Activate Your Verbs!

Active verbs make speaking and writing clear, efficient, and more interesting. Active verbs are usually easier to understand, which is important for international audiences.

Wordy and inactive: Better:
They made a commitment. They committed. (or They committed to…)
They reached a decision. They decided.
The program has ceased to operate. The program ended.
Her cake was a fabulous creation. Her cake was fabulous.
She wanted to submit an application. She wanted to apply.


Try This: Can you make these sentences shorter and clearer by activating the verbs? (Answers follow.)

  1. We decided to go ahead and acquire that dog.
  2. The dog refused to listen to my commands.
  3. The owners arrived at a decision to try to adopt him out.
  4. I tried to design the ad so that it would attract attention.
  5. A man sent me a text message asking if he could see the dog on Saturday.
  6. I sent a reply that Sunday would be better.
  7. Unfortunately, by the time Sunday rolled around, the dog had taken himself off.
  8. The man pulled up to the curb in his car, looking to buy the dog.
  9. He carried out an investigation into the dog’s whereabouts.
  10. That dog never did come back.

There is no single right answer (yours may be better), but these examples are shorter, more active, and definitely more interesting:

  1. We adopted the dog. (or We decided to adopt the dog.)
  2. The dog ignored me. (or The dog ignored my commands.)
  3. The owners put him up for adoption. (or The owners decided to put him up for adoption.)
  4. I designed the ad to attract attention.
  5. A man asked if he could see the dog on Saturday. (Unless the texting part is important, it can be deleted.)
  6. I asked if he could come on Sunday instead.
  7. Unfortunately, the dog disappeared on Saturday.
  8. The man arrived, ready to buy the dog. (Unless it’s important that he arrived in a car, that detail is unnecessary wordiness.)
  9. He searched for the dog.
  10. The dog never returned.


View posts by Lucinda
I teach people how to communicate clearly and effectively, and help them develop the skills and confidence to optimise their lives.
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