Okay, fellow writers. Brace yourself, and let’s have another chat about grammar. If you’ve read any of my previous RPP posts, there’s no doubt you’re familiar with my strong opinions on writing with a healthy understanding of grammatical guidelines. This time, I’ll avoid the soap box and keep it simple: being educated about grammar transforms amateur writers into game-changing writers. Sounds glorious, right? Let’s move on.
Verbs—can you imagine the world without them? I can…but I shudder at the thought of such a place. Conversations would never move past Hurray! and Woohoo! and Ouch! and other such exclamatory nonsense we writers use as cop-outs for genuine emotion. But verbs…ah, how they color the world by giving purpose to our sentences! Without them, everything we say, write, or sing would become, quite literally, incomplete.
Fortunately, dear wordsmiths, we are graced with six—six!—verb types that make way for illumination and vivacity in the stories we tell. If you want to improve your usage of literary density, this is the stuff of your dreams. Let’s talk about three of them, shall we?
These are the verbs that often end sentences. They’re not tied to any object, and therefore they can exist on their own. Suzie coughed and Suzie died make more sense than Suzie coughed John or Suzie died John because the verbs (coughed/died) aren’t dependent on an object (John).
While intransitive verbs aren’t linked to any object, they can be accompanied by words/phrases that logically answer questions. (However, keep in mind that intransitive verbs don’t need to answer any questions.)
How? Suzie coughed quietly.
Where? Suzie coughed on her food.
Why/When? Suzie coughed after taking a drink.
How Often? Suzie coughed throughout the entire movie.
True to their name, linking verbs connect or “link” a subject to either (1) an adjective phrase or (2) a noun phrase in which the subject and following noun are the same thing. Consider the examples below, which show the closeness between subject and the structure following the verb.
Suzie acted nervous. (adjective phrase)
Princess Suzie became Queen Suzie.
How do we know that Suzie was nervous? Because she acted nervous. The linking verb, here, is extremely important. It gets us from point A to point B. Likewise, how do we know that Queen Suzie and Princess Suzie are the same person? Because Princess Suzie became queen. Unlike intransitive verbs, linking verbs can’t end a sentence because they receive their meaning by the two entities in which they link: subject and noun/adjective.
BE verbs are not linking verbs, but they function very similarly because they link the subject to a structure that further describes the subject. Thankfully, the list of BE verbs is short and sweet: be, is, are, am, was, were, been, and being.
Here’s how to tell the difference between a BE verb and a linking verb: BE verbs can be moved to the front of a sentence to ask a question (without adding or removing words), but linking verbs cannot function in this way. For example:
The dogs were barking. (BE verb) Were the dogs barking?
The dogs became angry. (linking verb) Became the dogs angry?
Clearly, the second example just doesn’t make sense when words are rearranged to create a question. That’s why it’s so important to know the difference, folks.
Why All This Grammar Jibber Jabber Should Matter to You
Now that we’ve reviewed three verb types (intransitive, linking, and BE), I encourage you to commit them to memory. Doing so, simply put, will rock your creative mind. Call me nerdy, but I often challenge myself to use as many verbal forms as possible. There are dozens of ways to portray a single message, yet writers often remain stuck in the same lethargic patterns, never seeming to fight their way past what’s comfortable.
Not you, though, friends. By knowing the difference between a BE verb and a linking verb, you can make a conscientious decision to choose one or the other based on literary demand. (And bonus! You’ll begin to realize just how many times you use the word “is.”) Likewise, by recognizing transitive verbs, you can probe yourself to ask questions that will improve the depth of your texts. Rather than writing, “the dog died,” you might create more emotional effect by stating that “the dog died suddenly and unexpectedly.” Or not. Sometimes, using fewer words is better. The point is this: now you have the necessary artillery to empower yourself as a creative. Feel free to launch at your discretion.