Writing Tips: Strong vs. Weak Verbs
  • 3-minute read
  • 26th November 2022

Writing Tips: Strong vs. Weak Verbs

Did you know that some verbs are stronger than others? In this post, we’ll look at strong and weak verbs both in the grammatical sense and in the context of persuasive writing.

Grammatically Weak Verbs

While we’ll mostly be talking about strong verbs in relation to persuasive writing, it’s important to first mention the grammatical definition of strong and weak verbs. In grammar, weak verbs are verbs that end with -ed, -d, or -t when used in the past tense or as a past participle. They’re your standard regular verbs. Let’s look at some examples:

I walk to the shop. → I walked to the shop.

They dream of sheep. → They dreamt of sheep.

We like the book. → We liked the book.

Grammatically Strong Verbs

Strong verbs have an irregular change to the verb when forming the past tense or the past participle. There’s no rule or pattern, so it can be hard for non-native speakers to guess the past tense or past participle form. The idea of strong verbs stems from old English grammar, but nowadays, we generally refer to them as irregular verbs. Here are some examples:

You speak to the manager. → You spoke to the manager.

I sit in silence. → I sat in silence.

She thinks about lunch. → She thought about lunch.

To learn more, check out this useful article discussing grammatically weak and strong verbs.

Say More With Less

Beyond the grammatical definition, we can also define verbs as strong if they are clear, succinct, and powerful. Strong verbs in this sense allow you to give more information using fewer words. While all verbs provide some information about the action in a scene, weak verbs provide less detail, requiring the use of additional words or phrases to paint the full picture.

Simply put, strong verbs are more specific. However, their strength depends on the context of the writing. There are no hard and fast rules about what makes a verb strong or weak. Rather, the meaning of the text determines which word will be the most effective.

Show, Don’t Tell

Weak verbs tell us what’s going on, often with lots of extra words, while strong verbs place us in the scene and let us experience it for ourselves.

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For example, “ate” and “devoured” mean similar things. They both refer to consuming food. However, the latter gives us more detail about how the food is being eaten:

They ate their dinner.

They devoured their dinner.

To give the first sentence the same amount of detail as the second, we have to add more information:

They ate their dinner quickly, finishing every bite.

We might get a more vivid picture now, but it’s still not quite as powerful. Adding adverbs and additional phrases leads to wordiness, which ultimately detracts from the message.

Examples of Weak and Strong Verbs

Let’s look at some examples. In each example, the first sentence uses a weak verb, while the second uses a strong one:

She worked hard at making the pies.

She slaved over the pies.
I walked to school quickly.

I rushed to school.
The mother held the baby.

The mother cradled the baby.
He ran his fingers through her hair.

He stroked her hair.
The kids did cartwheels in the backyard.

The kids cartwheeled in the backyard.

Take the Time to Find Strong Verbs

Making your writing stronger often takes just a few extra moments of thought. What exactly are you trying to say? Is there a single descriptive verb that conveys that message? A thesaurus can be a great tool for this.

When writing a first draft, the goal might be to just get the words down. So take some time afterwards to reread your draft a few times – pay special attention to the verbs and look for ways to make them stronger.

Proofreading and Editing

Verbs can be difficult to master, but our expert editors have done just that! We can take a look at your work and check for areas where your word choice can be strengthened. We’ll also correct errors in punctuation, spelling, grammar, and more! Try out our service for free today.

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