To BE or not to BE: Reduce “to be” verbs to improve your writing

WRITING CENTER UNDERGROUND

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Developing writers often rely on “to be” verbs when communicating action. To-be verbs are all forms of “be”: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been. In some student papers, English teachers might find “is” as the verb in the majority of sentences. Even professional writers struggle with the over-reliance on “is” as a verb. So what is so wrong with using “is” and other to-be verbs in writing? Oh dear! I just used is as a verb in that last sentence!

Take a look at the following example:

The girl is pretty.

What does “pretty” look like? Is creates a vague description. What does the girl’s pretty actually look like?

The girl has flowing auburn hair, crimson lips, and eyes I could drown in for days.

In the first example, the is verb creates a lazy sentence; it isn’t showing the…

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Order matters how?

🙂

Write about what?

YodaPuppetWhile diction determines word choice, syntax determines where the words are placed. Language, without syntax, is nonsense – words strung together with no method to the madness. We all use syntax to speak and write without thinking about it, repeating what we have heard before. Unique syntax requires mixing up that order, without creating nonsense. Do you recall Yoda’s distinctive style of speaking in the Star Wars movie series? Simply take the predicate object or predicate adjective at the end of a sentence and move it to the front. Voila – Yoda speak. “But what is a predicate object and predicate adjective?” students ask mystified. Basically it is everything in a normal sentence that comes after the verb.

Which brings up the next point – Learning how to use syntax to create a unique voice requires a fundamental knowledge of grammar. I recall, in my junior high days, creating lengthy…

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Word Traffic Court

Alphabet Story

“How does this sound? I read aloud my newest blog entry to my husband.  “I know the syntax isn’t exactly correct.”

“That’s so,” he said.  “Sounds a little off.”

“Hey, I’m using poetic license,” I said in my defense.

“Ah, if that’s the case, I think they should take away your license.”

As I  edit my latest work in progress, ( patting myself on the back at reaching close to 50,000 words) it looms large about how much poetic license I can take and yet adhere to the rules I learned so long ago. (The decade being the ’50s when learning to diagram sentences was a requirement)   I made an A in grammar, by the way, but  does being a stickler about all that make for interesting writing? I am leaning toward the view that although correct use of syntax is important, it is not  necessary to adhere in all…

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