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To be or not to be. The power of words. Eliminating “be” verbs. To utilize active voice To avoid repetition To avoid confusing sentence construction Being that she is . . . . It is . . . . Using Strong Verbs.

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To be or not to be l.jpg

To be or not to be

The power of words


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Eliminating “be” verbs

  • To utilize active voice

  • To avoid repetition

  • To avoid confusing sentence construction

    • Being that she is . . . .

    • It is . . . .


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Using Strong Verbs

  • One of the quickest ways to add excitement and forcefulness to your writing is to replace limp verbs with strong ones. Three simple guidelines can help you to do so.

    • Replace passive verbs with active verbs

    • Get rid of being verbs

    • Choose dynamic verbs


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Don’t be passive

  • Passive voice:

    • An inspiring talk was given by the president of the college.

      How can you make the sentence active?

      Begin by isolating the action in the sentence. Next, ask who or what performs the action.

    • Revision: The president of the college gave an inspiring talk.


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Passive to Active

  • Passive: Several safety precautions should be taken before attempting to rock climb.

  • Active: Rock climbers should take several safety precautions.


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Why use passive

  • People often use passive verbs when they do not want to name the person who did the action. The passive construction is less direct and therefore less revealing:

    • Ex: A pedestrian was struck down at the intersection. (The writer may not know who did the action.)

    • More often than not, you can put energy into your writing by converting passive verbs into active ones.


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Being Verbs

  • Being verbs, like is and are, sap the energy from your writing. The verb to be comes in eight forms:

    • am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been


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Dynamic Writing

  • Often you can replace being verbs with forceful verbs. Go through your writing, circle every form of be, and then do your best to replace each one with a dynamic verb—a verb that communicates specific action or creates a picture.


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Revision

  • Example: The audience was irate. People were jumping out of their seats and were coming into the aisles.

  • The example has three being forms. Eliminating the three makes the sentence tighter and more dynamic.

  • Revision: The irate audience jumped out of their seats and flooded the aisles.


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Ration the be Verbs

  • Save being verbs for times when you actually mean a state of being:

    • I am totally exhausted.

    • She was born on Bastille Day.


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Choose Dynamic Verbs

Verbs, because they show action, are usually the strongest words in a sentence, the words that give life to your writing. Keep an eye out for verbs that make a picture:

  • The whole team came roaring down on the umpire when he stumbled over second base and tripped the base runner.


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Sentence Construction

  • Use of be verbs also indicate weak and indirect sentence structure.

  • Use clear subjects as well as dynamic verbs to make your sentences more powerful.


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Expletives

  • There followed by a form of “to be” is an expletive—a word that signals that the subject will follow the verb, causing a weak and indirect sentence structure.

  • Because expletives shift emphasis away from the subject with a vague or unclear pronoun, they can result in the use of unnecessary words.


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Examples

  • Revise the following sentence:

  • There are three children playing in the yard every afternoon.

    What is the subject and verb?

  • Three children play in the yard every afternoon.


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Revise

  • There are three possible dates that they might release the film on.

  • They might release the film on one of three possible dates.


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It is

  • It also signals an expletive when it lacks an antecedent and is followed by a form of “be.”


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It

  • When you use it, make sure the reader knows what it is. It is often weak at the start of a sentence when it refers to nothing.

  • Imprecise: Eleanore ate a big Chinese dinner and then had a chocolate milk shake for dessert. It made her sick.

  • Precise: The combination made her sick.


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Revise

  • It is easy to learn to ski.

  • Learning to ski is easy


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Exceptions

  • The “it” construction is necessary only when no logical subject exists.

  • For example: It is going to snow.


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Antecedents

  • Make the antecedent explicit rather than implicit:

  • My father is a music teacher. It is a profession that requires much patience. (It has no expressed antecedent, so what does it refer to?)

  • Replace “it” with teaching music.


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More ways to abuse “it”

  • Awkward: It was no use trying.

  • Slightly better: There was no use trying.

    Because this sentence does not sound awkward you may be lulled into its use.

  • Even better: Trying was useless.

  • Best: Trying proved useless. (vivid verb)


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More of “it”

  • Awkward placement of “it” near another “it”:

  • It would be unwise to buy the new model now, but it is a superior machine.

    (The first “it” is an expletive. What about the second “it?”)

  • Revision: Buying the new model now would be unwise, but it is a superior machine.

  • Or: Buying the new model now defies wisdom…


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Using a clear subject and a vivid verb makes a sentence more powerful, contributing to the power of your essay.


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“This” and “That” powerful, contributing to the power of your essay.

  • Other pronouns, such as “this,” “that,” “which,” and “such” may refer to a specific word or phrase or to the sense of a whole clause, sentence, or paragraph.

  • When used carelessly, broad references can make writing unclear. Therefore, avoid broad references to an expressed idea.


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Examples powerful, contributing to the power of your essay.

  • Some students feel that education is being forced on them. This is not true.

  • What is the antecedent of “this?”


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Explicit Language powerful, contributing to the power of your essay.

  • Make the antecedent explicit rather than implicit:

  • This cannot refer to a whole situation or a group of things, so insert a word after this to sum up what this refers to.


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This powerful, contributing to the power of your essay.

  • Lois said that she would stay in Yuma for at least a year. This suggests that she is happy there. (This has no expressed antecedent. Insert a word to sum up what this refers to.)

  • Revision: This remark suggests that she is happy there.

  • Or: This remark suggests her happiness there.


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What is this? powerful, contributing to the power of your essay.

  • Imprecise: She never calls me and she forgot my birthday. This makes me angry.

  • Precise: She never calls me and she forgot my birthday. This behavior makes me angry.


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That powerful, contributing to the power of your essay.

  • Like this, that cannot refer to a whole situation or a group of things. When that seems unclear, replace it with what it stands for.


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Example powerful, contributing to the power of your essay.

  • Imprecise: We are not paid well and receive inadequate benefits, but I don’t think we should discuss that yet.

    The reader might ask, “Discuss what yet?”

  • Precise: We are not paid well and receive inadequate benefits, but I don’t think we should discuss benefits yet.


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Where to look for “it” powerful, contributing to the power of your essay.

  • Avoid expletives and passive verbs to add vitality to your essays.

  • As we practice our editing skills in the essay workshops, look for examples of expletives and broad or vague pronoun references.


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Resources powerful, contributing to the power of your essay.

  • A Writer’s Resource

    • Expletives: sections 9d.3 and 38d.3

    • Active verbs: section 46

  • http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/grammar

  • Rules of Thumb: A Guide for Writers

    Jay Silverman, Elaine Hughes, and Diana Roberts Wienbroer--5th ed.


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