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As you may or may not remember from grammar lessons, verbs are words that describe actions. But not all verbs are created equal. Some verbs are stronger than others. They make writing come to life, or perhaps we can say, “Strong verbs fuel good writing.” You get the idea pretty quickly. Analyzing writing that uses strong verbs can help you understand why you particularly like – or dislike – something that you read. Maybe more importantly, it can inspire your own writing, even in the simplest situations like a note, an exam response, or an essay.
Read the following paragraphs from “Saving Sarajevo’s Literary Legacy.” Highlight the verbs that writer Tom Verde uses.
Nearly five centuries later, in 1992, the latest in the line of of scholars to whom Husrev-beg had entrusted his legacy, Mustafa Jahic, then director of the library, warily approached the southern end of the landmark bridge together with a handful of colleagues. Clutching boxes filled with the library’s precious collection literally and figuratively close to their hearts, they calculated their chances of making it across the river alive. In the buildings and hills around them, Serb snipers waited to train crosshairs on anyone drifting into the exposed thoroughfares that became known during the 1992-1995 Siege of Sarajevo as “sniper alleys.” If they made it today, they would do it again. And again, over the next three years, throughout the besieged city.
Jahic and his colleagues were willing to take those risks to preserve part of the surviving cultural heritage of their city and newly declared country. Established in March 1992 following the breakup of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina had turned almost immediately into a battlefield. In Sarajevo, both Muslim Bosniak and Catholic Croatian populations found themselves targets of Orthodox Serb nationalists supported by neighboring Serbia. In addition to claiming the lives of nearly 14,000 in Sarajevo alone—5400 of whom were civilians—the Serb militia also systematically attacked Bosnia’s cultural identity: by August 1992, two of Sarajevo’s top libraries, the National Library and the Oriental Institute, had been reduced to cinders.
When you’re done, read the words you have highlighted. Discuss with a partner which verbs you think are strongest and why you think so. To help you, here are the first two sentences of these paragraphs rewritten with weaker verbs:
In 1992, Mustafa Jahic was the the director of the library. He was the latest in the line of of scholars to care for the library collection. He walked warily to the southern end of the landmark bridge together with a handful of colleagues.
See the difference? Choose at least five of the strong verbs from the two paragraphs from the article, and write a paragraph using them. Then go through your paragraph and switch the verbs to weaker ones, as in the example of the rewritten sentences above. Which makes for better reading? Why?
This lesson meets these Common Core Standard:
L.9-10.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.