25 MIN READ
This week, as part of our ongoing first-year anniversary, we celebrate verbs, the most important word in any sentence. “A sentence can crackle with energy or it can just lie there, listless and uninteresting,” says writer Constance Hale. “What makes the difference? The verb.”
Over the weekend, I attended the retirement party for my graduate school advisor. His many PhD students from over the decades shared memories of important lessons learned. One thing that came up again and again was how thankful we were for the close attention our advisor gave to writing skills. Verbs were a central part of that. One thing our advisor stressed again and again: avoiding the “to be” verb in favor of using strong clear verbs.
I’m not a fan of Nepali schools’ reliance on rote memorization. But one thing I’d be happy to have students memorize is strong verbs. Having a wide assortment of vigorous verbs in your toolbelt, within arm’s reach, can help any writer, especially non-native English speakers.
So I looked over the past year’s Writing Journeys and made a list of strong verbs. Here are 100 verbs to learn to strengthen your writing.
For more on why verbs are so important, see my Writing Journeys essay, The easiest way to improve your writing quickly: fix your verbs.
“George Orwell has two great essays on writing – ‘Politics and the English Language’, which dissects some of the “bad habits” in English writing, and ‘Why I Write’, where he lists his reasons for writing. These days I’ve also gravitated towards books that deal with the social aspects of technology, not because they offer advice on how to write, but because they remind me of the dangers of spending too much time online.
“Once I come across an idea or incident that arouses my curiosity or anger or surprise, I try to read up on the subject and talk to relevant people before writing about it.”
– Shradha Ghale:‘I’m still learning to write, I guess the process never ends’
“Journalism is the go-between – we try to explain technical, scientific concepts to a general readership without sacrificing too much nuance, detail, and accuracy.”
“They [the editors at The Economist] manage to demystify the most complicated scientific, economic or political stories in easy-to-digest prose.”
Others: hamper, churn, curate
– Kunda Dixit: ‘The more complicated the subject, the simpler your language should be.’
“As writers who had already published books, the professors stoked my passion.”
“But they all stressed two common features — sharing one’s preliminary notes and reflecting on peoples’ responses before rewriting.”
Others: scope, venture, locate, compel, reveal, promote, invest, morph, refine, exchange, commit, trust, rejuvenate, equate
– Niranjan Kunwar: ‘Even if words don’t come easily, I keep at it, trusting the process.’
“Each thing you encounter, which you are capturing, is shaping your decisions, inflecting the narrative that is forming in your mind, without actually editing.”
“So much of the documentary depends on people revealing themselves, and seeing them in their normal relation to their environment is far more revealing and interesting than asking them to present themselves to you.”
Others: delve, reveal, unravel, encounter, interact, generate, deliver, yield, imply, capture, Absorb, interpret, inflect
– Kesang Tseten: ‘I like the process of discovery’
“Nepali language was not mandatory, so many other students neglected it, but I wanted to pursue writing in Nepali.”
“The editing team at Nepalaya spruced up my Nepali writing.”
Others: narrate, open, push, thrive, guide, judge, fetch
– Sujeev Shakya: 'Shakespeare can be found in the fields of the Himalayan hills'
“Writing can be a way of life, a means to express one’s identity and experiences.”
“The school emphasized articles, prepositions, and verb tenses, but ignored clarity, flow, and idea connection.”
Others: struggle, pursue, reflect, orient, maintain, focus on, influence, dominate, engage, decipher, culminate, trap, shape, nurture, define, enrich, embrace, master, integrate, liberate
“And my curiosity to learn how to present pictures and handicrafts in a different way each time so as to appeal to as many people as possible also grew.”
“While in class 9, my article was published in the regional daily national newspaper. That boosted my confidence in writing.”
Others: spring from, discard, imagine, touch, reveal, reflect, encourage, travel, dive, hide, identify
– Janak Raj Sapkota: ‘Ordinary people have extraordinary experiences’
“It was Father Watrin who honed our essay writing skills.”
“But the most important habit inculcated in us by Fr. Watrin was writing detailed outlines.”
Others: devour, convey, implore, downplay, leap, shape, convey, guide, drill, require, express, modify, shine, outlive, bypass, struggle
– Dipak Gyawali: ‘The hours moved like lazy cattle across a landscape’
“I'm plagued by self-doubt, wondering daily what in the name of all that's holy I'm doing with this book, and indeed my life.”
“I came across Strunk and White's Elements of Style in high school, and no amount of postcolonial theory about empires writing back — thank you, Salman Rushdie — can dislodge its lessons from my heart.”
Others: breath life into, infuse, figure, differentiate, pick up
– Manjushree Thapa: ‘It never gets easier, but I love writing’
“This love of storytelling, which I sharpened over time, helped me both in journalism and writing.”
“It explained how to start a handwritten newspaper and how to amplify voices of the marginalized.”
Others: articulate, narrate, discover, strike, empower, venture, highlight, conceive, yield
– Chandrakishore: ‘A good story must have multiple perspectives'
“Pindali showed me that something as commonplace as the potato had an interesting story if you probed deep enough.”
Others: mesh, slog, dread, catch, water down, blunt, express, vanquish, refuse, vex, disrupt, resist, tighten, check, sting, prevail, shine, proclaim, recap, point to, challenge, question, knead
– Sanjay Upadhya, ‘Question your assumptions, play the devil’s advocate’,
“The fears of an unknown career trajectory haunted my thoughts as I sat at my writing desk, facing an aquamarine wall in an apartment that barely got any light.”
“Which stories should I highlight, and how do I correlate them to the larger point I want to make?”
Others: coop up, huff and puff, doubt, sprint, conjoin, feed off, frame, highlight, correlate, construct, tire, persist, encompass, undertake, pore over, reel in, browse, discover, mutilate, survive, park
– Amish Mulmi: ‘Come rain or shine, I sat at my desk’
“Contradictions like these spurred questions.”
“As a teenager, listening to Jethi Bhauju fueled my passion for other women's stories.”
Others: pollute, whisper, discourage, warn, befriend, treat, spur, motivate, express, overwhelm, awaken, heal, discover, claim, inspire, liberate, dictate, challenge
– Sarita Pariyar: ‘Who is going to tell our stories?’
“Schools had just begun to crop up and most young children attended.”
“Each student should delve into a text with the belief that the text being read is not about some abstract and faceless author and reader(s) but about himself or herself and real-life issues.”
Others: shed, strut, wonder, bide, intrigue, intrude, scribble, disrespect
– Chaitanya Mishra: ‘I enjoy seeking to answer the question ‘Why?’’
“That may be an effective, if crude, approach at university, but it must evolve alongside one’s sensitivity to the world and to readers.”
“Because an accident of birth gave me parents who loved to read, and unfathomable generational privilege from my caste, which dovetailed with my own inclinations for reading and writing.”
Others: wrestle, digest, derive, shame, inhabit, befriend, compensate, cherry-pick, refine, shape, engage, scold, pander, polish, stretch, convey, transcribe, tackle, assess, match, unspool
– Anagha Neelakantan: ‘Write because it makes you think or feel’
“As we all know, the hierarchical nature of language is pervasive in Nepal. It can shake young learners to their core, shattering their confidence as thinkers and writers.”
Others: smoothen, refine, sift, filter, improvise, run out of, switch, pose, thrash, confront, burn out, stack
– Dhirendra Nalbo: ‘We can all be thinkers and writers’
Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed “was like fertilizer, nurturing my creativity and writing.”
I grew up reading the 'Mahendra Mala', a school textbook that promoted nationalism and glorified the monarchy.
Others: put down, devalue, ridicule, inspire, till, shed light, promote, impose, transplant, deposit, cut off, fascinate, open, impress, influence, imitate, translate
– Rajendra Maharjan: 'Changing the world with words'
“My father has several books (mostly critiquing writers and their works) and numerous articles in literary journals and newspapers to his credit.”
“By this time, I was playing local club cricket and wanted to devour everything cricket and sports.”
“My taste for good English was almost a byproduct of all the reading about sports, listening to the radio, and relishing the great literary masters.”
Others: connect, develop, complain, run out, relish, fascinate, struggle, contextualize, tire, emphasize, absorb, hone, internalize, articulate, stagnate, dig, evolve
– Akhilesh Upadhyay: ‘Reading gives us insight; writing makes us precise’
“But when we did write a page, he gave us a wide smile and celebrated our work as though it were a masterpiece.”
“In the next 12 years, I would use them to vent my teenage angst and wild ideas.”
Others: lurk, create, imagine, recollect, touch, draft, embolden, waste, buoy, pore over, muse, appreciate, prove
– Richa Bhattarai: 'A day that I do not write is a day wasted'
“As I was enjoying and getting enmeshed into the indigenous lived world, I almost forgot my school life.”
“These readings widened my knowledge of the outer world and expanded my vocabulary.”
“As much as possible, I weave together textual analysis and ethnographic work.”
Others: evolve, crystallize, yearn, defend, internalize, endure, master, reflect, fascinate, expand, compose, recall, control
– Mukta Singh Tamang: ‘Writing to power requires reading against the grain’
“As a child, I accompanied my family for paddy planting and harvesting, and very early on, this work instilled in me a sense of how agriculture is tied to nature and the seasons.”
“We need to simplify the statistics and communicate them in such a way that people without technical backgrounds can comprehend them.”
“In fact, journalism bridges the gap between researchers and the public.”
Others: discover, managed, impress, zoom out, simplify, obsess, replicate, retreat, sacrifice
– Sonia Awale: ‘Writers and journalists must be patient’
“So I now know that I need to write every chapter in this book-to-be five times. Does knowing this help me finish it? No, because now I quail before beginning another chapter.”
“But every once in a while, when I have wrestled with some confusion long enough, I am able to break the skin of my confinement and reach a moment of grace.”
“I started reading, and I started writing, because I was displaced. Displaced in Nepal, displaced in America, displaced in exile. Writing places me.”
– Dickie Tenzin: ‘Writing is how I make sense of my world’
“I look at how a sentence is crafted.”
“I prefer writing at home, early morning or late at night. I struggle to write in the afternoons unless it is absolutely quiet with no distractions.”
– Sahina Shrestha: ‘I like exploring different forms of storytelling’
Engineering hubris is one of the factors that has grossly stressed our waterscapes. People and the climate crisis are worsening the level of stress.
“Educated as an engineer, Dr. Bandyopadhyay has transcended the confines of the discipline…”
– Ajaya Dixit: ‘Water is about people, politics, and power’
“Circumstances demanded that I write.”
“The stories and poems in Muktik Dagar were meant to awaken Tharus.”
“I wrote when I felt pain. When I burned. When something pricked me.”
– Indu Tharu: Whatever I want to write about has to touch my soul
“I was always surrounded by newspapers and magazines”
“In college, I never hesitated to submit my articles to magazines.”
“Above all, I like unearthing unknown facts about Nepali cultures, foods, and traditions, and sharing them with wider audiences….Unearthing these unknown details motivates me to write more.”
– Sanjib Chaudhary: ‘Unearthing unknown details motivates me to write’
“My ancestors had fled from the pains of exploitation and gotten to the plains, only to fall once again into the trap of marginalization.”
“After our lands were seized, our home was surrounded by extreme poverty.”
“It was my first visit outside Nepal and I was adjusting pretty well to the physical and social ambience.”
– Laxman Gnawali: ‘Students need good models of writing to learn from’
“In Ilam, another kind of story colonized my impressionable young mind – that of ghosts.”
“Writing a dissertation can be a lonely process. To me, for the most part, it was also a process filled with self-doubts and an inferiority complex, some of which was perhaps rooted in the ‘imposter syndrome’.”
“I found a way to preserve the confidence that the protest had lent to my voice, channel it to take ownership of the Ph.D., and somehow hoist it over the finishing line.”
Others: squint, preserve
– Sabin Ninglekhu: ‘Validation is to be found in the struggle within’
“Our team would also discuss and pick apart books and authors.”
“Writing every day on things that you read and talk about will help shape your thought process and sharpen your articulation.”
– Ujjwal Prasai: ‘Don’t just read what is popular’
“Because of sparse research and writings on Nepali cuisines, I found it challenging to gather information on food history, and to juxtapose cultural nuances between and within different ethnicities.”
Like fermentation or aging whiskey, time deepens the ideas and characters.
Others: venture, voice, shape, launch, demolish, bulldoze, struggle, jumble, dig, stir, bar, romanticize, dictate
– Prashanta Khanal: ‘Cooking nurtures your body, writing nurtures your mind’
“It is a tradition in our village to get married at a young age. Because of that, most abandon their studies in the fourth or fifth grade. Many girls are also forced to abandon their studies since there isn’t any school in the village that teaches beyond the fifth grade.”
“I was happy the first time I got to carry a pen and paper to school. But as I turned the pages of the books, my happiness diminished.”
Others: rub, dab, smear
“When I wrote the first page of Karnali Blues in a dark room in Ghattekulo, I had no inkling that the book would become so beloved by readers. I had set out on a journey into the past after being stung by starvation and the city’s confusion.”
“Surprised, the owner began to rummage under the counter.”
Others: exchange, frequent, awaken, dodge, quaver, arise, clutch, leaf, squat, cloud, agitate, dunk, tighten, caress
Tom Robertson Tom Robertson, PhD, is an environmental historian who writes about Kathmandu and Nepali history. His Nepali-language video series on writing, 'Mitho Lekhai', is available on Youtube. His most recent article, 'No smoke without fire in Kathmandu’, appeared on March 5 in Nepali Times.
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