Updated July 2023
Looking for a fast and easy way to make your copy crisper, potent, informative and engaging? Target the verbs.
Boosting your verbs is easy -- we all know most of the appropriate synonyms. What's hard is accessing those words when we're drafting or in a hurry.
My solution: don't worry about it when you're writing. Home in on verb choice during revision.
3 steps to improve verb usage
We use a deliberate process to find and upgrade the verbs in our content:
- Write as fast as you need to to get the ideas together.
- Read through your piece focusing ONLY on identifying verbs.
- Every time you find one, try to uncover a stronger alternative.
BTW, we also deploy this technique on content we're resurfacing or updating content. It's a fast way to refresh.
Quick Review: What's a visual verb?
A visual verb describes the action and how it's being done. In school, these were often called "strong verbs" because they do the work of more than one word or do more work than one word. Some examples:
rise → ascend, climb, escalate
state → assert, affirm, declare
run quickly → dash, scamper, bolt
increase significantly → balloon, proliferate, compound
enable → prepare, ready, equip
How do you find visual verbs?
If you need some support, take advantage of the Thesaurus in your word processing program. For a more robust list of alternatives, dig into the Thesaurus at Merriam-Webster.com. But be warned -- it's a lot of fun to experiment with different verbs and you may get distracted -- I always do. In some cases, you can find options that take the place of multiple words, tightening content while making it more effective. Winning!
A caution: Every English teacher I've ever had would want me to remind you that not every synonym sets the right tone. In this age of microaggressions and heightened tensions, look beyond the definition to the connotation of any verb you choose to make sure it's not going to offend or alienate your audience. It's not about being PC, it's about being a decent person.