What are smothered verbs, and how do I avoid them?
English allows you to create nouns from verbs. For example, you look for a noun to describe some action, like what happens when people decide. You take a perfectly good verb, "decide," smother it with a noun ending, "-ion," and end up with "decision."
This is useful, but it can lead to wordiness. After using smothered verbs for a while, you forget where they came from. In the example above, one day you need a verb to describe what people do when they gather together to debate and choose among alternatives.
You can't remember the single, specific verb for all that, so you patch something else onto "decision." You create a long phrase, "make a decision" or "arrive at a decision," from what was originally "decide."
There are many other examples, including "come to a conclusion" for "conclude," "hold a meeting" for "meet," and so on. As with the passive voice, these longer expressions don't add any meaning to the sentence, but they clog up the flow and take life out of communication.
When you develop this habit, your writing grows wordier and more vague, like fog rolling in.
Weak and wordy writing relies on smothered verbs, which need extra words to complete their meaning. Here's a handy list of "patch-on" verbs that signal smothered verbs up ahead:
When you find the smothered verb up ahead, throw out the patched-on verb and unsmother the original, like this:
make a choice = choose
provide guidance = guide
Consider this example:
The committee members held a meeting to give consideration to the plan. They made a decision to give their approval to it.
The committee members met to consider the plan. They approved it.
Fortunately, most smothered verbs have distinctive endings. Look for one of these: