Liberate Those Verbs!

By Barney Latimer

Like pink slime mixed in with real beef to plump up a hamburger, some phrases in English lengthen a sentence while adding nothing to its meaning and diluting its rhetorical force. Two common culprits are in the process of and serves to. Both phrases precede verbs that usually do better on their own.

Take the following example:

She is in the process of writing a book that serves to illuminate the role of poetry in Queen Elizabeth’s court.

When the filler phrases are omitted, the sentence conveys its meaning more swiftly:

She is writing a book that illuminates the role of poetry in Queen Elizabeth’s court.

Sometimes, too, a needlessly long verbal phrase can be replaced by a single verb:

The newsletter will put its emphasis on the success of the school’s writing program.

In this sentence, put its emphasis on can be replaced by a single verb:

The newsletter will emphasize the success of the school’s writing program.

Don’t fear simple wording. Sometimes writers reach for filler phrases because longer, more complex sentences seem more sophisticated. But there is nothing more sophisticated than being understood. One way to achieve this is to look for opportunities to liberate verbs from sluggish phrases.

Published 15 October 2016

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