Tightening Verb Phrases for Making an Engine That Purrs



Imagine the English language as a car that can keep its body and performance pristine if driven and maintained correctly.

Think of nouns as the wheels that keep it rolling; adjectives as the chassis riding the wheels; adverbs as the paint job (some say the less flashy the better); and all other parts of speech (prepositions, conjunctions, etc.) as the vehicle’s other components (e.g., windows, trunk, mirrors, hood).

That leaves us with verbs, which form both the engine and the steering wheel driving our language. Without them, our language, like a car, would sit still and take us nowhere.

For this reason, verbs need tune-ups for optimal function. You can achieve this by tightening verb phrases.

Opportunities to do so appear throughout our writing:

Substitute a single word for “is” phrases that can be instantly shortened  Instead of writing “he is in violation of,” go with “he violates.” Rather than express “the petition is a representation of the community’s wishes,” state “the petition represents …”

Pare verb-object phrases to the core verb   Have you ever written that you “made the decision”? “I decided” is leaner and so will use less gas in taking your sentence further more quickly. Perhaps you’ve expressed in an e-mail that “the meeting came to a close” and “all who attended took the matter into consideration.” If so, next time you can adjust your linguistic belt a notch and write “the meeting ended” and “all who attended considered the matter.”

Delete redundant modifiers   We don’t need to write “hoist up” and “plunge down” when a simple “hoist” and “plunge” will do. Likewise, why use page space to say we “mix together” ingredients and “merge together” documents? The careful writer confesses the two words just don’t belong together. (These verb phrases also can be defined as tautologies; to learn more about this topic, review our recent article Striking the Surplus from Tautologies.)

Choose the right verb to shorten an idea   Did the book “give the people hope”? You could write that it “inspired” them and buy room you might need elsewhere on your page. Someone sharing a passionate opinion might say a statement “flies in the face of” the facts. He could also state that it “counters,” “contradicts,” “refutes” or “opposes” them and lessen the risk of flying spittle.

Use these techniques as your tools for your tune-ups. If you apply them often, you’ll find out just how far and fast your writing can go.

Posted on Wednesday, May 10, 2017, at 10:11 am

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2 Comments on Tightening Verb Phrases for Making an Engine That Purrs

2 responses to “Tightening Verb Phrases for Making an Engine That Purrs”

  1. Martin Notzon says:

    I wasn’t able to find an entry for phrasal verbs, the noun or adjective is almost always mistakenly used now. E.g., back up rather than backup, log in vs login, etc.

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