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Verbs - Words That Do or Are

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In this section, we’ll explore the most important word in the English language: the verb. If you want to develop a powerful writing style, you must learn what verbs do in our language.

Why?

The most important word in the English language is the verb.

Without it, we cannot construct a complete sentence. As a matter of fact, if you want to write a one-word complete sentence, that one word must be a verb.

Watch.

See?

There, I used two words and wrote two grammatically correct and complete sentences. (The subjects in these one-word sentences are implied. I’m using one-word commands, called imperatives, where the subject is the implied you. Thus, You watch and Do you see?)

We’ll learn in this section that verbs perform this crucial, sentence-forming role when they appear in their conjugated form. But we’ll also learn of their incredible power in their nonconjugated forms. Because of this versatility, the verb becomes the word of choice among savvy writers.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is quoted as saying:

All fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentences. … A line like "The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass," is so alive that you race through it, scarcely noticing it, yet it has colored the whole poem with its movement — the limping, trembling and freezing is going on before your eyes. F. Scott Fitzgerald, On Writing 53 (Scribners 1985).

Fitzgerald used this line from John Keats's "Eve of Saint Agnes" to instruct his daughter on how verbs "make sentences move." Keats strongly influenced Fitzgerald's writing. In a story for The Saturday Evening Post in 1925, Fitzgerald imitated Keats’s line and wrote in a verb-based style: "The limousine crawled crackling down the pebbled drive."

So when you finish this section, you should start right now developing your style around one of the key ideas on this website: verb-based prose.

Let’s begin our study of verbs by dividing them into four groups. When we finish, I’ll add a fifth.

Hard Copy

You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.

 

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