Avoid hidden verbs
Use the strongest, most direct form of the verb possible.
Verbs are the fuel of writing - they give your sentences power and direction. They liven up your writing and make it more interesting. Too often, we hide verbs by turning them into nouns, making them less effective and using more words than we need.
Government writing is full of hidden verbs. They make our writing weak and longer than necessary. Say “we manage the program” and “we analyze data” not “we are responsible for management of the program” or “we conduct an analysis of the data.”
What are hidden verbs?
A hidden verb (or nominalization) is a verb converted into a noun. It often needs an extra verb to make sense. For example, “Please make an application for a personal loan” is longer and less clear than “Please apply for a personal loan.”
Hidden verbs come in two forms. Some have endings such as -ment, -tion, -sion, and -ance or link with verbs such as achieve, effect, give, have, make, reach, and take.
|To trace the missing payment, we need to carry out a review of the Agency’s accounts so we can gain an understanding of the reason the error occurred.||To trace the missing payment, we need to review the Agency’s accounts so we understand the reason the error occurred.|
|If you cannot make the payment of the $100 fee, you must make an application in writing before you file your tax return.||If you cannot pay the $100 fee, you must apply in writing before you file your tax return.|
|This means we must undertake the calculation of new figures for the congressional hearing.||This means we must calculate new figures for the congressional hearing.|
|The production of accurate statistics is important for the committee in the assessment of our homelessness policy.||Producing accurate statistics is important to the committee in assessing our policy on homelessness.|
Hidden verbs also occur when we turn verbs into nouns by adding endings such as -ing, -tion, -ment, or -sion and placing the longer word between the words “the” and “of.”
Uncovering the hidden verb usually forces you to rephrase your sentence and cut out other poor habits such as wordy phrases. Hidden verbs often go hand in hand with passive verbs and combine to give an officious and longwinded style.
- Charrow, Veda R., Erhardt, Myra K. and Charrow, Robert P., Clear & Effective Legal Writing, 4th edition, 2007, Aspen Publishers, New York, NY, pp. 176-178.
- Garner, Bryan A., Legal Writing in Plain English, 2001, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 38 (14.).
- Kimble, Joseph, Lifting the Fog of Legalese, 2006, Carolina Academic Press, Durham, NC, p. 71 (D.4).
- Securities and Exchange Commission, Plain English Handbook, 1998, Securities and Exchange Commission, Washington, DC, p. 21.
- Wright, Nick, Hidden Verbs.