Sexy Verbs: The Wuzzy verb

Hopefully by now I have convinced you of the power of the Sexy Verb. If you haven’t had a chance to read about the not-so-sexy passive verb construction or the even less sexy -ly adverb combination, you can read those posts by clicking back on the words above.

It is true that sexy verbs drive sentences and keep readers engaged. Note the sexy verbs in these sexy, revised sentences from the earlier sexy verb posts:

okay: He moved swiftly toward the bed.

better:He vaulted toward the bed.

okay: Her clit was licked by her mistress.

better: Her mistress licked her clit.

So today’s Sexy Grammar lesson focuses on a third type of less-than-sexy verb form that, as an editor, I see as a red flag when I’m looking for ways to make writing more clear and concise. That’s the wuzzy verb.

I must credit the brilliant author and bonafide genius, Norma Posy, with introducing me to this cute name for a not-so-cute writing problem.

A wuzzy verb is a verb that uses a form of the verb to be when it’s not necessary.

Like this:

The sexual tension was beating down on them.

Not a bad sentence. You can feel the pressure, the tension, beating down on them, whoever they are. But what about making it cleaner?

The sexual tension beat down on them.

Better right? The language is more spare. We have fewer words to read. We avoid the gerund form beating and use the stronger, more direct tense of the very descriptive verb, beat.

Of course, there’s nothing at all incorrect grammatically about using these wuzzy forms of a verb, if that’s what you mean. But most of the time, a simpler verb form is all we need. It’s easy to scan for this red flag when you edit your own work. Just watch for these words:

  • am
  • is
  • was
  • are
  • were

Whenever you find yourself pairing a verb with some form of the verb to be, ask yourself if it’s necessary. Ask yourself if you can say it in a cleaner way.

They were clinging to each other when they came.

They clung to each other when they came.

And watch for uses of the to be verb on its own.

He was horny.

Describing anything or anyone with so much stillness can feel pretty boring to your reader. Can you bring some movement in instead?

His boner grew.

See how much more descriptive we get when we require specificity? Why tell us what someone is when you can show us?

She was vain.

Her reflection in the mirror above the bed pleased her.

Now you try. Below, find three sentences with glaring wuzzy verb red flags. Copy and paste one into the comments form, and see if you can improve it! I’ll feature the most well-rewritten sentences in a future post.

  1. Alice and Harriet were locked in a passionate kiss.
  2. Mabel was fantasizing about her high school sweetheart while Andrew was fucking her.
  3. Andromeda was a jealous queen.

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  1. May 19th, 2010
  2. April 29th, 2011
  3. March 16th, 2012

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