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!

Susan Rooks
Susan Rookshttps://grammargoddess.com/
With nearly 25 years’ experience as an international speaker and workshop leader, Susan Rooks is uniquely positioned to help people master the communication skills they need to succeed. Over 20 years ago, Susan formed Grammar Goddess Communication to help business professionals enhance their communication skills. She creates and leads three-hour “Brush Up on Your Skills” workshops in three main areas: American grammar, business writing, and interpersonal skills. As a copyeditor (and editor of nonfiction only), Susan has worked on projects ranging from award-winning children’s books to best-selling business books to corporate annual reports, ensuring that all material is professionally presented and free from grammatical errors.
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John Dunia

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!

Mary Schaefer

Thanks for this insightful read, Susan. You make learning fun :)

Andrew Books
Andrew Books

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!

Lynn Forrester-Pitocco

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!

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