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Trading Nouns for Verbs

One of the hallmarks of good writing is the use of strong, active verbs. Sadly, a lot of American academic English gets caught up in using long, cumbersome chains of  nouns rather than fluid, precise verbs. If you are interested in improving your writing stylistically, try out the following method: trade your nouns for verbs.

Of course, it is impossible to replace all of your nouns with verbs, and nouns obviously serve a necessary function in writing. However, you may be surprised at how often you can streamline your writing and make it more effective by trading your nouns for verbs. Consider the following example:

These groups have the intention of fleeing the country.

While the meaning here is more or less clear, the sentence reads much better when the noun “intention” is transformed into the verb “intend”:

These groups intend to flee the country.

Not only does the second version eliminate unnecessary words, but it also makes the writing sound more assertive and less muddled. Here are some other examples of trading nouns for verbs.

Some Americans have the tendency to over-eat. —> Some Americans tend to over-eat.

The test is an evaluation of the students’ retention. —> The test evaluates the students’ retention.

This factor had a strong influence on the results. —> This factor strongly influenced the results.

The English language contains an extremely large number of words that have both noun and verb versions, including “demonstration” / “demonstrate,” “indication” / “indicate,” “explanation” / “explain,” “effect” / “affect,” “clarification” / “clarify,” “definition” / “define,” and many, many more. Keep an eye out for these kinds of nouns; you can often sharpen your writing by replacing them with their verb counterparts.

And, if you really want to have some fun, take a closer look at the next academic article you read. What is the ratio of nouns to verbs? How many strong, active verbs are these authors using? You will swell with pride when you start finding sentences where others would benefit by trading their nouns for verbs.

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