You Need Strong Verbs When You Write

    strong verbs for essay writing

  2. Strong Verb List

    strong verbs for essay writing

  3. Other words for said

    strong verbs for essay writing

  4. words to use instead of Amazing. This is going to help me so much

    strong verbs for essay writing

  5. Mrs. Swanda's Writing Resources

    strong verbs for essay writing

  6. Strong Verbs List (your ultimate guide for more captivating writing

    strong verbs for essay writing

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  3. Strong Verbs & Weak Verbs, Regular Verbs & Irregular Verbs নিয়ে আর confusion থাকবে না

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  5. Top 10 English Phrasal Verbs ! #english #learning #speaking #learn #phrasalverbs #top10 #top

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COMMENTS

  1. The Ultimate Strong Verbs List That'll Supercharge Your Writing

    273 Strong Verbs That'll Spice Up Your Writing 17 Nov 2023 The Writing Craft Do you ever wonder why a grammatically correct sentence you've written just lies there like a dead fish? I sure have. Your sentence might even be full of those adjectives and adverbs your teachers and loved ones so admired in your writing when you were a kid.

  2. PDF Powerful Verbs for Essays

    Powerful Verbs for Weaving Ideas in Essays The following verbs are helpful as a means of showing how an example or quote in literature Supports an idea or interpretation. Example + Verb + Explanation or Significance (CD) (CM) You may use the above in a sentence as a general formula that may need modified to fit each situation. verb

  3. 280+ Strong Verbs: 3 Tips to Strengthen Your Verbs in Writing

    scrape Think about the vivid and specific image each of these strong verbs conjures. Each one asserts precision. It's true that writers will use descriptive verbs that best fit their character, story, and style, but it's interesting to note trends. For example, Hemingway most often used verbs like: galloped, punched, lashed, and baited.

  4. Strong Verbs—Definition, List of 300+, & Examples

    Here's an example of what this looks like when editing writing: Weak verb / adverb: Susan walked slowly to her next class. Strong verb to replace: Susan moped to her next class. Weak verb / adverb: The bird flew quickly from treetop to treetop. Strong verb to replace: The bird darted from treetop to treetop.

  5. Power Verbs for Essays (With Examples)

    Power Verbs to Agree with Existing Studies: indicate, suggest, confirm, corroborate, underline, identify, impart, maintain, substantiate, support, validate, acknowledge, affirm, assert. Power Verbs to Disagree with Existing Studies: reject, disprove, debunk, question, challenge, invalidate, refute, deny, dismiss, disregard, object to, oppose.

  6. PDF Strategies for Essay Writing

    • Look for action verbs. Verbs like analyze, compare, discuss, explain, make an argument, propose a solution, ... understand why it's worth writing that essay. A strong thesis will be arguable rather than descriptive, and it will be the right scope for the essay you are writing. If your thesis is descriptive, then you will not need to

  7. How to Use Powerful and Creative Verbs

    Verbs like said, walked, looked, and thought can be replaced with more descriptive words like mumbled, sauntered, eyeballed, and pondered. Here are a few more suggestions: Looked: gazed stared severed (with his eyes) Walked: strolled spidered sashayed skulked Said: suggested uttered bellowed argued Get Creative With Verbs

  8. Strong Verbs List (your ultimate guide for more captivating writing)

    [ show] What Are Strong Verbs Strong verbs are the best verbs for a specific context because they do the following: They stand out as both unusual (or unexpected) and appropriate. They paint a specific picture of what's going on — creating a stronger visual. They evoke an emotional response in the reader.

  9. Strong Verbs

    Strong verbs make your writing more concise, help you avoid vague descriptions, and can keep your readers interested. When you don't use a variety of strong verbs, you risk losing your readers' interest with repetitive and bland verbs.

  10. PDF Active Verbs in Academic Writing

    the case. Just as a story benefits from engaging, dynamic verbs that keep the plot moving, academic writers can also utilize active verbs to help animate their ideas, analysis, connections, and critiques. The table below recommends useful, guiding, demonstrative verbs common to strong academic texts. The list below is not exhaustive.

  11. Using Strong Verbs

    am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been do, does, did, doing, done have, has, had, having These are verbs that reflect a state of being, rather than action. To spice up your writing, try to change at least some of those 'state of being' verbs to more active options. = Example: He had a lot of clothes. His clothes overflowed his closets.

  12. Strong Verbs Cheat Sheet: A Word List for Writers

    Strong Verbs Cheat Sheet: A Word List for Writers Ambiguous Verbs Dilute Writing Which of these sentences prompts a more powerful image? He walked to the door. He plodded to the door. The second example shows us a character who might be tired, lonely, or depressed. One verb paints a powerful picture.

  13. Make Your Writing Pop: An Essential List of Strong Verbs

    State-of-being verbs are words like "is," "was," "were," and "am" that describes a state of being, but don't really add any action to your writing. Instead of using these verbs, you can replace them with stronger, more descriptive verbs that will make your writing come alive! Here are a few examples: Before: He was happy.

  14. PDF Powerful Verbs for Essays

    Active Verbs Note of Caution: Only use the verbs you're familiar with unless you take the time to examine the definition in the dictionary. This is NOT a list of synonyms. Each word has specific usage patterns that are unique to its meaning. Literary Essay Report or Persuasive Essay that refers to an expert's opinion or research studies

  15. Strong Verbs

    Strong Verbs for Essays - Persuasive and Analytic Writing Essays are often used to persuade an audience or to analyze a topic or experience. In an essay, avoid verbs that are overused and imprecise.

  16. 400 Action Verbs To Energize Your Writing

    Action Verbs are the key to great writing. Our list of 400 Action Verbs is categorized for ease in finding the most dynamic word possible. ... weak verbs are abstract and generic - they don't help your reader visualize the scene. Strong verbs breathe life into abstract concepts. Therefore, we created this list of common verbs and found more ...

  17. Words to Use in an Essay: 300 Essay Words

    Example: To use the words of Hillary Clinton, "You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health." Near the end of the introduction, you should state the thesis to explain the central point of your paper. If you're not sure how to introduce your thesis, try using some of these phrases: In this essay, I will… The purpose of this essay…

  18. Style

    Problem: Weak verbs. If you have located and corrected passive voice and nominalization problems in your essay but your sentences still seem to lack meaning or directness, look for "weak" verbs. Verbs such as "to be" verbs and "have" verbs can often be replaced by "strong" verbs, verbs that carry specific meaning.

  19. 444+ Strong Verbs to Enhance Your Writing and Storytelling

    Start Quiz Strong Verbs vs. Weak Verbs While strong verbs are specific, vivid, and powerful, weak verbs are vague, generic, and lack the impact needed to hold a reader's attention. Weak verbs tend to dilute the message and make the writing less dynamic.

  20. Lesson Plan: Writing With Strong Verbs: Teach Students (or Yourself

    Example: He uses time wisely when writing essays.. He maximizes time when writing essays.. Example: The lion ferociously ate the gazelle.. The lion gobbled the gazelle (note the serendipitous use of alliteration).. Be verbs (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been) suck the life out of your writing!Example: He was bludgeoned by the boxer.. The boxer bludgeoned him.

  21. 50 Verbs of Analysis for English Academic Essays

    28 Oct 50 Verbs of Analysis for English Academic Essays In English, we often have to analyze data, research, or facts. Do you know how to do this effectively, while using the appropriate verbs of analysis? This list of 50 verbs of analysis in English will help you. Note: this list is for advanced English learners (CEFR level B2 or above).

  22. PDF Strong Verbs for Essay Writing

    Strong Verbs for Essay Writing Warm-Up #7: Strong Verbs for Essay Writing Step one: Copy the definitions for the following verbs. 1. To juxtapose: to place side by side, often for contrast. Ex: The writer of Family Guy juxtaposes the characters Brian and Peter to enhance their differing intelligence levels. 2.

  23. Academic Writing

    Reporting Verbs. Expand your vocabulary of reporting verbs. There are many verbs available apart from stated or reported when writing literature reviews. Consider employing verbs from the lists below. Reference. RMIT Study and Learning Centre. Retrieved 2019, from www.rmit.edu.au

  24. Opinion

    Unflinching empathy, which is the muscle the lesson is designed to exercise, is a prerequisite for literature strong enough to wrestle with the real world. On the page it allows us to spot signs ...