Sexy Verbs: The Fuzzy Verb

This is the final episode in the four-part series, Sexy Verbs. At the end of this post, you’ll have a chance to flaunt your sexy verb expertise, so be sure to review the previous posts on passive voice, -ly adverbs, and wuzzy verbs.

What is a fuzzy verb?

A fuzzy verb has been watered down by another, more boring and not useful verb. For example:

Catharine began writhing in ecstasy.

Fuzzy verbs shroud the verb just as passive verbs shroud the subject. They water down the action. Why do we need to witness the beginning of Catherine’s writhing? Why not just let us imagine it in action? Is the verb, began really necessary?

Catharine writhed in ecstasy.

Better right? Not so wordy. More direct. Here’s another example:

He sat shuddering and heaving until his climax subsided.

If it’s really important that we know he’s in a sitting position, then maybe you can place him there in a previous sentence. As it is, adding the stillness of sat to the excitement of shuddering does nothing for the drama of the shudder. Here’s a cleaned up version:

He shuddered and heaved until his climax subsided.

Perhaps the most difficult red flag to spot, fuzzy verbs are not grammatically incorrect—just clunky and often unnecessary. Here’s a good way to catch them:

Fuzzy verbs to watch for: any combo of two (1 + infinitive), but especially:

She seemed to gyrate . . .

He tried to nuzzle . . .

They stood staring . . .

We’re going to snuggle . . .

Violet sat diddling . . .

An infinitive, by the way, is like the base of the verb, it’s purest form: to be, to gyrate, to wiggle, to fuck.

Here are a few more examples of fuzzy verbs and easy fixes for them:

Fuzzy Verb: Enrique started to holler when he came.

Better: Enrique hollered when he came.

Fuzzy Verb: Her hand began to twitch against his thigh.

Better: Her hand twitched against his thigh.

Fuzzy Verb: The park lay teeming with handsome, half-naked sunbathers.

Better: The park teemed with handsome, half-naked sunbathers.

Got it? Good. Now’s a good time to review the other Sexy Verb lessons if you haven’t already so you can try your hand at fixing the not-so-sexy sentences below:

Show off your sexy. All the sentences below raise red flags for any editor seeking a sassier, sexier, more svelte writing style. Choose your favorites and rewrite them in the comments section. I’ll choose the best revised sentences and feature them in a new post.

For bonus points, tell us what kind of unsexy verb you sexed up: passive voice, -ly adverbs, wuzzy, or fuzzy.

  1. Jackie was unbuttoning the ten, tiny, pearl beads down the front of her blouse.
  2. Each snap began to expose more tawny flesh, and her breath started to quicken.
  3. She really and truly wanted this, but she trembled like a schoolgirl.
  4. Jackie was wondering whether Sam would think it cliché if she let her hair down.
  5. Her darting eyes were caught in Sam’s smile.
  6. She went to flip the light switch off and began to feel better.
  7. She flinched when she was asked to turn it on again.
  8. Sam deftly moved closer and romantically reached for Jackie in the darkness.

  1. Man, how I adore your blog. I get so much out of it! I seem to be guilty of using fuzzy verbs. <—See?!!! 😉

    • Miriam, what a lovely compliment! I’m glad to support your writing. Yes, you do *seem* to be guilty of both fuzzy and wuzzy verbs, but remember, they are not grammatically incorrect, just a little drab. To fix a fuzzy verb, ask yourself, “What is the real message?” or “What’s really happening?” and search for the sexier verb. Perhaps fuzzy verbs *populate* your writing? To learn about wuzzy verbs, look here:

  1. April 29th, 2011

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