Are you trying to use more vivid verbs in your writing?
Maybe your writing seems dull and uninteresting. Or you may turn to the same commonly used verbs over and over again, desperately trying to spice them up with adverb after adverb.
But adverbs rarely make your prose sound better. Instead, your word choice could bog it down.
Whether you’re working on a novel, a school assignment, a piece of creative nonfiction, or even a sales copy, you want your verbs to pull their weight.
That means choosing verbs that say exactly what you want them to say.
We’re going to run through everything you need to know about transforming a weak verb into powerful verbs… and we’ll finish up with a list of 100+ examples of great verbs to use.
Vivid Verbs: A Simple Definition
A vivid verb is a verb that creates a clear, specific picture in the reader’s mind.
Vivid verbs are a type of literary device. They bring your writing to life. They don’t need to be modified with an adjective because we know exactly what they mean.
Think gobble instead of eat, or trudge instead of walk.
Vivid Verbs: What Exactly Do We Mean by a “Vivid” Verb?
You might have been taught as students that a verb is “a doing word” – an action verb. You may also have learned that all sentences need an active verb to be grammatically correct.
And grammatically speaking, vivid verbs work in just the same way as any common verb. In particular, all verbs – vivid or not – have a tense. They tell us whether something is happening in the past (walked), present (walk), or future (will walk). You can get even fancier than this with tenses like the present continuous (am walking) and pluperfect (had walked).
Vivid verbs fit into a sentence just like a commonly used verb. The difference comes in their ability to conjure a powerful mental image for the reader. You might think of them as being a more descriptive verb or simply more interesting verbs.
Vivid verbs also often sound great when read aloud. Think of how words like slither or nibble, or dashed sound.
Are Vivid Verbs Also Called Strong Verbs?
Sometimes, vivid verbs are called strong verbs, which can be confusing. The term “strong verb” has a specific grammatical meaning: a verb that changes its stem vowel when changing to past tense, e.g. write to wrote.
For clarity’s sake, we’re simply going to use the term vivid verb.
Replacing Boring Verbs With Vivid Verbs
Choosing the right word will conjure an image in the reader’s mind. Using a boring verb won’t give such a vivid impression of the action you’re trying to convey.
Ordinary verbs, aka boring verbs, are often the first ones we reach for. They’re easy words – ones that young children know. Verbs like walk, eat, get, make, and tell.
Now, there’s no rule saying you can’t use those verbs. Sometimes, they might make sense. But with any boring verb, it’s important to ask yourself – is this the best tool for the job? Is there a more vivid verb I could use instead?
Let’s take a look at some alternatives you might want to try:
- Walk – stride, skip, amble, meander, wander, sidle, hike, saunter, stroll
- Eat – gobble, munch, chew, nibble, devour, bite, taste, ingest, swallow
- Get – earn, win, obtain, acquire, score, grab, secure, attain, fetch, capture
- Make – craft, construct, manufacture, prepare, produce, assemble, fashion, create
- Tell – advise, explain, disclose, declare, instruct, inform, notify
If you’re writing something fairly informal, you can choose even more colorful vivid verbs. How about:
- Walk – schlepp, hit the road, wend their way
- Eat – chow down, pig out, polish off
- Get – snap up, come by, wangle
- Make – dream up, dash off, throw together
- Tell – let slip, keep posted, clue in
Tip: When you’re looking out for boring verbs, watch out for passive verbs too: they weaken your writing. Switch them to exciting verbs instead.
Here’s a quick example:
Passive voice: The students were admonished.
Active voice: Mr. Smith admonished the students.
How to Use Vivid Verbs in a Sentence
Reading about vivid verbs is one thing. But when you sit down to write, you might find yourself turning to old, tired, boring verbs instead.
That’s okay. Really! If your first draft uses a lot of boring verbs, don’t worry about it. Drafting is just one part of the writing process.
You can work all those vivid verbs in when you edit. Here’s how.
Visualize Your Writing
You probably had some kind of picture in mind when you wrote your first draft, especially if you’re writing fiction and creative writing. Now that you’re editing, take a moment to close your eyes and visualize your scene as clearly as possible.
Is the elderly man in your novel strolling down the street – or is his walk more like an amble?
Is the teenage girl scoffing a cookie or nibbling it?
The verbs you choose will give us a very different picture, not just of the action those characters are taking … but of who they are as people.
Eliminate Unnecessary Words
A big part of good writing is eliminating unnecessary words that don’t add anything and just take up space.
Those unnecessary words end up distracting from all the necessary, important, and impactful words in your piece.
Any time you spot an adverb, look for an opportunity to remove it – and choose a stronger verb to convey your meaning instead. For example:
Quickly walk could become stride.
Greedily eating could become gobble.
You should also look out for phrases that describe how someone does something. For example:
Ask in an officious tone could become inquire.
Call out in a loud voice could become shout.
Use a Thesaurus
Spotted a boring verb … but just can’t think of an alternative?
A good thesaurus is your friend here, and will improve your writing skills. The verbose cousin to a dictionary, a thesaurus lists words and their synonyms.
Usually, the thesaurus will give the closest-matching synonyms first, then move on to words that aren’t such a close match.
There are plenty of thesauruses available online: personally, I like Merriam-Webster’s thesaurus – and Thesaurus.com is great if you want a wide range of options.
Using an online thesaurus is as easy as using Google. Type your boring verb into the thesaurus’s search box and then pick from one of the – many! – alternatives.
Focus on the Senses
Vivid verbs often engage our senses, invoking how something feels, tastes, smells, looks, or sounds.
Take the verb stomp, for instance, which evokes the sound of thudding, possibly angry, footsteps.
Or how about the verb wobble, with its sense of movement that you can almost feel.
The verb savor ties into our sense of taste, suggesting a food that we want to linger on the palate.
Engaging your reader’s senses can be a great way to make the world of a story feel more vivid and real. It’s also a very effective technique in marketing and sales copy.
Examples of Vivid Verbs in a Sentence
Let’s take a look at a very ordinary sentence with a very regular verb:
Today, I ran to the store.
It’s not a terrible sentence. We probably have some picture of the narrator running – but maybe not a clear one. The narrator might be a marathon enthusiast who can easily get to the store without breaking a sweat. Or they might be an out-of-shape office worker who’s red-faced and panting by the time they get there.
We also don’t have any sense of why they’re running. Because the store’s about to close, and they desperately need milk? Or just for exercise?
How about instead:
Today, I jogged to the store.
Today, I dashed to the store.
Today, I fled to the store.
All of those vivid verbs conjure a different impression of how the narrator moves and why they might be doing so. Jogged might be part of an exercise regime.
Dashed indicates the trip needs to be made in a hurry – perhaps a key dinner ingredient is missing.
Fled means the character is escaping from something or someone.
Here’s a longer example with three different boring verbs:
James quickly walked across the street, nimbly avoiding a cyclist as he thought deeply about his conversation with William.
If those verbs work a little harder, we can make the prose much more incisive:
James strode across the street, dodging a cyclist as he pondered his conversation with William.
Now, we have a better picture of James. Strode indicates a sense of purpose – is he on his way to talk to someone, perhaps? Dodging implies a degree of skill, but perhaps also a close call – maybe his thoughts are distracting him. And pondered suggests careful consideration but also some degree of puzzlement.
Here’s an example that might come from sales copy:
After you get this course, you will have everything you need to succeed.
With strong action verbs, that becomes:
After you download this course, you will own everything you need to succeed.
100+ Vivid Verb Examples (Your Quick Reference Verbs List)
Vivid verbs, used well, are like a magic trick: they bring your writing to life.
We’ve looked at plenty of examples above, but here’s a full list of vivid verbs that you can sprinkle into your prose.
Tip: Vivid verbs stand out more than boring verbs. That’s usually a good thing – but be careful that you don’t use the same vivid verb too often. It’ll start to distract the reader from what you’re actually saying.
Ready to Strengthen Your Writing With Vivid Verbs?
Switching out boring verbs for vivid verbs makes your writing more robust and richer.
It paints a picture in your reader’s head.
And, most importantly, it lets you say exactly what you want to say. No lazy writing, no heavy dose of adverbs – just clear, engaging prose.
Next time you’re reading a novel, article, advertising copy, or even a tweet, look out for the verbs.
Are they pulling their weight? Do they grab your interest?
And how could you use similarly vivid verbs in the next piece you write?