Hidden verbs are are the verbs we turn into a noun and then need an extra verb for it to make sense.
Take the phrase ‘make a decision’. In this instance, the verb ‘decide’ has morphed into the noun ‘decision’. It then needs help from the extra verb ‘make’ for it to make sense.
In grammar circles, this is called ‘nominalisation’.
But I much prefer the term ‘hidden verbs’ because:
A) it’s plain English
B) it makes them sound sneaky.
And I love the word ‘sneaky’.
We can strip this example phrase back to its original verb form and use the word ‘decide’.
Compare these 2 sentences:
- You must make a decision now.
- You must decide now.
The second version is much stronger. It’s concise, which is one of the tenets of smart writing.
Let’s test this theory with more examples of hidden verbs transformed into stronger, more concise sentences:
- Let’s make a plan > Let’s plan
- It will cause a disruption to services > It will disrupt services
- If you are in possession of stolen goods > If you possess stolen goods
- He intended to commit murder > He intended to murder
- We undertook a study of dragons > We studied dragons
- Do a proofread of this newsletter > Proofread this newsletter
Once you know what to look for, this simple tip in your arsenal of smarter writing tips can transform your words into stronger, punchier sentences.
My online pal Maureen Helen and fellow word nerd shared a few more hidden verbs. Like me, she loves to trawl the ABC News site, looking for errors. We’ve gotta get our kicks somehow, right? She found these ones today:
- Have a laugh > Laugh
- Take a look > Look
- Have a listen > Listen
Keep an eye out for sneaky hidden verbs the next time you’re writing. Your readers will thank you for it without even realising. Sneaky, indeed.
What sneaky hidden verbs creep into your writing?