Why Look at Verbs First

. . . because the action-as-verb principle has so many consequences.
You may have been told to use strong verbs.

When you use vague, limp, empty verbs that name only general actions, your sentences do not tell a vivid story:

I write to call your attention to my résumé

When you use strong verbs that name specific actions, you write sentences that tell a vivid story:

I write hoping that I can persuade you to give my résumé a second look.


You may have been told to write specifically, concretely.

When you turn verbs into nouns and delete the characters, you fill a sentence with abstract nouns:

There has been an affirmative decision in regard to termination of the program.

When you use subjects to name characters and verbs to name their actions, you write sentences that are more specific and concrete:

Congress decided to terminate the program. 

You may have been told not to use too many prepositions.

An evaluation of the program by us is planned in order to achieve greater efficiency in the servicing of clients.

When you express actions in verbs instead of in nominalizations, you eliminate many prepositional phrases:

We plan to evaluate the program so that we can serve clients better.


You may have been told to order your ideas logically.

When you turn verbs into nouns and then chain them into phrases, you can confuse the logical sequence of the actions:

Decisions in regard to administration of medication despite inability of irrational patients appearing in Trauma Centers to provide legal consent rest with physicians alone.

When you use subjects to name characters and verbs to name their actions, you are more likely to write sentences that make the sequence of your ideas clear.

When a patient appears in a Trauma Center and behaves so irrationally that he or she cannot legally consent to treatment, only the physician can decide whether to administer medication.


You may have been told to use connectors to make logical relationships clearer.

Presentation of more pressing needs by other agencies resulted in our failure to acquire federal funds, despite intensive lobbying efforts.

When you use verbs instead of nouns, you have to use more logical connectors such as "because," "although," and "if":

Although we lobbied Congress intensively, we could not acquire federal funds because other interests presented needs that were more pressing. 


You may have been told to get your sentences off to a fast start.

Your reader will predictably find your subjects too long if they consist of one or more nominalizations:

Disciplinary discharges, voluntary termination which is viewed as a discharge by the union, and management's refusal to reinstate the employee after a leave all provide fertile grounds for the assertion of a mental illness claim.

When you change nominalizations in subjects into verbs, your subject will almost always be shorter because it will then name one of the characters in your story, and characters can be named in a word or two:

An employee might assert a claim of mental illness if (1) he or she has been discharged as a disciplinary action, (2) if he or she has been voluntarily terminated, but the union views the termination as a discharge, or (3) if management refuses to reinstate him or her after a leave.


Finally, you may have been told to avoid long sentences.

The final step in Lord Morris' preparation to introduce the precedents in the decision is consideration of the idea of conviction for a crime despite the presence of duress and then immediate pardon for that crime as an unnecessary step which is in fact injurious for it creates the stigma of the criminal on a potentially blameless (or at least not criminal) individual.

When you turn nouns back into verbs and find subjects for those new verbs, it is almost impossible to write a sentence that your reader will think is too long.

Before Lord Morris introduces the precedents, he considers a final issue: If a court convicts a defendant who acted under duress and then immediately pardons him, the court may have taken an unnecessary step, a step that may even injure the defendant, if it stigmatizes him as criminal when he may be blameless. 


In short, we can find in one feature of style the source of many other seemingly unrelated problems. Solve the one problem of style, and you solve most of the others.