That’s right, March 4 is National Grammar Day. How exciting! My post today talks about my favorite part of speech (verbs) and issue a challenge that you can add to your bag of writing tricks before National Grammar Day 2009 rolls around.
The Wonderful, Lovable Verb
“Why does she like verbs so much?” you probably asked yourself. Verbs are the most powerful part of the sentence. Without a good, strong verb, a sentence stagnates. You just have “people, places, and things,” those traditional nouns, lounging around, inactive. Verbs bring vitality and life to even the most boring of sentences.
Using Verbs (and Other Parts of Speech) Ineffectively
Unfortunately, many people use dull, lifeless verbs to obfuscate meaning, either because they want to shroud their message or because they don’t know any better. Take this sentence for example:
The man was found beaten by the police.
The passive voice (which includes changing the verb around) makes it unclear whether the police found a man who had been beaten or someone discovered that the police had beaten the man. Now, the active versus passive argument isn’t 100% verb, but it does show how the verb can be manipulated to disguise the true meaning. Here’s another example:
In response to the issue of equality for educational and occupational mobility, it is my belief that a system of inequality exists in the school system.
This is an example right out of Richard Lanham’s Revising Prose (p. 3) (that’s right, fellow members of Eng 600, I’m quoting Lanham) , and I have to admit, the first time I encountered this train wreck of a sentence, I had to read it several times to fully understand the message. Why? Because the action is buried in “shun” words and prepositional phrases instead of where it should be. You guessed it: The action should be expressed in the verb! Lanham clarifies the message to the succinct “I believe that gender inequality exists in the schools.” Well, why didntcha just say so?!
Lanham argues that “In [the field of literary study], writing plan English nowadays is tantamount to walking down the hall naked as a jaybird, Public places demand protective coloration; sometimes you must write [with a dominance of nouns and an atrophy of verbs]”. But Lanham–and I!–argue that it does not have to be this way.
Don’t bury the action, the passion, the motion of your sentences in nouns. Don’t let prepositional phrases carry the movement in your prose. Resolve this year to focus on carefully proofreading what you write for verb usage. Try to use “be” verbs less as the main verbs in your writing (except where necessary, of course!). You might even consider picking up a copy of Revising Prose to get some one-on-one instruction.
So, I want to know: What is your favorite part of speech? Do you like verbs as much as I do?
Slightly edited image source