A Fresh Look at Verbs

Verbs provide the energy and action of our sentences. They can make our writing powerful and vibrant, or flat and ordinary. Considering how important they are we often don’t give them the attention they deserve. Here’s an exercise I found, courtesy of respected author Beth Yahp, to create fresh ways of using them.

• Fold a sheet of paper in half lengthways.
• Write a list of ten nouns on one side.

Fish pond

• Turn over to the other column.
• Think of an occupation, eg. doctor, chef, baker, electrician. List fifteen verbs to describe the actions of that occupation.

A baker:

• Open the page.
• Connect the nouns from one list with random verbs from the other to see what interesting combinations you can get.
• Make sentences using the most appealing combinations.

The heavy rain kneaded their umbrella.
She watched the white clouds prove on the horizon.
The waves slapped the rocks.

It’s not recommended you make every verb unusual or unexpected. You might decide simple verbs like go, saw, came, work better for you.

What’s important is that the verbs you use are a conscious choice.

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11 Responses to A Fresh Look at Verbs

  1. Diana Threlfo says:

    Karen, not only an interesting exercise, but fun too! I came up with ‘The virus paints a pallor across her face.’ Thankfully it’s just my first attempt. Have a feeling I’ll resort to employing this tool quite often.

  2. margaret jackson says:

    Karen, this has great potential for enriching long stories so we can have more diverse descriptions throughout. I will also try it using occupations relevant to a particular story and make a long list of nouns so I can have interesting combination throughout the story so it doesn’t get boring or cliche-id. Thank you so much. Also it’s a fun exercise. May try it in small group.

    • Hi Margaret. It’s a great idea to tie the story together with verbs that relate to the main character’s occupation. Like all writing it’s a balancing act between keeping it subtle and hammering the skill to death. Done well it certainly enlivens our writing. Have fun!

  3. What a great idea! The sentences you came up with are brilliant… love the imagery of rain kneading an umbrella. Beautiful!

    • I really enjoy playing around with words and sentences. I’ve just learned why literary-minded people like me used to be called ‘bluestockings.’ The term came to refer to a society of women who put their literary conversations before fashion, after an impoverished male guest speaker wore blue worsted stockings instead of the proper black silk stocking to their gathering. Interesting how the term was passed to the women although it was a man who wore the blue stockings.

  4. shonasim says:

    I like this. I am going to use this in the classroom.

  5. I found this exercise using verbs both interesting and useful. I’m sure I’ll use it often in future. I read where your group is publishing a book of stories. I hope it’s very successful for you!

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