5 Ways to Set Smothered Verbs Free
Nominalizations are nouns formed from verbs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; various parts of speech are transmogrified into others as part of the process of language. But such creations, colloquially known as smothered verbs, can easily complicate sentences, leading to wordiness and passive construction.
Enable for more dynamic prose by allowing verbs to breathe free. Here’s how to fix such overelaboration:
1. “The companies acted as financial sponsors for the shows featuring their character toys.”
Step one: Find the suffocated verb. Sponsors can be a verb as well as a noun. But only one verb is necessary, so toss out the passive one (and any other extraneous words): “The companies sponsored the shows featuring their character toys.”
2. “The primary focus of this workshop is recent developments in computer scanning.”
The previous sample sentence started out well, but this one’s subject is not the main event. It’s all about the workshop, so let’s start there. For further fixes, remember this rule of thumb: If you can easily excise a verb that is a form of “to be” (often, as in this case, is), do it, because the unsmothered verb will always be stronger than the weak link that is is: “This workshop focuses on recent developments in computer scanning.”
3. “Before the commencement of the program, there was a brunch served for the guests.”
Another weak link is the phrase “of the”; the simple solution is to reverse the order of the words preceding and following this phrase, change the noun to a verb, and ditch the two weak little words: “Before the program commenced, guests were served brunch.”
(Note that I altered the second part of the sentence, too. Yes, I retained were, a form of “to be,” but the idea is to minimize, not eliminate, such verbs; you could write “guests ate brunch,” but though that phrase is more active, it doesn’t mean quite the same thing.)
4. “There was a strong disagreement between the two sides over the estimate of damages.”
Weak sentences frequently have one feature in common: They start with “There is” or “There are.” Again, cut to the chase. Find the real subject and start there: “The two sides disagreed strongly over damage estimates.”
5. “The engineers could not provide an explanation for the malfunction.”
What did the engineers hope to do? What action had they been expected to take? They set out to explain. So say that: “The engineers could explain the malfunction.” Phrases written on the model of “(verb) a/an (noun),” as here (“provide an explanation”) are signs of smothering.
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