Using Strong Verbs

Worksheet 1 explains what a strong verb is, with examples of recasting sentences with weak verbs into sentences with strong verbs. Exercises in both worksheets give students the opportunity of writing complete sentences by using strong verbs rather than weak ones. If you would like the suggested answers and teaching tips, please see below.

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Worksheet 1, Using Strong Verbs, 12 Exercises
Worksheet 2, Using Strong Verbs, 17 Exercises

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The Problem

Some of our writing becomes weak when we use verbs like "to be" and "to have." These verbs add little to our prose; instead, they inflate our writing and make us sound verbose. Add power to your writing by using strong verbs. The sentence, "The bridegroom walked proudly across the dance floor" sounds so much more compelling if you write, "The bridegroom strutted across the dance floor." In this case we converted a weak verb + adverb combination (walked proudly) to a strong verb (strutted). Although weak verbs serve a useful role as helpers, to improve your writing style, let the majority of your verbs express strength.

Recasting Sentences with Weak Verbs Into Sentences with Strong Verbs

Although readers may not notice the problem because there is nothing grammatically wrong with the sentences, weak verbs still affect how they perceive your writing. Examine the following sentences:

  • Weaker: The cabinet minister is careful to visit only organizations that have a socially-conscious agenda.
  • Stronger: The cabinet minister visits only organizations with a socially-conscious agenda.

Are the sentences identical? No, but the subtle difference in the care with which the minister selects organizations to visit may not warrant the extra four words and the weak "is careful" construction. Unless you mean to emphasize this care, the second sentence conveys the message more strongly than the first. The second sentence is also shorter by four words. Shorter is usually better. Length matters sometimes, but sometimes it doesn't.

  • Weaker: Marjorie is always early to class.
  • Stronger: Marjorie always arrives early to class.

These two sentences use the same number of words, six. However, note how the verb in the second sentence, "arrives," sounds more vigorous, describes the act of arriving early, more strongly than the verb in the first, "is," which merely describes a state of being.

Beware of the verbs "to be" and "to have." Any time you use one of these verbs (Be, Is, Are, Was, Been, Being, Were, Has, Have, Having, Had) ask yourself if the sentence should be rewritten.

To rewrite sentences using strong verbs:

  1. Underline any use of Be, Is, Are, Was, Been, Being, Were, Has, Have, Having, Had.

    John is the manager of the produce department.

  2. Look for a noun or adjective that you can convert to a strong verb.

    John is the manager of the produce department. ("manager," noun -- predicate nominative)

  3. Rewrite the sentence using that strong verb.

    John manages the produce department.

Always use good grammar in English when you write, but do not neglect using strong verbs for strong writing and a more robust writing style.

Worksheet 1, 12 Exercises

The following exercises are in the free PDF worksheets. The worksheets may be reproduced freely. Rewrite each sentence to make the main verb stronger.

  1. Janet Smith is the supervisor of the customer service department.
  2. Walt Disney was the initiator of a mass movement in family entertainment.
  3. The whole house was stressed and angry with one another over my parents’ fighting over the bills.
  4. In the distance there is a giant eruption from the water, as a 100-pound sailfish jumps out.
  5. Jenny Millhouse is the owner of two gas stations in Florida City.
  6. The sugar cane refinery is the employer that is the driving force for employment in south central Florida.
  7. The student who is responsible for conducting the survey and reporting the results to the school administration is James Archer.
  8. If a manager is thinking about changing a policy statement, she has the responsibility to inform both her immediate supervisor and her employees.
  9. The shipped product was different from the one that was advertised in the catalog.
  10. The Foster family has a fruit stand near Krome Avenue.
  11. After a questionable call at home plate, the manager had an argument with the umpire.
  12. Last week, the class had a discussion about Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening.

Worksheet 2, 17 Exercises

Rewrite each sentence to make the main verb stronger.

  1. Larissa is a student of history and psychology.
  2. Professor Rose does not agree with Professor Randall about the uneven distribution of grades in the freshman class.
  3. Because Janice is prone to stay away from social gatherings, she spends many evenings alone in her dorm room.
  4. Miss Lawson made a drawing of a herd of bison stampeding across the plains.
  5. Louis was The Cowardly Lion in the school production of The Wizard of Oz.
  6. If someone says something bad about you, you should not say something bad about that person.
  7. The male anglerfish feels attraction for the female angler because of the pheromones the female produces.
  8. There were so many dance practices that my feet hurt every night.
  9. Monica was waiting impatiently at the airport for her sister to arrive from Paris.
  10. The intended purpose of the lecture was to teach students effective time management.
  11. The Arsht Center in Miami has plays, ballets, and concerts every month.
  12. There was a display of contemporary abstract art at the campus gallery.
  13. Dunkin Donuts has exhibited perseverance throughout the years, in spite of the many ups and downs of the economy, since it was founded in 1950.
  14. Jack Lalanne was a promoter of health and fitness through his lifestyle and the sale of his Jack Lalanne Power Juicer.
  15. The budget committee came up with an approximation of the costs of building a new stadium.
  16. Dr. Brene Brown has a theory that when people avoid vulnerability, the also stop emotional growth.
  17. Penelope Trunk is a blogger who writes about work, relationships, and parenting.

Links for Using Strong Verbs in Your Writing

These links will give you additional hints for recasting sentences with weak verbs into sentences with strong verbs. Some links provide lists of strong verbs. They are quite useful.

  • Writing Center, University of Houston, Clear Lake

    The strength of this page is that it is short, with a few examples, and that it includes a list of strong verbs. If you like lists, start here.

  • The Cain Project, Rice University

    Dr. Janice L. Hewitt provides a comprehensive list of what she calls "active, precise verbs" for graduate students in science and engineering at Rice University. High school students and freshmen will find this list extremely useful.

  • UNCG, Weak vs. Strong Verbs

    This PDF file offers recommendations for taking weak verb constructions and turning them into strong verbs.