Revisiting Bad Grammar: Weak Verbs

Weak Verbs

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Weak verbs are probably the worst flaw to correct. For that reason, the best time to tackle them is in editing. While you’re in the midst of writing, the last thing you want to do is slow down your momentum to come up with another word for ‘move,’ and yet that’s exactly what some do. But let me explain first.

This transgression is usually focused on dull, colorless verbs or verbs that find themselves stalked by adverbs. Check out below.

Billy ran quickly after Tessa, hoping he’d catch her before she got on the bus.

Or

Tessa moved across the room to see what the commotion was outside her front window.

In the first example, we see the use of an adverb, ‘quickly,’ paired with an inadequate verb, ‘run.’ Anytime you find an adverb in your manuscript, you must analyze it heavily to see if it is truly needed. This can be hard. Sometimes, the usage is colloquial habit. In that case, cut it. Sometimes, it’s style. Then make sure to keep it measured. In the above case, it would probably be best to dump both ‘ran’ and ‘quickly’ and replace it with a stronger verb, like dashed, darted, or even sprang.

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In the second, we see the usage of such a hoo-hum word, ‘move,’ that the character’s movements seem to be unimportant. Move—yuck! Traipsed—better! Paint a picture for us. Wow us. Don’t phone in the details of your story’s events and give us colorless action. This is when editing comes in handy. So do your best.

Now, in no way does this mean you should go crazy and throw in words that seem out of place, saying, “Tessa galloped across the floor.” Nor do you need to go medieval or Shakespearean on the verb, saying, ‘Tessa brought forth great strides to cross the room.” Some writers try to avoid a ‘plain’ verb so hard, that sometimes it ruins everything. In other words, keep it simple, but don’t bore us.

Other words to watch: look, eat, see, hear, smell, feel, cry, laugh, run, walk….and so on.

 

The only place this rule doesn’t count: said. When it comes to speech tags, overusing said is never a bad thing. You can occasionally say ‘yelled,’ or ‘snapped.’ But ultimately, ‘said’ should be the majority.

 

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