SAT Test Prep

CHAPTER 12
WRITING A GREAT ESSAY

Lesson 10: Write Forcefully

Eliminate Weak Verbs—Uncover the “Lurking Verbs”


Take an essay you’ve written recently and circle all of the verbs. How many are forms of the verb to be, like is, are, was, and were? Probably too many. To be is the most overused verb in the English language, and it is also the weakest. Other weak verbs are to exist and to have. Too many of these verbs in your writing make it weak and lifeless. If your writing contains too many weak verbs, find the stronger lurking verbs in the sentence, and rewrite it. Lurking verbs are words in the sentence that aren’t verbs but should be, because they convey the idea or action of the sentence more effectively.


The original verbs, have and are, are weak. More effective verbs are “lurking” as nouns in the first sentence: tendency and absence seem to carry the main ideas, but they are nouns. Notice how much more forceful the revision is because these ideas were transformed into verbs.

Use Clear and Active Verbs

Consider this example of a weak and unclear sentence:

The most aggressive of the new companies, whose priorities are characterized by their capital commitment to market share and name recognition, will be seen as the “players” in their niche, and may see an extension of share overvaluation, despite weak product development or business models.

Why is this sentence so weak and vague? It’s filled with jargon, abstract nouns, and weak and passive verbs. Here’s a much more effective revision:

Investors like aggressive companies that are committed to making themselves well known and to building their share of the market. As a result, investors put a lot of money into these companies, thereby overvaluing them, even though the companies often have weak products or business models.

We’ve cut out the jargon, used more concrete nouns, included more logical connections, and found stronger verbs. We also replaced the passive verb with an active verb. A passive verb places the noun performing the action after the verb, as in The ball was hit by the boy, or eliminates the noun performing the action altogether, as in The ball was hit. In the original sentence, the verb is in the passive voice and doesn’t convey a clear thought: The companies will be seen as “players.” Seen by whom? It doesn’t say, so the sentence is unclear. Notice that the revision makes this clear: Investors like companies. This tells us what’s happening, and who’s doing it.


Use the passive voice sparingly: don’t say The ball was hit by the boy when you can say The boy hit the ball. The passive voice often makes a sentence needlessly wordy and vague.


Eliminate Clichés


Phrases like give it 110%, go for the gold, rip it to shreds, in the lap of luxury, keep at arm’s length, pick up the pieces, cross that bridge when we come to it, go to town, and so on are clichés. A cliché is an overused phrase. Whenever you use a cliché in your writing, a good reader will think you are being lazy, or that you cannot think of an original way to convey your idea. Instead, use your own, original words to convey your thoughts.


Practice 10: Write Forcefully

Cliché Sweeping Practice

Rewrite each sentence to eliminate any clichés.

1. Many people these days are fond of saying that the youth of this day and age are lazy as dogs.

2. They say that kids are nothing but couch potatoes who sit like bumps on a log playing video games or watching MTV.

3. For all intents and purposes, this assumption is dead wrong.

4. As a matter of fact, many of my friends are thinking more about careers that will change the world as we know it rather than careers that will just chase the almighty dollar.

Verb Strengthening Practice

Rewrite the following sentences to strengthen the verbs. Uncover any good “lurking” verbs.

5. This action is in violation of the company’s own contract.

6. The village was affected to a devastating degree by the earthquake.

7. My failure on the test was reflective of the fact that I didn’t study.

8. The movie was considered by the critics to be dull and hackneyed.

9. The bold maneuver was made by the army under the cover of night.

10. Outside the office were a dozen chairs filling the hallway.

Check your answers with the answer key at the end of the chapter.