Don’t Hide Your Verbs

Nicholas Graziade

Living in New York’s Capital District has some curious academic advantages.

This region hosts some remarkable higher education opportunities (including my Alma mater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), and is only a few hours from other towns that have their own profound academic footprint (Boston, New York City, and Montreal).

Perhaps, then, it comes as no surprise that one of our local newspapers has a Sunday column about grammar. A recent topic made my mental gears turn, so I’d like to share my insights to help you improve your content.

Imagine that you’re reading a newsletter with a story about an amazing software breakthrough in your field. Pretty cool, no? But then you come across this sentence:

Dr. Miyamoto’s discovery of the solution to our latest engineering quandary caused her to receive the utmost accolades from her other colleagues on the research team.

Wow.

That sentence is a doozy! Aside from its irksome length and lofty construction, it simply says that someone’s colleagues thanked her for solving a problem. In fact, there’s one part that really bugs me:

Dr. Miyamoto’s discovery of the solution…

If we break this piece down, we really only need to know one thing: there was a problem, and someone (Dr. Miyamoto) solved it.

However, in its current form, it seems that the good doctor has really only “discovered” that there was a solution rather than solving it herself.

If You Have a Verb, Do Not Hide it Behind a Noun!

There’s a myth that nouns sound more intelligent or official, and many professionals fall into this trap. In doing so, they sacrifice the power behind their words. Verbs are about action. This is what gives them their strength.

Let’s revise the sentence above to give Dr. Miyamoto some additional “oomph.”

Everyone on the research team thanked Dr. Miyamoto for solving our engineering problem.

Much better!

More Examples

Below is a short list of some sentences that hide a verb behind a noun (I’ll highlight the culprits in bold). Try to see if you can revise them!

  • We offered him many sincere congratulations!
  • Our process of reviewing the latest manual proved to be thorough.
  • Though he received no formal training, he is an expert at the utilization of the design software.

Ouch! Let’s look at some revisions:

  • We sincerely congratulated him!
  • We thoroughly reviewed the latest manual.
  • He uses the design software like an expert.

How Can I Avoid the Trap?

Hiding verbs behind nouns can really confuse your readers, so review your word choices.

Nouns (especially when used with the passive voice) can not only obscure meaning, but they can take away agency from someone who deserves credit (after all, Dr. Miyamoto solved the problem!).

Nouns are essential parts of our sentences. Don’t’ forget that! However, a good strong verb is almost always clearer and more precise.

Looking for more tips on writing great marketing copy? Check out my recent posts on how to use semicolons, who vs. whomand 5 word choices that sabotage your marketing copy.

About the Author
Nicholas Graziade

As the Documentation Architect at Informz, Nick is a technical writer, copyeditor, and grammar guru all rolled into one! When not keeping tabs on the Informz KnowledgeBase, he enjoys writing poetry, mastering the bass guitar, and reading works by famous philosophers.

  • Jill Hronek

    Amen! Had a boss that would edit my early work and say “would you pay a dollar for that word?” I am now a brutal editor. Chop, chop, chop — we have such a brief time to get and keep someone’s attention. Make every word count!