‘Lights, Camera, Action!’ Why verbs are better than nouns

Corinna Lines | August 22, 2019

Image, clapper board being used on a film set.

No verbs on clapperboards. Image by Rawpixel. Pexels licence.

‘Action’ is a noun. ‘Act’ is a verb. So ‘Lights, Camera, Action!’ is a command with no ‘doing words’ in it.

But we all understand it to mean that it’s time to light the lights, operate the camera, and for the actors to start acting.

The command is really a shorthand way of saying ‘Let’s go!’ to multiple people at once. It’s quite clear and results in action.

Image, mind the gap warning sign in the London Underground.

Not the most dynamic verb, but it works. Image by Pixabay. Pexels licence.

But in everyday life, and particularly in business writing, nouns don’t work well when you want someone to take action. Think about walking in the park and seeing a sign that says ‘Please refrain from foot contact with the lawns’ — versus the pithy power of ‘Keep off the grass’. Or ‘It is forbidden to light a cigarette in this area’ versus ‘No smoking’.

When we try to sound ‘formal’ or ‘professional’, we can easily change lovely dynamic verbs into clunky noun phrases instead. Have you ever written, ‘We will carry out an investigation into this’? Or ‘We have undertaken an examination of the problems’? The poor old verbs have been thoroughly smothered, along with any sense of action.

Doing rather than naming

To achieve a sense of movement or action, aim for more verbs than nouns in your writing. Instead of ‘carrying out an investigation into problems with the bus network’, you could ‘investigate’ them. Or even ‘find out why the bus network is having problems’. Although they are verbs, there’s something incredibly static and weighty about ‘carrying out’ and ‘undertaking’ when they are joined with nouns.

Here are some more ideas…

Instead of ‘…children exhibiting unpredictable behaviours’, try ‘…children behaving unpredictably’.

Instead of ‘…to help your team improve the clarity and effectiveness of their writing’, try ‘…to help your team write more clearly and effectively’.

This week, I encourage you to try to add verbs to your writing. I definitely do not encourage you to carry out a verb-increasing exercise with your writing.

Language time-travelling

Verbs in different languages represent time in different ways — the BBC explains here.
Can language slow down time?

At Write we’re all about doing things rather than naming them. We can help you learn how to verb those nouns.
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