Why Active Verbs Create Vigorous Sentences While Adjectives Drain Energy from Weak Verbs

Copula verbs act as an equal sign

Be verbs have earned a bad reputation for creating boring writing—but they’re not alone. Copula verbs (also known as linking verbs), which include be, seem, feel, become, and remain, also create bland sentences. Though these verbs can be useful, more often they’re just feeble verbs that attract wan adjectives and slow your sentences.

Don’t expect the adjective to save the sentence and allow the verb to go unchanged. Address both weaknesses at once by converting adjective expressions to active verbs. When you replace copula verbs with concrete verbs, you uncover the useful information in the sentence, draw the reader into the action, and paint a picture of your story. This small change will pack a serious punch.

Consider this pretty forgettable sentence:

She is beautiful. (she = beautiful)

Compare it to sentences with active verbs:

Her beauty astounds me.

Her beauty surprises the people she meets.

I will never forget her beauty.

While those differences may seem confined to poetic or fictional writing, even legal, academic, and business writers abuse copula verbs. Verbs are powerful, so writers should consider every copula verb a missed opportunity.

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Verbs Are the Soul of the Sentence

Linguists refer to English as a verb-centric language, which means that English has more verbs than other non-verb-centric languages. (English has more than twice as many verbs as some languages!) Because the language revolves around verbs, verbs get to convey the most important information. Speakers, readers, and listeners all search for the verb to get the gist, then the rest of the sentence components mentally fall into place.

Because English is so verb-centric, the language offers an array of unique verbs (vocabulary) to show detailed information rather than using adverbs, prefixes, or suffixes. That’s why English-speakers can communicate more clearly with a verb like saunter than with a verb phrase like walk slowly but confidently.

Improve Pace and Cut Words by Converting Copula Verbs

In formal contexts, many writers rely on copula verbs to (1) turn subsequent adjectives into nouns; (2) put useful information into more formal-sounding nouns (nominalization) or adjectives (adjectivization); and (3) otherwise bury verbs under indirect language in hopes of sounding more professional. But professional readers appreciate clarity and directness, so look to the nouns and adjectives connected to your copula verbs to find the main action of the sentence and use that verb to drive your sentence instead.

If that sounds like too much to remember, WordRake can help. WordRake edits sentences with copula verbs, nominalizations, unnecessarily wordy verb phrases, and adjective-centric syntax to more active, efficient, and concrete constructions.

Copula Verb + Adjective

They are compliant comply with the U. S. Green Building Council’s LEED standards.

The trend is reflective of reflects the problems with the general economy.

We were successful succeeded in convincing the FCC to attach most of our desired openness principles.

A new title for this research paper must be indicative of indicate the topic.

SynCon’s ability to meet customer demand is dependent depends on its replacement of the 26-inch pipeline.

Writing to a business partner is different differs from writing to a client.

Good customer service processes are responsive respond to customer requests.

That these policies are in no way are not implicated by the CDM fee is further support for further supports the fact that Labor Code Section 221 does not apply to the fee.

Thus, the proposals you make your proposals are unnecessarily duplicative of unnecessarily duplicate actions already being undertaken by the campus.

Because all of the insulation products are comprised consist entirely of components parts from American sources, the company is in full compliance fully complies with the Berry Amendment.

Whether one visited Germany, Hungary, France, or England at that time, one was sure to would find the agricultural population sharply divided into two social classes-nobility and peasantry.

When they became aware that learned their design would be subject to review must be reviewed, they withdrew their application.

Bullington held that the plaintiff’s mere conjecture that his employer’s explanation is pretext might easily be sufficient to defeat summary judgment.

An international Field Office Director (FOD) is authorized to may accept the filing of (and adjudicate) any Form I-601 filed by an applicant in that country at the time of filing if the FOD finds exceptional and compelling circumstances that require the immediate filing of the application in cases in which where expedited processing by the national office would be insufficient to not address the urgency of the circumstances.

It would be helpful help to have a checklist to ensure nothing is forgotten when packing for the trip.

It would be smart for the travelers to The travelers should take a nap.

Copula Verb + Noun

The Board found that Vargas’s request for a pay increase was a circumvention of circumvented the requirement that all increases be uniform within the agency.

Applied mathematics is a combination of combines mathematical science and specialized knowledge.

The zero price designation is simply an indication indicates that the amount that will be received by investors cannot be determined at this time.

The following is an outline of outlines a sales presentation written in 2007.

Plaintiff’s complaint alleges that at the end of each workday, it was a requirement that workers had to return their time sheets to Labor Ready.

Again, this argument is in direct opposition to directly opposes the findings in Soady.

The intention of the legislators was intended to reduce drunk driving.

Acting as the general contractor on a Department of Energy (DOE) project, Gardner Zemke issued its Order to Dunham Bush for air-conditioning equipment, known as chillers, to be used in connection with for the project.

But using music to dull the pain of a marathon may not be the solution to solve every runner’s setbacks.

Indirect Verb Phrases

The question is still relevant, and she might be surprised by the answer might surprise her.

She is such an honest person; I don’t think she has ever she has never told a lie lied.

“Before these whirlwinds come on, there appears a heavy cloud to the northeast which is very black near the horizon,” reported Dampier, describing the wall of cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds that has since come to be now referred to as called the “bar” of a tropical cyclone.

The bankruptcy court is under a duty to must litigate anew the factual issues necessary to the determination of determine dischargeability.

It further held that, as a fiduciary, the company was under a duty had to detail its practice of accepting contingent commissions, and under a duty to remit such commissions to its clients.

I recently initiated started the state’s Higher Education Alliance, which is made up of comprises all higher education presidents in the state.

Some behavior analysts study how people’s faces change when they tell lies lie.

Simplify Phrases So Verbs Shine

Sometimes writers get overzealous with fancy verbs and verb phrases when simpler ones would do. To return focus to vigorous, direct verbs, try WordRake’s Simplicity mode. It will help you find the most familiar verb while also tightening copula- or nominalization-heavy writing.

As a retired film critic, he often casts a jaundiced eye on questions the movies that succeed nowadays.

In the course of In our joint endeavor, there have been a number of several colleagues who have been instrumental in shaping helped to shape our thoughts.

The new governing party can be expected to will likely carry the nationalistic message forward.

He was involved in helped the development of develop systems, the creation of create passwords, and the solution of solve problems.

We gave the clients a heads up told the clients about the meeting room change.

Not All Verbs Are Created Equal

Every sentence needs a verb, but many verbs leave readers underwhelmed. As we’ve shown, adding adjectives won’t improve your sentences enough to make them powerful. Instead, use better verbs. Let WordRake help you find editing opportunities and enliven your writing.

About the Author

Danielle Cosimo is a Language Usage Analyst for WordRake. Before joining the team, she was a translator and editor for non-native English speakers applying to degree programs in the United States and the UK. Danielle is formally trained in linguistics and has a certificate in computer programming. She is fluent in English, Portuguese, and Spanish. She applies her interdisciplinary knowledge to create WordRake’s editing algorithms. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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Your writing is essential to your legal practice. Let WordRake help you create clear, concise writing.

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Our Story

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to help writers produce clear, concise, and effective prose. It runs in Microsoft Word and Outlook, and its suggested changes appear in the familiar track-changes style. It saves time and gives confidence. Writing and editing has never been easier.