20 More Smothered Verbs Set Free

By Mark Nichol

In the interests of trying to help prevent the smothering deaths of countless sentences, here’s a public-service announcement about how to avoid this senseless tragedy: If a noun phrase (verb plus preposition plus article plus noun, though variations are frequent) can be condensed by converting the noun to a verb and deleting the other words in the phrase, do it.

It’s easy enough to write a sentence with a smothered verb — I did it myself in a post last week (“The strategy has been a failure in reducing costs” is easily reduced to “The strategy failed to reduce costs.”) We’re likely to employ such sentence-stretching strategies in speech, but in writing, we have the opportunity to — that is, we can — make amends. Here are more examples:

1.
See example above.

2.
“The latter conclusion provides an example of the combination of risk factors at different levels.”
“The latter conclusion exemplifies the combination of risk factors at different levels.”

3.
“Call a stop to (or “put a stop to”) this nonsense.”
“Stop this nonsense.”

4.
“I’m glad they’ve come to an agreement.”
“I’m glad they agree.”

5.
“We’re here to conduct an investigation.”
“We’re here to investigate.”

6.
“They decided to conduct a review.”
“They conducted a review.” (The original version is valid, however, if the review has not yet been conducted.)

7.
“She conducted experiments into tearing the fabric of the space-time continuum.”
“She experimented with tearing the fabric of the space-time continuum.”

8.
“I’d like to extend an invitation for you to attend.”
“I’d like to invite you to attend.” (Or, even more directly, “I invite you to attend.”)

9.
“He didn’t give an indication of his plans.”
“He didn’t indicate his plans.”

10.
“They agreed to give consideration to his proposal.”
“They considered his proposal.”

11.
“I had a discussion with her about that very issue.”
“I discussed that very issue with her.”

12.
“We have a tendency to get carried away sometimes.”
“We tend to get carried away sometimes.” (Or, even more directly, “We get carried away sometimes.”)

13.
“Will the new policy have an effect on our procedures?”
“Will the new policy affect our procedures?”

14. “They plan to hold a conference (or meeting) about the issue soon.”
“They plan to confer (or meet) about the issue soon.” (Or “They will confer (or meet) about the issue soon,” though the meaning is slightly different.)

15.
“The president is expected to make a statement about his opposition to the proposal later today.”
“The president is expected to state his opposition to the proposal later today.” (The meaning is not identical, but the condensed sentence is valid.)

16.
“I will make (or undertake) an examination of the premises immediately.”
“I will examine the premises immediately.”

17.
“The committee will perform an assessment of the situation.”
“The committee will assess the situation.”

18.
“We expect to realize a substantial savings.”
“We expect to save substantially.”

19.
“She stated with confidence that she will win by a landslide.”
“She is confident that she will win by a landslide.”

20.
“Are you interested in submitting an application?”
“Are you interested in applying?”

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


Share


16 Responses to “20 More Smothered Verbs Set Free”

  • BJ Muntain

    Slight problem with number 10 – just because they agreed to consider the proposal, it doesn’t mean they actually did it.

    A better example using that sentence would be, ‘They agreed to consider his proposal.’

  • Cecily

    The second examples are indeed simpler, but the problem is that they don’t all mean the same as their originals. For example:

    4a. “I’m glad they’ve come to an agreement.”
    4b. “I’m glad they agree.”
    In 4a, there is a clear indication that they did disagree but, after discussion, no longer disagree. In 4b, there is no such implication: they may always have agreed.

    7a. “She conducted experiments into tearing the fabric of the space-time continuum.”
    7b. “She experimented with tearing the fabric of the space-time continuum.”
    “Conducted experiments” implies a formal scientific process, whereas mere experimentation is more likely to be amateur fiddling – albeit that is not very likely in this specific example.

    10a. “They agreed to give consideration to his proposal.”
    10b. “They considered his proposal.”
    Like number 6, which you do caveat, in 10a they only intend to consider the proposal; in 10b, they have already done so.

    19a. “She stated with confidence that she will win by a landslide.”
    19b. “She is confident that she will win by a landslide.”
    In 19a, she actually told us she is confident; in 19b it is unclear why we assume she is confident.

    Simpler is not always better and few points of style and usage are absolute.

  • Cecily

    My suggestions for unsmothered versions that DO mean the same as their originals:

    4c. I’m glad they now agree.
    7. (I can’t think of one.)
    10c. They agreed to consider his proposal.
    19c. She confidently stated that she will win by an landslide.

  • Demosthenes

    I like Cecily’s posts. I agree that some of the “after” versions did not carry the same meaning as the “before” version.

    I’m not sure about her choice for 19c. There is nothing wrong with it, except for a dreaded adverb. It does not bother me, but I know that some people, would rather chew on aluminum foil than use an adverb.

  • Furry Canary

    There is a further difference in this example:
    7a. “She conducted experiments into tearing the fabric of the space-time continuum.”
    7b. “She experimented with tearing the fabric of the space-time continuum.”

    In 7a, it is clear that more than one experiment was undertaken. In 7b, it could have been a single experiment. This adds weight to Cecily’s argument (above) that 7a implies a more rigorous process of scientific enquiry.

  • Sarah

    I think the same thing Cecily said about #7 also applies to #5:

    5.
    “We’re here to conduct an investigation.”
    “We’re here to investigate.”

    Conducting an investigation sounds like a formal process done by professionals. Just investigating could be curious neighbors poking around.

  • Kathryn

    Cecily took the words right out of my mouth.

    Truth is, not all nominalizations are evil, any more than all passive constructions are wrong. This is a helpful exercise to engage in (and I recognize that you are constrained by having to hunt up examples from random sources), but it is always important to reflect on whether the original meaning has been sufficiently preserved.

  • thebluebird11

    I agree with Cecily et.al. There are nuances that, if originally intended, are lost in the revamped, pared-down constructions. Certainly the one about “came to an agreement” vs agreeing is a case in point; those are definitely not the same. However, the point is that there are times that wordiness or jargon ARE unnecessary, and more succinct phrasing can be applied. These days, there are times that every letter or character counts (like in text messaging and certain posts), and in those cases, people have become quite creative in stuffing a lot of information (info?) into very little space. This is also the case with custom (“vanity”) license plates on cars. I remember the first one I saw that really surprised me, almost 30 years ago: “10ISNE1” (i.e., Tennis, anyone?). Amazing what you can accomplish even when paring down!

  • Demosthenes

    Speakers often buy a little organizational time with throw away phrases that really carry no meaning, and can be omitted in formal writing. Sometimes they can’t Consider Albus Dumbledore: “Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!”

  • johnathan niles

    This is actually a fun read! Now if we could just have people stop saying “amazing” to virtually everything.

  • Mark Souza

    I wholeheartedly agree. The sentences with smothered verbs are all passive voice. The changes you made changed them to active voice and made them stronger.

    People in business and technical fields (like me) tend to write in passive voice. Passive voice doesn’t assign responsibility (or blame) for action so is politically correct. To people in technical fields, smothered verbs sound absolutely fine. It’s how they write and how they speak.

    In fiction, writing that pops is active voice. I join you in saying free your verbs. The best place for passive voice in fiction is in the dialogue of a passive, politically correct, or technical/business person.

    Good job,

    @souzawrites

  • hz

    For example 6, the first is valid if the review hasn’t been conducted yet, but can still be condensed to:

    “They’ll conduct a review”.

  • Cecily

    Mark Souza: There are very few passive sentences in the smothered examples.

    For example:
    6a. “They decided to conduct a review” is active.
    A passive version could be:
    A decision was reach to conduct a review.

    16a. “I will make an examination of the premises immediately.” is active.
    A passive version could be:
    An examination of the premises will be made immediately.

  • Kathryn

    There’s actually only one sentence written in the passive: Number 15, “The President is expected. . .”; the suggested revision, however, /remains/ in the passive.

    While the passive voice can be used to disguise responsibility, that is by no means its only, or even its most common purpose.

  • Betsy Tuel

    Demosthenesm (October 13, 2011 9:26 am) what, pray tell, is wrong with adverbs? You say some people would rather chew on alluminum foil than use an adverb. One of my pet peeves is speakers and writers failure to use adverbs. Wish I could think of an example but my mind is blank now.

  • Charles

    Betsy, the problem that many people have with the use of adverbs is that there is often another verb that carries the whole meaning. For example, rather than saying “I ran quickly to catch the bus” it would be more evocative to say “I sprinted to catch the bus”. Or instead of “I ran slowly” you could use “I jogged”.

    For the example above where Demosthenes suggests distaste for Cecily’s use of an adverb whilst praising the overall effort of maintaining meaning, I would suggest rather than using “She confidently stated that she will win by a landslide” we use “She asserted that she …”. In this case “asserted” carries the meaning of “confidently stated”. Use of expressive verbs is nicer to read than verb plus adverb.

    (As an aside, when an adverb is used, it should be used properly and not shortened to the adjective form. I run quickly, I am quick but I do not run quick. This is a pet peeve of mine that seems to be taking over in the States.)

Leave a comment: