Pillow Smother

A surefire method for achieving the double whammy of fewer words and more engaging copywriting is to get rid of smothered verbs.

Smothered verbs are particularly prevalent in business copywriting. But once you learn to spot them, it is easy enough to eradicate with your trusty sword of clarity.

Verb are generally a good thing to have in a sentence. A verb is a doing word after all. Like the active voice, they carry the suggestion of things being done, of action and movement.

Streamline your copywriting

A smothered verb, however, is a verb that has had all the life sucked out of it by being turned into a noun, and usually a long-winded one at that.

Take the following sentences:

  • The firm delivered advice on the potential introduction of a second stage to the tender process.

It makes sense. Perfectly correct English. But oh so stuffy! The verb ‘to advise’ has been smothered and turned into ‘to deliver advice’, and the verb ‘to introduce’ has been turned into ‘introduction’.

It you dig out those verbs and use them in the way they were intended, not only do you get a more direct sentence, you also remove three unnecessary words:

  • The firm advised on potentially introducing a second stage to the tender process.

Here is another:

  • The partners made an agreement to begin an immediate investigation into the company’s accounts.

The verb ‘to agree’ has become ‘made an agreement’ and the verb ‘to investigate’ has become ‘investigation.’

Sharper, crisper copywriting

By setting the smothered verbs free, we get a much sharper sentence, five words shorter, that means exactly the same thing:

  • The partners agreed to immediately investigate the company’s accounts.

Sharper, to the point and a more reader-focused style of writing. It sounds like something you might actually say to the client in person, rather than  the ‘bureaucratic’ writing style that we too often ends up on the page.

Neither of these techniques are universal, of course. Every sentence does not always have to be active and every smothered verb does not always have to be liberated. But at least if you recognise the situation and know how to improve it, you can make an informed decision whether to change it or not. Hopefully the former more often than the latter.