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Want to Sharpen Your Writing? Uncover Your Smothered Verbs!

A complete sentence is one with a subject and a predicate (which needs a verb, right)? That’s something we learned in grammar school, although we may not remember it exactly.

Something else we learned back then: Nouns name things, and verbs create action or a state of being.

But many of us writers have gotten into the habit of changing perfectly good verbs into nouns by adding a few letters, smothering the original verb, and then adding another verb for grammatical correctness. And although it’s not wrong to smother a verb, the result is a longer and weaker sentence.

Recently I read an LI profile that had these words: “… has to be in possession of …” and immediately realized the writer added a couple of unneeded words by turning the original verb into a noun.

Can you see it? Possession is a noun, but there’s a verb hiding in plain sight: possess. So the original sentence could have been a little shorter with more emphasis by writing this: “…has to possess …”

Grammatically, it’s fine either way, but for many readers, shorter and stronger sentences are easier to understand.

So how can you spot a smothered verb?
They hide in nouns ending in ion, sion, tion, able, ance, or ment.

Find your own smothered verbs by doing a search or find for words ending in these letters until you can spot them on your own.

Here’s a little quiz to see if you can spot the smothered verbs – what would you use instead?

            Let’s enter into that discussion later.

            We will provide information to our customers.

            This will lead to a reduction of paperwork.

            It is my intention to call the client.

            The committee came to the conclusion that …

Is this concept familiar to you? I had never known about it before learning about it from another excellent writer, which is why I love the village concept. I don’t have to know everything; I have friends and colleagues who regularly keep me updated on ways to do just about anything.

Oh, the answers?

Let’s enter into that discussion later. Let’s discuss that later.

We will provide information to our customers. We will inform our customers.

This will lead to a reduction of paperwork. This will reduce paperwork.

It is my intention to call the client. I intend to call the client.

The committee came to the conclusion that … The committee concluded

I welcome your thoughts!

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Susan Rooks
Susan Rookshttps://grammargoddess.com/
With nearly 30 years’ experience as an international workshop leader, Susan Rooks is uniquely positioned to help people master the communication skills they need to succeed. In 1995, Susan formed Grammar Goddess Communication, creating and leading workshops in three main areas – American grammar, business writing, and interpersonal skills – to help business pros enhance their communication skills. She also leads one-hour LinkedIn workshops (Master the LinkedIn Profile Basics) via Zoom to help business pros anywhere maximize their LinkedIn experience, offering it to Chambers of Commerce and other civic organizations free of charge. As an editor, Susan has worked on business blogs, award-winning children’s books, best-selling business books, website content, and even corporate annual reports (with clients from half a dozen countries), ensuring that all material is professionally presented. In April 2022, Susan became the Managing Editor of the Florida Specifier, a bi-monthly trade publication covering Florida’s diverse environmental industry. And although the focus is on Florida’s issues, many of these same challenges are found elsewhere around the world, so the readership isn’t limited to just Floridians or those interested in that state. But in all these endeavors, Susan’s only goal is to help everyone look and sound as smart as they are.

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8 CONVERSATIONS

  1. What a great article to refresh the ole mind. I no doubt am guilty of what you write. I write straight from the heart which doesn’t always come out the way it should. Reading articles like this will hopefully make me a better writer. Thank you for this refresher course!

  2. I combat this by focusing on shortening the sentence. It helps to combat run-ons. It’s hard to catch, though. You get into a habit of being as descriptive as possible, only to discover you’re producing verbal diarrhea. Thanks Susan!

    • Verbal diarrhea, Andy! Love that … sort of. But yes. We all get into habits, so once we recognize them, we can decide if they help or hurt.

    • And thanks for the note, Mary! Since some of the topics I teach are boring … I’ve always had to find ways to lighten them up. So glad you liked the article!

  3. In 11th grade, I took a journalism class in which the teacher talked frequently about “economy of style”. That really hit home with me and have made this concept a part of my writing. But I’m always glad to know the technical terms. Thank you Susan!

    • So many ways to describe clear and concise writing, John! This is just one specific idea that helps some writers see where they can cut safely and make their sentences even better.

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