Tool #3 Activate Your Verbs

Updated: Jan 13

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Any call to action requires verbs. "Strong verbs," according to Roy Peter Clark, author of Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, "create action, save words, and reveal the players." Think of verbs as the James Bond in your sentence. Bond is always moving, chasing after his adversary or charming a beautiful lady.

So what is it precisely about powerful verbs that make an advertisement more enticing? Let's take advice from George Orwell, author of 1984: "Never use the passive where you can use the active." This advice is coming from a science fiction novelist!

Quick Lesson on Active and Passive Voice

Do you remember those grueling lessons in school about active and passive verbs? It's okay if you don't. That's why you are reading this! Here's a quick recap on that lesson:

"If the subject performs the verb, we call the verb ACTIVE."

If the subject receives the action of the verb, we call the verb PASSIVE.

A verb that is neither active nor passive is a linking verb, form of the verb TO BE."

Whether you choose to write in the past or present tense, keep the action moving in the active voice. However, when your ad is in the present tense, your viewer is more immersed in the experience. Maintain your viewer's attention. Keep them in suspense! Check out my recent post, "#2 Order Words for Emphasis" on how to attract your reader to your add instantly!

Avoid Verb Qualifiers

A tool you want to avoid is applying verb qualifiers to your sentences. Clark compares them to barnacles on a ship that sticks to your prose. "Scrape away these crustaceans during revision," Clark commands, "and the ship of your prose will glide toward meaning with speed and grace." Do the same with your marketing content. Keep these crabs out of your ads:

sort of

tend to

kind of

must have

seemed to

could have

used to

begin to

Apart from sounding icky, verb qualifiers give us reason to doubt what you are telling us. Too much ambiguity in an advertisement makes your potential client question your methods or product.

Therefore, "temperance controls the impulse to overwrite," claims Clark. In other words, verbs need to be neat and clean and not overdone. Don't go over the top and butcher your prose with too many, as Donald Hall describes it, "false color" verbs. For example, I wrote this sentence to demonstrate an abuse of the verb form: She clung to his beating chest, praying that he would spring from his somber mood and embrace her with ease. Unless your audience members are fans of romance novels, please maintain a safe distance from that many verbs in your ads.

More on the Passive Voice

Now, let's come back to the passive voice. Sometimes it is appropriate to use the passive voice, especially when you are trying to relate to your viewers. For example, "You are frustrated with your lawnmower and are desperate for a change." This passive tense sentence bridges the gap between a company with a solution and a consumer with a problem.

Sometimes being passive-aggressive gets the message across without being overly pushy. Catch my drift?

More on being passive-aggressive in my next post!

Until then, happy writing! And if you need my help, schedule a free consultation with me today!


Clark, R. P. (2008). Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.

Columbus, GA: Little, Brown.


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