"POWER" up the verbs! (By Tracey Hodges, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant)


“POWER” up the verbs!

By Tracey Hodges, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant


Gerund. Modifier. Direct object. Prepositional phrase. Adverbial phrase. Every time I read a sentence, these words still circle around my mind. Not only can I identify what they are in the sentence, I can grammatically diagram nearly any sentence I come across. This (admittedly) interesting yet obnoxious skill is the fault of my ninth grade English teacher who made her students diagram hundreds of sentences from the novels they were reading each semester. While I hated the exercise at the time (and am still not fond of it today), it proves useful when trying to improve as an academic writer. However, despite being an English major during undergrad, I had not learned new information about grammar until I picked up a copy of Constance Hale’s new writing book, Vex, Hex, Smash Smooch. This book has helped improve my academic writing by helping me focus on a commonly overlooked part of the sentence – the verbs.


I am a self-proclaimed creative writer, and as a former English major and current lover of literature, I constantly want to add flourish and pizzazz to my academic writing. My first drafts of articles, research papers, and presentations are filled with metaphors, alliterations, and analogies. I do not struggle with finding time to write or finding motivation to write – I love to write. Instead, my biggest struggle as an academic writer has come in trying to balance my two writing selves (the academic and the creative) to find a happy compromise.


Constance Hale’s new book shifted the vision of my two writing selves by teaching me the craft of subtly integrating my creative side into academic writing with verbs! Writing does not have to include imagery or fancy flourishes but can show style with careful selection of action words. This is such a simple concept that helps the writing have more clarity, flow, and engagement.


Many writing books exist which propose the importance of verbs, but Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch is the first I have found to do so with such deliberate, forceful approachability. Hale does not intimidate writers, but shows them how less is more and thoughtful choice of action can go a long way. She challenges writers to grapple with research and discover new ways to convey ideas. For writers hoping to “power up” their verbs, this book is a sound resource. I suggest using it to find inspiration in adding creativity, competence, and clarity to academic writing.


Written in a familiar, conversational tone, Hale tackles the art of crafting sentences flooded with power verbs. A writer struggling with verbs can not only learn the appropriate tenses, rules, and uses of verbs, but can observe valuable examples Hale pulls from literature, advertising slogans, media outlets, and professional writings. Additionally, the appendices serve as reminders about some of the most challenging components of verbs including: phrases that “screw up our sentences”; confusing tenses; complex irregular verbs; and dictionary faux pas. Hale makes learning grammar unintimidating and approachable by writing with humor and wit. Her writing style serves as a model for how to write powerfully yet creatively.


Through my study of the academic writing process, I have learned that academic writing is overrun with nouns, mostly abstract. Academics are notorious for writing passively with these abstract nouns so that sentences become convoluted and uninterruptable. What if the focus of academic writing shifted from hiding who is doing what to revealing what is being done to whom?


To academic writers, I challenge you to consider the following questions: is your writing filled with action verbs? Do you use verbs to allow your creativity to shine in academic prose? Do the verbs in your writing help share the story of your data? If you hesitated on any of these questions, Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch may be the inspiration you need and the juice your writing needs. Pick up a copy and let me know how the creative academic writing is going!