Strong Verbs

In rewriting our drafts, we have an opportunity to add punch to flagging sentences. Take a closer look at your verbs. Do they accurately describe what you want to say, or do they merely describe it adequately?

One of the most obvious ways of cleaning up weak verbs is by replacing verbs that are in the progressive tense (ongoing action), if possible.

Progressive tense verbs usually have an auxiliary verb like to have or to be.

Example of progressive tenses:

Past Progressive – I was driving.

Present Progressive – I am driving.

Future Progressive – I will be driving.

Sometimes these are exactly the tenses you want to suit what you are trying to say, but often, especially in the past and present tenses, a change can help to make the writing snappier.

I was driving” could be “I drove.”

I am driving” could be “I drive.”

I will be driving” could be “I will drive.” (This one is trickier and only works if the meaning is not affected.)


Generally, a weak verb is defined as one whose base form doesn’t change when it is put into the past tense.

For example:

walk, walked

jump, jumped

love, loved

move, moved

work, worked

This kind of verb can be made more interesting by using stronger verbs, ones whose base form does change in the past tense. For example:

give, gave

bring, brought

think, thought

sleep, slept


Besides choosing these stronger verbs, there is still more you can do. Some verbs (whether they are considered weak or strong by the above definition) could almost always be improved by replacing them with something more interesting. Take ordinary, overused verbs, and replace them with punchier, more precise ones. You might even want to try using a thesaurus to find alternate verbs to use.

Here are some fairly boring verbs that can often be replaced with something better.

go (went)

be (was, were, are, am)


any verb showing movement (walk, run)

I went to the corner store” could be made so much better with a verb that gives us more information. These are not the best, but they’re sure better than “went.”

I hurried to the corner store.

I sauntered to the corner store.

I dashed to the corner store.

You can do this with many ordinary verbs and make your writing more precise to say exactly what you mean. But just as with so many writing skills we use, be careful not to overdo it.





2 thoughts on “Strong Verbs

    • That’s exactly right, Jacqui. It need not be difficult (and it isn’t). I tried writing for years without knowing so many little tips that have since improved my efforts. Now I wish I could rewrite a lot of things I wrote earlier. But isn’t that always the way? If I’d known then what I know now….

      Liked by 1 person

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