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Verb Choice:
Take a look at the following two paragraphs:

War in Europe

When war burst upon Europe in August 1914, most Americans initially desired only to remain aloof(distant). For nearly three years, as the conflict raged on the battlefields and on the high seas, the United States maintained its neutrality. However, the tide of public opinion gradually shifted. Powerful emotional ties to the British and French, potent economic considerations, a vision of a world remade in America's image, all combined by April 1917 to suck the United States into the war.

When war started-up in Europe in August 1914, most Americans initially wanted only to be aloof(distant). For nearly three years, as the conflict happened on the battlefields and on the high seas, the United States was neutral. However, the tide of public opinion gradually changed. Powerful emotional ties to the British and French, potent economic considerations, and a vision of a world that looked like America, all came together by April 1917 to bring the United States into the war.


Which paragraph sounds more professional?

What is the difference between these two paragraphs?


Although these two paragraphs are about the same subject, they contain very different verbs. The first paragraph sounds more professional because the verbs are more professional.
So how do we choose professional sounding verbs?

Well...to have professional verbs in our writing we want:
  • verbs that are descriptive. In the first paragraph verbs like burst , raged , shifted and suck are very descriptive. They give us a mental image of the action that is occurring.

    for example:
    burst means to pop, violently rupture, explode. (like a balloon explodes when you poke it with a pin). Therefore, the word burst in 'When war burst upon Europe in August 1914,...' gives us a mental image of war exploding upon Europe like a huge balloon popping.

    Find the other descriptive verbs above in the dictionary, making sure you understand their meaning and how they are used in the paragraph.

  • Use verbs that are not commonly found in spoken English. spoken English and written English are often not the same. English speakers, and especially Americans, don't speak the same way that they write. The verbs which you use and hear in conversation are more likely to be the ones you find in paragraph two. On the other hand verbs like burst and maintained are more commonly found in academic writing.

    for example:
    It would sound unnatural for an English speaker to say During the preceding weekend I engaged in some recreational activities.
    It would be more likely for an English speaker to simply say Last weekend I had some fun.

  • Use verbs that are specific for the context. Try to find the verb which will best fit the situation you're writing about.

    for example:
    Don't write...
    The passengers left the airplane.
    write...
    The passengers disembarked from the airplane.
  • Avoid using two-part verbs like pick-up , mix-up , start-up etc... Write retrieve, blend and commence instead. Two-part verbs are for spoken English and recipe books not academic writing.
  • Use verbs that originally come from Latin. Much of the vocabulary of English originally came from Latin. Today many of the more professional sounding English verbs come from Latin. This is an advantage to you French, Portuguese and Spanish speakers because many of the verbs you use in your language are very similar to the professional sounding verbs of English.

    for example:
    In the first paragraph we have most Americans desired only to remain aloof.
    These verbs are of Latin origin. Compare these verbs to wanted and be in the second paragraph.


Try to find professional sounding verbs for the following paragraph.


Twenty years after the conclusion of World War I, Germany and Japan __________ a campaign of international aggression that ultimately __________ the world into a second world conflict. At first, the Roosevelt government _______ that neutrality would keep America at peace and secure. When German victories in western Europe in the spring of 1940 ___________ that hope, the president ____________ economic help to allied countries as an alternative to direct military involvement.



I suggest that you use a Thesaurus to find good verbs. A thesaurus is a book which has many synomyms( words that mean the same as the word you want) and antonyms (words that have the opposite meaning of the word you want).
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