Why should you care about verbs?
As long as you know your irregular verbs, you’re okay as a writer, right?
This post isn’t about boring grammar goofs.
And it’s not a post full of complicated Latin words and grammatical terms either.
The mistakes below are more profound than a small grammar faux pas. What’s more important: Once you know how to correct these silly mistakes, your writing becomes stronger, more engaging, and more persuasive.
Let me tell you a quick story first …
My boyfriend and I hadn’t been dating for long
And on one memorable night, we went to the movies: A documentary about Tibet.
18 years later, my husband still teases me about it.
The cinematography was breathtaking. The topic interested me—a few years earlier, I had traveled to Tibet, and was fascinated by the culture, the people, and the landscape.
But still …
I fell asleep.
How could that happen?
There was little action in the movie. What could have been a 60-minute story was dragging on for over 3 hours.
Yucky verbs have the same effect. They drag readers down and make them yawn.
Verbs form the engine of your writing
Each sentence requires a verb to be complete.
Verbs indicate action, explaining an activity: she swims, she jogs, she cooks, she draws, she writes. Verbs also help explain what a situation or experience is like: she hears him talk, his lecture confuses her, she feels stupid.
The right verbs add action and drama to your writing. They make sales copy persuasive, and thrillers nerve-wrecking. Without the right verbs, your writing becomes flimsy, feeble, and sluggish.
Want readers to stay glued to your content? Avoid the 4 subtle mistakes below, so your writing becomes strong, compelling, and engaging.
Let’s start …
#1: Don’t undermine your persuasiveness
Want readers to get excited about working with you?
One trick is to let them imagine what it’s like. When people start imagining how good it is to work with you, their desire to hire you increases.
This is how you shouldn’t stir your reader’s imagination:
During the call, we will set your priorities together. We will discuss simple tactics to stay focused so you can squeeze more work into your precious hours. At the end of the call, you will feel lighter. Your to-do list will have shrunk. You’ll have a clear action list, and you’ll know how to move your business forward. Without getting stuck. Without feeling overwhelmed.
Words like will, won’t, or shall indicate the future. But when you use the future tense, readers can’t experience your words. You’ve moved the experience towards the future.
Eliminating the future tense instantly breathes life into your copy, helping readers imagine working with you as they experience your writing:
During the call, we set your priorities together. We discuss simple tactics to stay focused so you can squeeze more work into your precious hours. At the end of the call, you feel lighter. Your to-do list has shrunk. You have a clear action list, and you know how to move your business forward. Without getting stuck. Without feeling overwhelmed.
Sounds more persuasive, right?
So, only use the future tense when absolutely necessary.
#2: Avoid wishy-washiness
Words like will and shall are modal verbs.
You hardly ever use these verbs on their own. They don’t express a specific action.
Other modal verbs are can, should, must, would, and could. These words indicate whether something is necessary or probable.
Unlike “real” verbs like run, smash, buy, or dilly-dally, modal words don’t have a strong meaning; and that’s why you need to use them in moderation. A few examples:
A more powerful version:
With a yucky modal verb:
A bossier version:
With a yucky modal verb:
A stronger version:
Or a more engaging version:
Modal verbs are useful, but
you can use them in moderation. Too many modal verbs undermine your persuasiveness.
#3: Don’t sound evasive
The passive voice makes your writing vague.
Because you avoid telling who took which action. And that’s exactly why presidents and CEOs love the passive voice—they don’t like taking responsibility for mistakes.
This is how silly the passive voice sounds:
This is how endearing the active voice is:
And here’s how presidents and CEOs like to apologize:
Here’s how to take responsibility instead:
The passive voice uses more words, making your sentence unnecessary long. But more importantly, it sounds lousy. Gutless.
#4: Don’t pick flimsy and foggy verbs
Feeble verbs make your writing wordy and harder to understand:
Simple verbs communicate your ideas faster and clearer. They’re more direct:
Another flimsy verb:
Don’t muddy your meaning by showcasing your command of Greek and Latin:
A clearer option:
Big words and complicated phrases don’t make you sound more intelligent. The opposite is true. Simple words make you sound smarter.
Want to become a better writer?
Want people to listen to your ideas?
Learn how to pick the right verbs.
Because verbs are the engine of your writing. They make readers feel the action. They move your story forward. They tell readers what to do next, and that’s how they increase conversions—get more subscribers, more inquiries, more sales.
So choose your verbs with care.