I can’t help kicking off with this song—the Be-Verb Song—courtesy of Benjamin Kjos, who sang it for me after attending my workshop at Confab 2015.
I have a thing about be-verbs: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been. Not all be-verbs. Weak be-verbs. (I describe the difference in this chapter.) I pick on this entire class of verbs—and I encourage you to pick on them, too.
Why? Because weak be-verbs bloat writing and sap it of its vitality.
The good news: Weak be-verbs make for easy targets. Spot them—just notice them—and opportunities appear. Eliminate them, and you transform your sentences into tight, energetic specimens without having to remember a bunch of rules. When you eliminate weak be-verbs—when you do just that one thing—you automatically follow a whole set of powerful-writing guidelines without having to think about them. I’m talking about the kind of guidelines in Jessica Stewart’s eight bullet points in her article “The Power of Words: Verbs,” for example, and in lots of other writing resources.
Nothing against Stewart’s eight bullet points. They work. But which would you rather remember: eight tips or one?
I hope that you’ll explore my collection of stuff related to be-verbs:
- “To Be or Not To Be” (PDF, chapter from Word Up!)
- “Instantly Highlight (Almost All*) Be-Verbs in a Microsoft Word Doc”
- “Start seeing be-verbs” bumper stickers
- “Dump These Words” list (PDF)
- “Write Tight(er)” presentation (slides with example sentences)
- “Write Tight(er): Get to the Point and Save Millions”
- How Global Is Your English? 8 Ways to Keep It Simple—And Save Big (point 5, “Generally, convert passive voice to active voice.”)