249 Strong Verbs That’ll Spice Up Your Writing

11 Apr 2017 The Writing Craft

Do you ever wonder why a grammatically correct sentence you’ve written just lies there like a dead fish?

I sure have.

Your sentence might even be full of those adjectives and adverbs your teachers and loved ones so admired in your writing when you were a kid.

But still the sentence doesn’t work.

Something simple I learned from The Elements of Style years ago changed the way I write and added verve to my prose. The authors of that little bible of style said: “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs.”

Even Mark Twain was quoted, regarding adjectives: “When in doubt, strike it out.”

That’s not to say there’s no place for adjectives. I used three in the title and first paragraph of this post alone.

The point is that good writing is more about well-chosen nouns and strong verbs than it is about adjectives and adverbs, regardless what you were told as a kid.

There’s no quicker win for you and your manuscript than ferreting out and eliminating flabby verbs and replacing them with vibrant ones.

How To Know Which Verbs Need Replacing

Your first hint is your own discomfort with a sentence. Odds are it features a snooze-inducing verb.

As you hone your ferocious self-editing skills, train yourself to exploit opportunities to replace a weak verb for a strong one.

At the end of this post I suggest a list of 249 vivid verbs you can experiment with to replace tired ones.

Want to download a copy of this strong verbs list to reference whenever you write? Click here.

What constitutes a tired verb? Here’s what to look for:

3 Types of Verbs to Beware of in Your Prose

1. State-of-being verbs

These are passive as opposed to powerful:

  • Is
  • Am
  • Are
  • Was
  • Were
  • Be
  • Being
  • Been
  • Have
  • Has
  • Had
  • Do
  • Does
  • Did
  • Shall
  • Will
  • Should
  • Would
  • May
  • Might
  • Must
  • Can
  • Could

Am I saying these should never appear in your writing? Of course not. You’ll find them in this piece. But when a sentence lies limp, you can bet it contains at least one of these. Determining when a state-of-being verb is the culprit creates a problem—and finding a better, more powerful verb to replace it—is what makes us writers. [Note how I replaced the state-of-being verbs in this paragraph.]

Resist the urge to consult a thesaurus for the most exotic verb you can find. I consult such references only for the normal word that carries power but refuses to come to mind.

I would suggest even that you consult my list of powerful verbs only after you have exhausted all efforts to come up with one on your own. You want Make your prose to be your own creation, not yours plus Roget or Webster or Jenkins. [See how easy they are to spot and fix?]

Examples

Impotent: The man was walking on the platform.

Powerful: The man strode along the platform.

 

Impotent: Jim is a lover of country living.

Powerful: Jim treasures country living.

 

Impotent: There are three things that make me feel the way I do…

Powerful: Three things convince me…

 

2. Verbs that rely on adverbs

Powerful verbs are strong enough to stand alone.

Examples

The fox ran quickly dashed through the forest.

She menacingly looked glared at her rival.

He secretly listened eavesdropped while they discussed their plans.

 

3. Verbs with -ing suffixes

Examples

Before: He was walking…

After: He walked…

 

Before: She was loving the idea of…

After: She loved the idea of…

 

Before: The family was starting to gather…

After: The family started to gather…

The Strong Verbs List

  • Absorb
  • Advance
  • Advise
  • Alter
  • Amend
  • Amplify
  • Attack
  • Balloon
  • Bash
  • Batter
  • Beam
  • Beef
  • Blab
  • Blast
  • Bolt
  • Boost
  • Brief
  • Broadcast
  • Brood
  • Burst
  • Bus
  • Bust
  • Capture
  • Catch
  • Charge
  • Chap
  • Chip
  • Clasp
  • Climb
  • Clutch
  • Collide
  • Command
  • Commune
  • Cower
  • Crackle
  • Crash
  • Crave
  • Crush
  • Dangle
  • Dash
  • Demolish
  • Depart
  • Deposit
  • Detect
  • Deviate
  • Devour
  • Direct
  • Discern
  • Discover
  • Dismantle
  • Download
  • Drag
  • Drain
  • Drip
  • Drop
  • Eavesdrop
  • Engage
  • Engulf
  • Enlarge
  • Ensnare
  • Envelop
  • Erase
  • Escort
  • Expand
  • Explode
  • Explore
  • Expose
  • Extend
  • Extract
  • Eyeball
  • Fight
  • Fish
  • Fling
  • Fly
  • Frown
  • Fuse
  • Garble
  • Gaze
  • Glare
  • Gleam
  • Glisten
  • Glitter
  • Gobble
  • Govern
  • Grasp
  • Gravitate
  • Grip
  • Groan
  • Grope
  • Growl
  • Guide
  • Gush
  • Hack
  • Hail
  • Heighten
  • Hobble
  • Hover
  • Hurry
  • Ignite
  • Illuminate
  • Inspect
  • Instruct
  • Intensify
  • Intertwine
  • Impart
  • Jostle
  • Journey
  • Lash
  • Launch
  • Lead
  • Leap
  • Locate
  • Lurch
  • Lurk
  • Magnify
  • Mimic
  • Mint
  • Moan
  • Modify
  • Multiply
  • Muse
  • Mushroom
  • Mystify
  • Notice
  • Notify
  • Obtain
  • Oppress
  • Order
  • Paint
  • Park
  • Peck
  • Peek
  • Peer
  • Perceive
  • Picture
  • Pilot
  • Pinpoint
  • Place
  • Plant
  • Plop
  • Pluck
  • Plunge
  • Poison
  • Pop
  • Position
  • Power
  • Prickle
  • Probe
  • Prune
  • Realize
  • Recite
  • Recoil
  • Refashion
  • Refine
  • Remove
  • Report
  • Retreat
  • Reveal
  • Reverberate
  • Revitalize
  • Revolutionize
  • Revolve
  • Rip
  • Rise
  • Ruin
  • Rush
  • Rust
  • Saunter
  • Scamper
  • Scan
  • Scorch
  • Scrape
  • Scratch
  • Scrawl
  • Seize
  • Serve
  • Shatter
  • Shepherd
  • Shimmer
  • Shine
  • Shock
  • Shrivel
  • Sizzle
  • Skip
  • Skulk
  • Slash
  • Slide
  • Slink
  • Slip
  • Slump
  • Slurp
  • Smash
  • Smite
  • Snag
  • Snarl
  • Sneak
  • Snowball
  • Soar
  • Spam
  • Sparkle
  • Sport
  • Sprinkle
  • Stare
  • Starve
  • Steal
  • Steer
  • Storm
  • Strain
  • Stretch
  • Strip
  • Stroll
  • Struggle
  • Stumble
  • Supercharge
  • Supersize
  • Surge
  • Survey
  • Swell
  • Swipe
  • Swoon
  • Tail
  • Tattle
  • Toddle
  • Transfigure
  • Transform
  • Travel
  • Treat
  • Trim
  • Trip
  • Trudge
  • Tussle
  • Uncover
  • Unearth
  • Untangle
  • Unveil
  • Usher
  • Veil
  • Wail
  • Weave
  • Wind
  • Withdraw
  • Wreck
  • Wrench
  • Wrest
  • Wrestle
  • Wring
  • Yank
  • Zing
  • Zap
Want to download a copy of this strong verbs list to reference whenever you write? Click here.

98 thoughts on “249 Strong Verbs That’ll Spice Up Your Writing

  1. Rebekah gulped. “How much I have to learn.”
    Rebekah griped. “What? Pitch the thesaurus?!”
    Rebekah groveled. “Thank you, thank you for a golden post! Every writer should be so blessed with such teaching!”
    Lol

  2. chug, dance, sneer. How do you feel about “verbing” nouns? I love them when done well. “He elbowed his way between them.” “She cradled his head.” I guess those are old examples.

  3. How about squat, squiggle, squirm?

    I know what you mean about consulting a thesaurus. It’s so tempting!

    What about, “Make your prose to be your own creation, not yours plus Roget or Webster or Jenkins”? It seems “Make your prose your own creation, not yours plus Roget or Webster or Jenkins” sounds better. Correct me if I’m wrong. ????

    Thank you for this teaching!

  4. Ooh – OOOH! This is too much fun!!!

    Okay, here are some VERY SPECIFIC VERBS and their ACTION
    1: anneal (to heat glass metals, etc., and cool slowly to prevent brittleness)
    2. proselytize (to try to make a convert of)
    3. garble (to distort or confuse a story)

  5. Oh wow… Here are a few 21st century Internet verbs:

    phish – Alice phished Greg, trying to steal his bank account number.
    hack – Bob hacked a quick and dirty patch to plug the security hole.
    pwned – Alice pwned Greg after fooling Greg into giving her his credentials. [pwned is cyber-slang for kind-of-like-owned and it’s becoming a mainstream word.]
    invade – Attackers invaded my computer and pwned me.
    spam – both a noun and verb; Alice spammed one million victims.
    inject – Alice injected bad code into the script, rendering it useless.
    disassemble – John disassembled the program and marveled at the creative hacks he found.
    fork – to take a new direction, inspired by fork in the road – We want to fork this software to add our own new features.

  6. OK, I first read this in your email and you forgot to strikethrough it there. So I got my answer! ????

  7. Sorry. The email should be an exact duplicate of the post, but for some reason the email system doesn’t accommodate the strikethrough. The team and I always have to be vigilant about not letting these leak through. I find crossouts so helpful…unless they don’t survive. Then they’re nothing but nuisances.

  8. 1–You don’t want one people have to look up.

    2–When you DO look it up, turns out ‘nurdle’ is a noun. (But it’s still fun to say). :)

  9. Yes, it IS fun. I wouldn’t use one people have to look up though (as I did #1), unless you use it in a context that makes the meaning immediately clear.

  10. You have 195 and only ask for 3 more? You will end up with 198 and drive all the OCD people out here nuts. Linger, Hover and I ran out of time. Gotta get into the guild for the after hours with Jerry.

  11. Nurdle exists elsewhere? Something else I learned today. I’ve used nurdle as a verb for years and been accused of making it up. In context it works quite well and others have picked it up for themselves. Thanks for the update.

  12. Love this. Such sage advice. But as a poet I love to slum through words that rhyme, shimmer and add depth. Except when I am being lazy, when I want to lounge in passivity, yet desire company. Then I invite words that must, may, can, shall, might, was, am, is, are, to come visit. I would feel bad to leave them out, just cause they live in a state of being on the wrong side of the tracks. It’s like picking your friends, I like a full menu.

  13. Thanks, Jerry! I made this post into a document to keep open as I edit today…and every day from now on. I’ll review the “avoid” before I start each editing session to have them in mind. Then, if I can’t come up with a power verb, I’ll toggle over to check your list. Much appreciated lesson.

  14. I would end up with 198 if the only ones I added were from one person. Dozens and dozens have suggested their three, and almost all of those are different, so there’ll be way more than 198. And I AM one of those OCD people, so it’ll probably end up being a total divisible by three.

  15. Nurdle – loosely, to browse. I use it when referring to horses – not in the least bit hungry – who pretend to be busy investigating different bits of grass or other green things in the pasture. They are lazily engaged in entertaining themselves. Once folks get it in their mind they begin using it when referring to the same or other horse behaviors – and teen agers.

    Important element: pretending purpose for entertainment value or simply to mess with owners or parents.

    Love crusades.

  16. Wait….? you replied to me? YOU REPLIED TO ME!!!! AH!!! (geeking out, blushing, and gushing right now!!) Thank you so much for the advice. I’ll be sure to have context all over the place

  17. My young daughter has a favorite verb. Defenestration.
    Meaning – Throwing a person or thing out a window. It can also mean – a usually swift dismissal or expulsion (as from a political party or office) the defenestration of political leaders, but where is the fun in that.

  18. That IS a fun word, Holly, but the downside is that most readers would be forced to stop and look it up.

  19. The word could be used in a way that would help give away the definition. I’ve seen quite a few authors using the word juxtapose. I had to look up that word. As long as large or unusual words are not overused, I don’t mind looking them up and learning something new.

  20. I don’t either; in fact with Kindle it takes only a keystroke or two. But research shows most readers won’t do it. I don’t like the idea of dumbing down our prose either, so context is crucial. In the case of the word in question, I would use it in dialogue and have that character or another make it clear. Like:

    “You know Senator Johnson was defenestrated from the party.”

    “Seriously? They threw him out?”

  21. Thanks for doing them in alphabetical order! Love them all! But it drives me crazy that you don’t have any y’s or z’s! X’s I can understand, but no y’s or z’s? Did you do that on purpose?
    Yank, Zing, and Zap

  22. Love this. So many times the verb I’m trying to reach is out to lunch, taking a nap, or perhaps in the sauna. Anyway, it seems that way sometimes. It can’t be reached. And it takes a lot of patience waiting for it show up in my mind; especially, those with a resume. (This word, resume, needs an accent. Maybe it should be kept in the South.) The word, resume refers to a work record. And great verbs carry that with them. I love descriptive words like, frowzy.( I used that today in a poem.) Frowzy is a word unlike most words, that doesn’t need a strong verb to carry it to full garb. But I love how strong verbs added with descriptive terms grant a stronger meaning– one that can eke out sights, smells, touch, hearing, and even tasting. Frowzy does that.The word even sounds like a smell. That’s why I love this list. That’s why I love verbs that stay after school permanently. Something I been doing all my life.

  23. Hello Sir ,

    You overwhelmed me by this post . But , there is problem . In this post , you mentioned one point in 1 no. – state-of being verb . I practice as you say . But all times it is tough to replace auxiliary verb with power words , especially for future time or on the going time . Generally we use “will , shall” in future , “was, were” in past . But How can I replace that auxiliary verb with power words those times , future and past ?

  24. My first three sentences following the list of state-of-being verbs:

    “Am I saying these should never appear in your writing? Of course not. You’ll find them in this piece.”

  25. Jerry!!!! Thanks for the advice. Very Helpful. What do you think about…
    Dismantle
    Commune
    Smite

  26. Hey Jerry would it be powerful to say SHE GLARED AT HER RIVAL MENACINGLY? Or saying that SHE WAS LOVING THE IDEA SO WELL THAT SHE WAS GIDDY WITH DELIGHT?

  27. How about totter, squat and stagger? I also like Callie’s, hobble. All these define both infants and the elderly. If you are going to use verbs, let them do double duty. I thought of your list when I did my last screen play.

  28. I like the word “slouch” as used interestingly by Yeats in his poem called The Second Coming.

    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

  29. What? John was defenestrated from the 20th floor?
    Yes, Brad flung him out the window. For a moment he flew on an air current.
    ????
    I love that word too

  30. A professor assigned an exercise like this in a university class, but rather than alphabetize the list as a whole, I placed them in categories. For example, under the heading “Walk,” (the limp verb), I wrote: amble, bounce, browse, creep, dawdle…(etc). I still refer to the list and add to it frequently.

  31. Jerry, thank you soooo much for this list -it’s so useful#grateful Scotts lass…BUT I disagree a little. One of my favourite authors uses discombobulate a LOT and finally I looked it up and now am happy I know a new word

  32. what, no q words…quiver, quake, quack, quarrel,…he quaked in his shoes for example

  33. Here are a few other suggestions that spring to mind……Attempt, Beat, Destroy, Dive, Electrocute, Energize, Jam, Jolt, Overcome, Penetrate, Pierce, Punch, Rape (a most graphic word, but one which can sometimes be used figuratively, without necessarily referencing a literal sexual act), Shred, Slug, Smack, Spring, and Strive.

  34. …and one could make all kinds of quips that could lead to a quarrel and set everyone all a-quiver! Of course any one doing that would just be labelled a quack.

  35. You’ve probably already had these suggested – but how about plunder, swirl, and clump?

    How I savor the usage of descriptive verbs!

    Thank you for your terrific posts!

  36. She glared at her rival with such menace that….
    She was loving the idea to the point of wallowing in it instead of using it. (THREE “ing” words!!) In this case the action is clearly ongoing and not past and finished.

  37. LOVE LOVE LOVE! Words do that to me, too. I usually blame my poltergeist.

  38. Is the poltergeist a writer? Does he have a name? I never met one before. But if he writes screen plays, maybe we can give me insight on high concepts. Of course, I write a little of everything, and I, too, am passionate about words. Even the ones who live on the wrong side of the tracks. lol. Great meeting you. Hope you run into some words with character, or perhaps are characters–my kind of friends.

  39. Yes, I am. I like it there mostly. But I seldom share my writing. I am a children’s writer and I love to write humor. It feels natural to me, as that is how I view the world. I think being married motivates one into humor or divorce. I choose humor.

  40. Absolutely!! I write mainstream, more or less, plus playscripts, after a lifetime designing in theatre. Started a novel, put it aside to concentrate on short stories to learn to write, which grew into a novel-in-stories, so going back to that first novel. No excuse now.

  41. Go with the picture of the woman with the green shirt and glasses. My email is: [email protected]. I identify with what you’re saying about writing. I, too, am all over the map. But I have largely stayed with the genre of children’s writing, in short stories, picture books, a novel, memoir writing, etc. All of it humor. I have won contests not only at conferences, one online. I am published in magazines, and journals, and now I am working on a second screenplay. I like to also write Christian based material. I love humor. If writing had calories, I’d win the Guinness World record hands down for literary obesity. I write to live, and I live to write.

  42. I found the word, elucidate. I am using it in my novel. But it seems like a word that has to be used in the right place or it loses flavor.

  43. Fume, dwaddle, dabble, muddle, grapple, douse, waddle, cave, crave, fuss, envelope, perch, crank, chizle, cock (as in cocked his head) … this IS fun.

  44. Sorry for intrude guys but everyone of you was awesome. I just began how to explore in writing. I came across to read each one of your argument and it amazed how to be good in writer. I was aspire to read this. Thank you for enlightened me.

  45. Hi, I am not a native in English. I love writing fantasy in English and ideas make my mind to explode. Although I’ve planned the story, I’ve never attended any writing course. Do I have any chance?

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