As a reader or writer, you will notice that not all verbs are created equal. You know a powerful verb when you read one in a book or write one because its effect on the context of the writing is far superior to that of a standard or weak verb. This article will explain what powerful verbs are and how they can improve your writing. There will also be several examples of strong verbs to point out the difference between a powerful verb and a weak verb.
What Is a Powerful Verb?
Before you can start choosing powerful verbs, you have to know what a verb is. Verbs are necessary to almost any sentence, describing the state of being. Verbs tell the reader what actions are taking place, and the words you choose as verbs can strengthen or weaken your story.
Powerful verbs are verbs that you can use in your writing to describe better the action or state of being of a character. Here is an example of a murder story that uses several verbs.
Example: June couldn’t believe what she had just witnessed. The murderer, caught in the act, right in front of her. She wasn’t sure that he had seen her looking through the curtain of the restaurant into the alley where he’d killed his victim, but she wasn’t going to wait to find out.
She grabbed her purse, didn’t even bother to pay for her meal, and ran out of the restaurant to go to the police station two blocks away. Opening the door to the station, she approached the front desk and said, “I’ve just seen a murder take place in the alley next to Abuela’s Casita restaurant. You’ve got to go now. He may still be there.” The officer at the desk was surprised and asked her to repeat herself. “Just go now! Someone has been killed,” June told the officer.
In the example paragraphs above, you have a murder that has taken place with one eyewitness. While the example is an okay piece of writing, it is chock full of weak verbs. A simple look at a strong verbs list could have helped this writer tremendously. Here is the edited version of the example murder story above, replacing the weak verbs with strong ones.
Example: June couldn’t believe what she had just witnessed. The murderer, caught in the act, right in front of her. She wasn’t sure that he had seen her gawking through the curtain of the restaurant where he’d butchered his latest victim, but she wasn’t going to wait to find out.
Snatching her purse and not even bothering to pay for her meal, she ran out of the restaurant and down the two short blocks to the police station. Throwing open the door to the station, she ambushed the front desk. “I’ve just seen a murder take place in the alley next to Abuela’s Casita restaurant! You’ve got to go now. He may still be there,” she panted, doubled over and out of breath. The officer at the desk, shocked, demanded that she repeat herself. “Just go now! Someone has been killed,” June screeched.
In the edited version of the story, you can see that the writer started using strong verbs. These words mean the same thing, and the story does not change, but the tone does. Using powerful verbs in your story can push the plot forward and is a great way to give your characters life and be more descriptive to keep the readers engaged.
Powerful Verbs List
You can find many powerful verbs online or in books, or even from teachers, that will give you exciting, descriptive, powerful words to use as verbs. This list is often called a strong verbs list or a power verbs list. The meaning of the words stays the same, but when you replace a regular verb with one of these words, the text will usually matter more to the person reading your work.
Nouns are given more power, the idea of the text takes on more meaning, and you will have more compelling writing. You will find that the quality of your work is elevated with the use of powerful verbs. Below is a small power verbs list, but remember that this is a sample of the verbs available to replace weak or dull verbs.
Powerful Verbs Examples
- Instead of: Said
- Use: screamed, cried, whispered, groaned, sobbed, choked, muttered, stuttered
- Instead of: Looked
- Use: gazed, witnessed, examined, stalked, peeked, gawked, stared
- Instead of: Walked
- Use: sauntered, stomped, stumbled, tripped, skipped, tip-toed
- Instead of: Cried
- Use: sobbed, wept, melted, blubbered, whimpered
- Instead of: Found
- Use: Discovered, uncovered, revealed, collected, unearthed
You can also benefit by writing up your own list of powerful verbs. You can easily do this by writing common verbs that might be considered weak or cliché, and making a list below of stronger verbs that better describe the way people behave in real life, are more exciting, and do a better job of creating a good story. Then, when you start to overuse a weaker verb in your writing, you can replace it with a verb on the list you have created.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Do not think that just because you can replace a standard verb with a powerful verb, you must do it all the time—this is not true. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Remember that sometimes people just say something. They do not always have to whisper or shout or sob. Sometimes people just find things. They do not always stumble upon, unearth, or discover something.
Overly using powerful verbs in your fiction writing will instantly lose the audience’s attention because they will be too busy getting through all of the clunky and extremely varied languages. Take note of these pieces of advice:
- Develop the best story by playing the scenes out in your head.
- Boost sentences that you think need to hit harder with powerful verbs.
- Leave unimportant sentences alone with a regular verb. Readers will understand the difference and appreciate it.
Once you learn to table a weaker verb in favor of a powerful verb when necessary, you will start to see more impactful and strong writing. Just keep in mind that you are looking for accurate verbs to describe the scene, not unnecessarily ornate words, so it can be proven you own a thesaurus.