Nouns and verbs are what make sentences tick but there are important things you should remember about how to use them. Mark Tedinick, in Writing Well, puts it this way: "[Verbs] are where a sentence moves, where it gets up and runs or walks or means or elopes or ignites or loves or hates or talks or recommends or concludes or surrenders or speaks its mind… if your verbs are good, your sentence stands a chance."

  1. Untie noun strings.
    Original: We used crop rotation to avoid soil degradation.
    Revised: We rotated our crops to avoid degrading our soil. 
  2. Keep your verbs near their subjects.
    Far apart: The twins, after stubbornly going to the same high school despite the advice of their parents and teachers, chose different colleges.
    Close together: The twins chose different colleges, after stubbornly going to the same high school despite the advice of their parents and teachers.
  3. Choose active verbs.
    Verbs come in two types, active and passive. The active verb says directly who has done what. With the passive verb, something is being done to a subject of a sentence.
    Passive: Three mistakes were admitted by the director.  
    Active: The director admitted three mistakes.
  4. Avoid changing your verbs to nouns.
    Would you rather make a connection with your reader or connect with your reader? The noun form (connection) of the verb (connect) weighs down the sentence.
  5. Don't smother verbs.
    Often there is a perfectly good verb buried in a noun, especially words ending in -tion, -ison, -ment, -ence, -ance, -ity.
    Wordy and cumbersome: After the scientists undertook a study of the fossils, they made a change in their theory.
    Clear and concise: After the scientists studied the fossils, they changed their theory.
  6. Beware of zombie nouns.
    Chances are good that some of your sentences contain zombie nouns, those lifeless abstract nouns that lurk and drain the energy out of your writing. The writer scholar Helen Sword coined the term and can help you spot and replace them with life-affirming active verbs.