Don’t you sometimes find long lists overwhelming? As writers, we have all heard the advice to avoid passive verbs, but where do you begin with a list of 500 colorful and strong verbs?
This post focuses on the top 9 active verbs. Hopefully, some of the synonyms will add impact to your writing.
It will help you find the synonyms you need for the most common verbs that writers want to use. But if these don’t work, talk to us and ask, and we can try to look for others.
Asking can be done neutrally, but there aren’t a lot of synonyms for that type of asking.
Question, inquire, and request are three.
Both inquire and request are neutral, but inquire is more formal.
Question can be either neutral or somewhat aggressive.
Since asking can easily be interpreted as confrontational, several synonyms imply the person asking is in an inferior position.
Words such as beg, request, and seek serve that purpose.
You have plenty of options if you need to ask aggressively or assertively.
No one likes to be interrogated. But do you want to be quizzed, which is a subtle interrogation? Someone who interrogates assumes a person is guilty. If someone is quizzing you, they are trying to find out if you are.
Demand is another assertive synonym for ask. (I am asking, or I demand that you do the dishes.) Require is firm but not assertive.
In almost all instances, help has a positive connotation. One can aid, assist, ease, relieve, and support. Someone’s help can alleviate, cure, mitigate, or remedy.
Help can also be used as a noun. An individual can offer help, which can include a balm, a cure, a remedy, or relief.
A person can also be the help—assistants, aides, helpers, staff. Domestic staff is the polite way of saying “the help.”
The concept of helping oneself can be negative. A person can appropriate, purloin, plagiarize, steal, usurp, or take. Colloquially, one can lift or pinch something.
Don’t forget that someone or something can be helpful or beneficial, caring, considerate, kind, or supportive.
And a helpless person might be bewildered, confused, debilitated, dependent, frail, infirm, spent, worn-out, weak,
Such a person might feel inept, incapable, incompetent, unqualified, or useless.
Along with the typical synonyms that mean to see with one’s eyes or look at, synonyms also refer to types of looking.
One can inspect, notice, observe, see, scan, scrutinize, study, survey, watch, and witness.
Other synonyms for look at don’t necessarily include vision. These include words such as contemplate, consider, and study.
Often, look is followed by a preposition. These include look after, look down on, look for, look forward to, look into, look out, look over, look up, look up to.
Look can be a noun, as in the following example: He gave the thief a dirty look. Your appearance, bearing, expression, and manner are your look.
As a strong verb, need doesn’t have many synonyms. Be in want of, call for, demand, lack, miss, and require are among the common ones.
Need is often used as a noun to refer to something that is required or essential. Necessity, requisite, fundamental, and basic can be needs. A shortage can lead to a need, dearth, insufficiency, lack, scarcity, or shortage.
People in need can often be distressed, in dire straits, under stress, or having difficulty.
We have many synonyms for this form of communication, including communicate. We can speak, confer, consult, have a chat or talk, converse, or, if we’re sailors, parlay. There are many ways to talk, including chatter, jabber, blather, prattle, babble, rattle on,
We can gossip or chat, inform or communicate, confess or blab. We can give a talk or a speech. And we can talk about, talk big, talk down, talk into, talk to, talk with, and talk up.
Attempt, endeavor, strive, struggle, undertake, and venture have similar meanings.
Another set of synonyms is related to evaluating. These include appraise, check out, evaluate, inspect, look over, sample, test, and try out.
Test, prove, strain, and tax are synonyms for “You’re trying my patience.” And if you are judging right from wrong, you can try a case, adjudicate, hear, or judge.
Apparently, we don’t like people who are annoying, or trying, and we have a long list of strong verbs to describe them.
We find them exasperating, frustrating, irritating, irksome, infuriating, maddening, troublesome, tiresome, vexing, worrying, upsetting, or taxing.
We are busy people. We employ, make use of, put into practice, utilize, or put to use.
We can capitalize on, exploit, make use of, utilize, manipulate, maneuver, handle, or misuse.
We buy, consume, employ, exhaust, run through, deplete, squander, or use up.
Once we are done using something, we throw it away or maybe pour it down the drain.
Before we use something, we usually want it. We have two kinds of wants. The first are essential needs. We want, lack, miss, need, or require.
But we can also want something that isn’t essential. We can crave, covet, desire, fancy, hanker after, long for, or yearn for.
Want can also be used as a noun. If we lack something essential, it is a need, shortage, or scarcity. Poverty, destitiution, homelessness, indigence, pauperism, and penury can lead to want.
Some people don’t want to work. They consider it labor or toil, and they don’t want to exert themselves, sweat, or slog through it. If they work the land, they cultivate, farm, plough, or till it. In a kitchen work can include knead, fashion, form, mold, mix, shape or stir.
Unfortunately, most of us need to hold down a job, earn a living, or be employed.
At our jobs we would like to accomplish, achieve, carry out, execute, fulfill, implement, make, or produce so we can realize a raise.
Work can also be followed by a preposition. We work in, work on, work out, and work up.
That is a brief tour of 9 important and strong verbs. Keep in mind that words have both a denotation–the dictionary definition–and connotation–the associations readers make to words. When in doubt, use a neutral version of a word.
Final Thoughts on Passive Verbs
The advice to avoid passive verbs and use strong verbs has merit. However, the post Can I Use Passive Sentences provides examples of when passive voice is acceptable or necessary. For help turning passive sentences into active ones, check out our post on Paramedic Editing. And if you want more writing tips, check out 5 Writing Tips Writers Should Know.
What is your favorite fun verb? Leave it in the comment box.
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