My nineteen-month-old grandson’s speech development is moving along at a nice clip. While he still enjoys telling lengthy stories that no one can understand, he actually has about fifteen words. Unfortunately, Avi is still verb-challenged. He has only one verb: bye-bye.
“Bye-bye” means go, walk, left, disappear, and be pushed in the stroller. And of course Avi occasionally uses it when parting. It can also imply desire, proclaim a non-negotiable demand, or represent a statement of fact. Voice inflection ( not to mention volume) and facial expression aid him, but he remains verb challenged.
Truth be told, many of you write as if you are verb-challenged too. You rely on “to be” and a few limited, basic verbs (“get,” “go”). And you use them over and over again, expecting your readers to somehow glean nuance from this stable of over-used oldies but goodies. But you aren’t nineteen months old, and Avi’s current communications skills won’t get him (or you) into college or graduate school. The verb-challenged cannot convey the highs and lows of their life story, announce their ambitions, or portray seminal experiences.
English is rich with nuanced and descriptive verbs. As long as you understand the meaning of your words, you will enliven and enrich your writing by stretching yourself to take advantage of the English treasure trove of verbs. Don’t use the same verb over and over again out of laziness; dig for the one that really expresses your message. For example, you can write, “The kite went up.” Or you can write, “The kite soared.” The latter evokes the image of a kite climbing gracefully high into the sky. The former could refer to anything, well, going up.
In addition, drawing on a variety of verbs will help you write succinctly because you will write more precisely. Succinct writing is habit that you want to cultivate no matter what field you enter. It is critical when dealing with the tight word limits of application essays.