Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is . . . the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Powerful language fills your writing with energy, which impresses agents, editors, and readers. Here’s how to use power verbs to make an impact.
10 Examples of Power Verbs Replacing Verb/Adverb Constructs
It’s okay to use an adverb here and there. It’s a matter of style, and occasionally an adverb is the only thing that’ll do the trick. But an excess of adverbs in your manuscript makes your writing look amateurish and even lazy.
The problem occurs when you use an adverb to give a verb a boost. If you have to prop up a verb with an adverb, you’ve chosen the wrong verb in the first place. In other words, you’ve picked the lightning bug instead of harnessing the lightning, and adding another lightning bug to the jar sure isn’t going to illuminate the way through your story.
LEARN MORE: Adverbs — What Are They and Why Should You Care?
Let’s look at some examples. In our before sentence, we’ll attempt to boost a weak verb with an adverb. In our after sentence, we’ll use a power verb instead.
The cat ran swiftly after the mouse.
The cat darted after the mouse.
Ella looked angrily at the clumsy waiter.
Ella glared at the clumsy waiter.
Like a typical teenager, Luke ate the pizza greedily.
Like a typical teenager, Luke devoured the pizza.
Mark took the book slowly and forcefully from David’s trembling hands.
Mark pried the book from David’s trembling hands.
The chimp cried mournfully when separated from its mother.
The chimp wailed when separated from its mother.
Marla pulled the letter quickly from the envelope.
Marla plucked the letter from the envelope.
The waves beat angrily against the shoreline.
The waves lashed against the shoreline.
He looked fixedly at her.
He gazed at her.
She jumped quickly into the pool to avoid her former high school crush.
She plunged into the pool to avoid her former high school crush.
Lola waited surreptitiously nearby, hoping to overhear some news about the party.
Lola hovered nearby, hoping to overhear some news about the party.
5 Examples of Power Verbs Replacing Prepositional Phrases
Prepositional phrases are also a source of clutter. Prepositions are words (such as on, above, over, at, and with) used before nouns and pronouns that show the relationship between the noun or pronoun and other words in the sentence. A prepositional phrase is a group of words containing a preposition, a noun or pronoun object, and any words that modify the object. (Here’s more info if you want to up your grammar game.)
In some cases, the first example uses both a preposition and an adverb. But, as you’ll see, a power verb can do the work of several words in a sentence, reducing wordiness and adding impact.
Their wagon came over the top of the hill.
Their wagon crested the hill.
Her arms wrapped around him tightly.
Her arms engulfed him.
Ernie held firmly onto his lottery ticket.
Ernie clutched his lottery ticket.
Sheila went up the rugged face of the mountain.
Sheila scaled the mountain’s rugged face.
The groom got to the church just in time for the ceremony.
The groom reached the church just in time for the ceremony.
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