Saturday, February 22, 2014

Short and Sweet: Avoid Wordy Verb Phrases

To find weak spots in your writing, look for forms of the verb "to be" (is, are, was, were) used with adjectives or abstract nouns, and then see if you can replace the phrase with a single verb. (This also gives you a chance to look for passive verbs that need to be active.)

Next, look for the verb "to have" (has, have, had) used with an abstract noun. You can look for the verb "to make" (makes, make, made). See if you can replace the verb phrase with a single verb. As a rule, verbs are better than verbal nouns.

By replacing weak verbal phrases with strong verbs, you can make your writing more forceful and reduce your word count by as much as 20%.

Examples:

BEFORE: The bar was full of smoke. (6 words)
AFTER: Smoke filled the bar. (4 words)

BEFORE: Arthur had no doubts about Lancelot's bravery. (7 words)
AFTER: Arthur did not doubt Lancelot's bravery. (6 words)

BEFORE: The witch had a knowledge of many dangerous spells. (9 words)
AFTER: The witch knew many dangerous spells. (6 words)

BEFORE: Bathsheba was aware that David loved her. (7 words)
AFTER: Bathsheba knew that David loved her. (6 words)

BEFORE: The little boy had a liking for strawberries. (8 words)
AFTER: The little boy liked strawberries. (5 words)

BEFORE: Sita had the sensation that someone was watching her. (9 words)
AFTER: Sita sensed that someone was watching her. (7 words)

BEFORE: Vibhishana made the argument that Ravana should let Sita go. (10 words)
AFTER: Vibhishana argued that Ravana should let Sita go. (8 words)

BEFORE: The gods had need of a human hero who could defeat Ravana. (12 words)
AFTER: The gods needed a human hero who could defeat Ravana. (10 words)

BEFORE: The queen's devotion was an inspiration to the people of her kingdom. (12 words)
AFTER: The queen's devotion inspired the people of her kingdom. (9 words)

BEFORE: Alice had a desire to see where the White Rabbit had gone. (12 words)
AFTER: Alice wanted to see where the White Rabbit had gone. (10 words)

For more strategies to use in reducing your word count while improving your writing, see this list: Short and Sweet Writing Strategies.



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