Stylistic Techniques: More about the Strong Verb

Mar 30, 2021 | Posted by Jennifer


In a blog post last week, I introduced the strong verb dress-up. The third dress-up to be introduced, the strong verb constructs a clearer visual image of the action in the reader’s mind. To help students play with this dress-up, teachers ban some of the more humdrum verbs and help their students discover more descriptive alternatives, perhaps by working with their students to create word lists, using IEW resources such as the IEW Writing Tools app or A Word Write Now, or by providing a thesaurus appropriate for their student’s age. Taking these steps helps to set your students up for success.

There are a few more salient points to this dress-up that you should consider once your students become more familiar with the basics. This blog post will introduce you to these concepts.

First, let’s take a moment to talk about helping and linking verbs. Encourage your students to avoid using these types of verbs and to use verbs that convey action. Rather than write, “She was walking to the park,” which includes the helping verb was paired with the verb walk, consider instead this sentence: “She sprinted to the park.”

Also, teach your students to avoid -ing words that appear without a helping verb, as those words are not verbs. They are a verbal construction called a gerund. Here’s an example: “Walking in the morning is a great way to get exercise.” In this sentence walking is a gerund, which is a verby-looking word that is functioning as a noun. In this case it is actually the subject of the sentence. What is a great way to get exercise? Walking is.

Additionally have your students watch out for verbs that have the word to in front of them. This is another verbal construction called an infinitive, which is also not a verb. Here’s an example: “Dorothy loves to sing in her community choir.” The verb in this sentence is actually loves, not sing. Infinitives function as either adjectives, adverbs, or nouns, but never as verbs.

As you can see, there’s a bit of grammar connected with the strong verb dress-up, but if grammar is not your thing, never fear! Fix It! Grammar is a great resource. Not only is it an excellent series for your students, but each level also features the Grammar Glossary: a useful guide to answer your perilous grammar questions. In fact, there’s an entire section dedicated to verbs and verbals. With the Grammar Glossary by your side, you will wend your way through this stylistic technique with confidence.


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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