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99 Strong Verbs to Make Your Content Pop, Fizz and Sparkle

If your verbs are weak and your syntax is rickety, your sentences will fall apart ~ William Zinsser
Do you ever read text and wonder …

Why do the words jump off this page?

Why does this writing feel energetic and strong?

Why is it so fast-paced?

And do you wonder why your draft text seems a tad limp in comparison?

It happens to all of us.

First drafts often require an injection of power and pizzazz. First drafts are full of weak verbs, and weak verbs make your writing limp, flabby, and listless.

In contrast, strong verbs add action, vitality, color, and zest. So, the “secret” to writing with gusto is to choose stronger verbs.

What are strong verbs?

Strong verbs engage your senses, and help readers picture a scene (verbs in bold):

You feel the air reverberating when he slams his fist on the table. The teacups jiggle, his face reddens, and his voice thunders.

Strong verbs allow readers to visualize actions. Instead of only reading words, they’re drawn into your writing, experiencing your story.

But strong verbs don’t need to convey powerful action. Subtle action can evoke powerful feelings, too. For instance:

He cradles the baby, strokes her dark hair, tickles her chin, and hums a lullaby.

Strong verbs are precise and concrete. In contrast, weak verbs are abstract and generic—they don’t help you visualize a scene. Examples of weak verbs are “to be,” “to provide,” “to add,” and “to utilize.” You can’t picture these words.

For instance, if someone provides feedback, is he shouting his comments? Or lecturing you with a smug face? Or perhaps scribbling a few suggestions in the margin of your handout?

You can’t picture “provide feedback,” but you can visualize “shouting,” “lecturing,” and “scribbling.”

Strong verbs breathe life into abstract ideas

Over the weekend, I read Ray Bradbury’s “Zen in the Art of Writing.” I enjoyed his choice of verbs, and I loved how his verbs breathe life into abstract concepts, like storytelling and the Muse.

For instance, he describes how he started writing stories based on lists of nouns:

And the stories began to burst, to explode from those memories, hidden in the nouns, lost in the lists.

And he writes about the Muse:

The Muse, then, is the most terrified of all the virgins. She starts if she hears a sound, pales if you ask her questions, spins and vanishes if you disturb her dress.

And on eating books:

I tore out the pages, ate them with salt, doused them with relish, gnawed on the bindings, turned the chapters with my tongue!

Bradbury’s choice of strong verbs (like “gnaw” and “douse”) adds zest and power. He uses few adjectives and adverbs to keep his writing fast-paced.

Strong verbs in business writing

You might think strong verbs are only for fiction writers.

But that’s untrue.

Here’s Nancy Duarte in her book “Resonate” (about engaging your audience with story-based presentations):

Throughout history, presenter-to-audience exchanges have rallied revolutions, spread innovation, and spawned movements.

And:

When a great story is told, we lean forward, and our hearts race as the story unfolds.

And:

Haven’t you often wished you could make customers, employees, investors, or students snap, crackle, pop, and move to the new place they need to be in order to create a new future?

Here’s an example of Apple’s copy:

So whether you’re listening to music, watching videos, or making speakerphone calls, iPhone 7 lets you crank it up. Way, way up.

And:

Apple Watch Series 2 counts more than just steps. It tracks all the ways you move throughout the day, whether you’re walking between meetings, doing cartwheels with your kids, or hitting the gym.

“To do” in the last sentence is, of course, a weak verb. Apple’s copywriters could have changed “doing cartwheels with your kids” into “cartwheeling with your kids” without disrupting the rhythm and making the sentence stronger.

It is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give good writing its toughness and color.
~ Strunk and White (in the Elements of Style)

Are adjectives always bad?

We don’t have to go to extremes and use verbs and nouns only.

Adjectives and adverbs can add precision and nuance.

In the paragraph below, for instance, Helen Macdonald describes her hawk. This paragraph (from the book “H is for Hawk”) is full of adjectives:

In the half-light through the drawn curtains she sits on her perch, relaxed, hooded, extraordinary. Formidable talons, wicked, curved black beak, sleek, café-au-lait front streaked thickly with cocoa-coloured teardrops, looking for all the world like some cappuccino samurai.

The craft of writing is more subtle than following the advice to write in verbs and nouns only. Adjectives and adverbs may allow readers to sit back and admire a scene instead of racing through your words.

You’re the writer—you can play with your words, then choose which words express your voice and your thoughts best.

How to choose strong verbs

No clear distinction exists between strong and weak verbs. It’s a gliding scale, and it’s up to you as a writer to decide how strong you’d like your verbs to be.

For instance, “to walk” is stronger than “to go” because it gives you an indication of how someone moved. But stronger options would be: to saunter, to hike, to shuffle, to trudge, to stride, or to plod. Each of these verbs gives you an indication of how someone walked:

  • to saunter: picture a girl walking rather leisurely, perhaps peeking into the shop windows
  • to hike: picture a woman in walking boots with a backpack, walking at a good pace
  • to shuffle: picture an elderly woman moving ahead gingerly, hardly lifting her feet
  • to trudge: picture a girl in wellies making a big effort, perhaps walking through the snow or mud
  • to stride: picture a lady walking as if on the catwalk, with long strides
  • to plod: picture a tired woman with sagging shoulders, walking rather tiredly

Strong verbs can also be used for abstract language. For instance, you could say you generated ideas during your brainstorm session. But how did that your ideas arrive? For instance:

  • A few ideas popped into your mind
  • Your mind exploded with ideas
  • A stream of ideas burst forward
  • Ideas first trickled, then gushed forth
  • The brainstorm session spawned a stream of ideas

Strong verbs are more precise than weak verbs; they can paint clear pictures—even of abstract activities like thinking and generating ideas.

How to play with your verbs

Imagine this: how would readers experience your voice if you used fewer adjectives and adverbs?

Here’s an example of text, sagging under adjectives and adverbs:

While quietly sitting at her wooden desk, she slowly formulated her thoughts and worked really hard to write her blog post. The next day she felt apprehensive and nervously hit publish. Would her audience be interested enough to read her content word-by-word?

To add energy to the text, the first step is to strip the content back to its bare bones:

While quietly sitting at her wooden desk, she slowly formulated her thoughts and worked really hard to write her blog post. The next day she felt apprehensive and nervously hit publish. Would her audience be interested enough to read her content word-by-word?

The stripped down version lacks nuance and color. So, let’s try stronger verbs and add a little context:

For hours, she sat at her desk. She wracked her brain, and slaved over her words to produce a blog post. And the next day? She hit publish with trepidation. Would her audience gobble up her words?

The thesaurus is your friend. Use a thesaurus to find more precise alternatives for weak verbs.

Your word choice shapes your voice

Finding your voice is about experimentation.

Try writing with verbs and nouns only. Then stuff your writing with adjectives and adverbs.

Read both versions aloud as if you’ve never seen them before.

What works? What doesn’t work? Which words do you like?

Play with your words. Have fun. And discover your voice.

A list of 99 strong verbs to try in your business writing

To sparkle, to tickle, to thrill, to explode, to burst, to crack, to crank up, to surge, to flood, to snowball, to skyrocket, to roll, to soar, to catapult, to polish, to shine, to brighten, to scour, to tap, to flick, to snap, to guzzle, to gobble, to wipe out, to stumble, to wobble, to jumpstart, to muddle, to swing, to lurch, to breeze through, to glide, to zip, to sail, to crash, to sputter, to drool, to spit, to sprout, to flourish, to buckle down, to tackle, to grab, to grasp, to grapple, to wrestle, to poke, to stir, to prod, to stab, to knock, to strike, to smash, to hit, to arouse, to plunge, to dive, to dip, to tiptoe, to pussyfoot, to duck, to flip-flop, to dilly-dally, to linger, to drop, to trickle, to splash, to seep, to dump, to drain, to squeeze, to dazzle, to knock, to slide, to slump, to tumble, to topple, to nose-dive, to ditch, to fly, to float, to choke, to fix, to block, to clog, to muzzle, to stall, to electrify, to galvanize, to fire up, to kindle, to spark, to whip up, to propel, to glow, to sway, to sharpen, to shock, to jolt

Comments

  1. Wow, great post! And now my task begins, to translate your list of strong verbs into Dutch 🙂 Somehow I have always thought of English as the more powerful language. But I will hunt those strong Dutch verbs down, so I can make my copy sparkle like yours.

    • I’d use the list as a starting point, so perhaps translate one of the verbs, and then see which other verbs this reminds you of (a bit like mind-mapping). That’s also how I created this list (and many more strong verbs exist that aren’t on this list). This might be a little faster than translating them all. 🙂

      And when you read another interesting verb (in newspapers, blog posts, or fiction), you can add to your list.

      Happy writing, Cindy. And thank you for stopping by.

  2. John Davidson says:

    You are such a wonderful writer!

  3. Oh man, this is such a pain point for me as a non-native speaker! 😀 The only way to think beyond “said”, “did”, “was” is to read, and read a lot.

    Great reminder, Henneke! Already saved the verbs to my swipe file 🙂
    Gill Andrews recently posted…I wish our first personal encounter was different, but…My Profile

    • As a non-native speaker, I know the pain of searching for the right word. But, as you suggest, it’s also an opportunity to read more, learn more and play more. I see it as a challenge and a game. Perhaps as non-native speakers we can feel more free to play with different words 🙂

      Happy writing, Gill. Thank you for stopping by!

  4. Wow, what a great resource. For a non native English speaker like me, this is very useful. I will try to use more of this verbs in my writing but also while speaking. Good vocabulary (and verbs) determine the way people see us, better be good and strong!

    P.S: I featured one of your SlideShares on today’s article on my blog 😉
    Virginia recently posted…8 Beautiful SlideShare Presentations That Will Help You Build YoursMy Profile

    • Oh, wow, I’m honored to be included in your article. I’m going to check out the other presentations. You made me curious!

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Virginia! 🙂

  5. Epic post. Filled with actionable points

  6. I Appreciate all the work I know this post took. Excellent job and fun to read. Love Zinsser!
    Sometimes I like to insert a rest between a long dose of rich words, like a drink of cool water between courses in a meal. In some cases, an uncomplicated break can dramatize sets of contrast, inserting even contrasting types of words. For instance:

    He clomped toward me, grabbed my sweatshirt in his filthy fist, and dragged me to the folding chair, which clattered as I bumped it. He roared at me, “SIT!”
    I sat.
    When I met his steely gaze and did not cry, he slapped me hard, filling the air with his body odor.

    An editor once shared with me that she knew I had contributed an anonymous piece for her friend’s magazine, because my style was noticeable, to her.
    The contrast I sampled, above, was typical…
    Katharine recently posted…Babies!My Profile

    • Yes, that’s such a good point, and a wonderful example!

      I love how you contrast strong action words with the simple “I sat.” The contrast is further stressed because you have a long sentence, then a super-short one. I love it!

      I’m not surprised that your writing stands out and your voice is recognized.

      Thank you for sharing this, Katharine.

  7. Thank you so much. This is just what I need, and it has come at the right time too for me.

  8. How totally fun! And wonderful example of transforming a sentence. Something clicked when you said your word choice shapes your voice. Great post!

    • I also had a lot of fun while writing this – especially with selecting all the examples. 🙂

      Happy writing, Kathy!

  9. Hi Henneke,
    Thanks for this list of strong verbs. I will surely use them in the next copy I use.

    Can we use them on our sales page copy or will it be too loud to use them?

    Thanks,
    -Swadhin
    Swadhin Agrawal recently posted…StudioPress Sites Review: [Complete Details] New Website Builder & Hosting SolutionMy Profile

    • Yes, sure, you can also use them in sales copy, just use them in a small dosage. Don’t overdo it.

      Happy writing, Swadhin!

  10. Wowza. This one boggled, blew away and some other cool verb that starts with B. I’m writing a piece about power writing and power verbs is a section. I’ll have to refer to this great post.

    • I’ll keep an eye out for your post. I’m looking forward to reading it. 🙂

      I hope the third verb starting with B wasn’t to bullshit 😉

  11. Great post. Thanks Henneke. This is one of the points I’m slaving over, along with telling better stories.

    I’ve declared war on adverbs. I use the Hemingway app. It helps obliterate adverbs. But now my sights are set on strong verbs. A little more tricky than adverbs, but practice makes perfect.

    Timely, again.
    Jansie Blom recently posted…The AeroPress Makes Great Coffee In 5 And A Half Minutes, Cleans In 15 Seconds And Saves You $51.10.My Profile

    • It may feel more tricky, but I’d say it’s also more fun. Try turning it in a game … for instance, how many different verbs can you try in the key sentence of your article?

      Happy writing, Jansie. And thank you for stopping by to leave a comment.

      • Jansie Blom says:

        That’s exactly how I try to approach it. But it’s tiring. If you write long articles like I do, keeping it all together becomes a difficult task. I draw blanks.

        • Do you take a break between writing a first draft and editing it? This helps me a lot. Plus, when I draw a blank, I use the thesaurus 😉

          • Jansie Blom says:

            Definitely take breaks. More than one. Write, edit, write, edit, edit, edit.

            Edit more.

            Month later, check back again.

            Read on laptop; read on mobile.

            I’ve long dropped the notion of writing being “art”; that futile fable that, once your article is posted, you’re not allowed to edit it.

            Suppose only sticking to it relentlessly will make it come easier. So that’s where I’m at. Your post happened at the right time.

  12. I just love reading your posts, Henneke, and this one was especially inspiring. I will definitely be referring to it as I attempt to jazz up an otherwise potentially hum-drum website about insurance. (Yawn!) Thank you for all you do–you rock! 🙂

  13. Awesome as always Henneke. I’ll be saving this article to refer back to. What a great way to introduce the concept of strong verbs without it sounding like a boring lecture. I must have read about this concept 100 times before, but never in a way that was this fun to read!

  14. Hey this is great stuff, Henneke! The only comment I would make is that I think Apple has it right when they say “doing cartwheels.” For the general public, the expression is to “do a cartwheel” and not “to cartwheel.” Although this verb exists, it’s a different level of language. But I think that it still proves your point, because even if “doing” seems weak ,”doing cartwheels” is very concrete and evocative for the audience, so that’s the most important thing. Just to say, sometimes style is subjective, even when it comes to verbs! Great post!

    • Yep, that’s totally true: style is subjective, and there are differences between what’s acceptable in American and British English, too. I’m not sure that’s the case here … I might prefer “cartwheeling” because I’m a non-native speaker, but I might be the only one who prefers it 🙂

      Thank you for adding your thoughts. I appreciate your comment!

  15. Patricia Brown says:

    This is an excellent post! My writing has been particularly drab. Now, I know why. I am certain that choosing the right verbs as you’ve suggested would add the zest that is sorely needed.

    Your site is such an invaluable tool and I so appreciate what you do!

    • What a lovely comment. Thank you, Patricia. You put a smile on my face.

      I’m sure your content isn’t as drab as you think. Happy writing!

  16. Another eye opener for me, Henneke. Thank you for your skill in teaching the power of grammar in a shockingly simple way!

  17. Awesome! I am bookmarking this post. I will read it again and again and again, to keep reminding myself how to give my writing energy with strong verbs.

    Thanks!

  18. Henneke thank you for another thought-provoking piece! Your posts challenge me to dig deep. After devouring this, I want to race to my keyboard and tap away until my words sparkle and shine.

  19. ‘He uses few adjectives and adverbs to keep his writing fast-paced.’ That’s the main thing. Plus concreteness. And then to keep it in mind even if you are tired 😉

    At the end of a writing day I am usually too tired to think of good headlines. Not smart, I know. You do such a great job there.

    • My “secret” trick to writing headlines is to write down a few options (usually one or two days before I publish my post), then read my headlines before I go to sleep and pick a favorite in the morning. Somehow, during my sleep, I often come up with a better one. Don’t tell anyone! 😉

  20. Amazing help as usual ….thank you Henneke 🙂 great post.

  21. This is huge! Thank you so much for sharing this, Henneke! I’ve read every single word this information goldmine and it was tremendously helpful.
    If you don’t mind, please tell me whether in the sentence, “most of us would rather clean the bathroom than do push-ups,” we should replace the verb “to do.” If the answer is yes, then what’s the alternative?

    I appreciate your efforts!

    • I’d keep “do push-ups.” That’s how people say it. You don’t always need stronger verbs. If every verb in every sentence is strong, then it’s overkill and that’s tiring for your reader. It’s about balance and stressing what’s important.

  22. Great stuff. I’ve already used it in a couple of business marketing collaterals.

    Thanks Henneke

  23. This post woke me up today. LOVE it. I actually strip strong, simple words from my readings, capturing them on word and idea lists to spice up my writings. Everybody who is intent on persuading needs to gobble up strong words.

    • To gobble up is one of my faves. I love the sound of gobbling up 🙂

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Kathleen. I appreciate it!

  24. Thank you so much for this post. It’s probably my best yet! Loved the breakdown example, the reminder that thesaurus is our friend , and of course the list! I hate to write but this post gives me hope. so encouraging 🙂

    • What a lovely comment, Lisa. I’m so glad this post gives you hope. I try turning writing into a game and have some fun with my words.

      Is there anything specific that you hate about writing?

  25. Hi Henneke,

    Thanks for inspiring us with these fine examples of strong verbs. As you said, it’s easy to think these are more suited to fiction writing. But the example from Apple shows how you can add some oomph to business writing too.
    – David
    David Hartshorne recently posted…115 Mind-Boggling Facts You Never Knew About Social Media [INFOGRAPHIC]My Profile

    • Indeed, and most business writing can use an injection of oomph 😉

      Thank you for stopping by, David. Happy power writing!

  26. Wonderful! I’m working on a rough draft now of a blog post and know your suggestions will kick it up a notch. I love how you explained “strong verbs” and how to use them to add life to our writing. Thank you for all you do!
    Jenn recently posted…Stepping Out on Faith AloneMy Profile

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