Tuesday, January 19, 2010

To Be or Not To Be

"...that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles..." Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, I'll stop. It's very easy for us here at the writing center to go off on quoting tangents. Please feel free to stop us when you see this happening.

Today, it's all about “Be” verbs.

Your “Be” verbs are as follows: am, is, are, was, were, be, been, and being. Say this to yourself like a bagillion times, and you'll be able to say them super fast. So, when people ask you what the "Be" verbs are (and they will) you'll be able to say them like you've known them forever.

"Be" verbs are necessary, but they've now devoured most other verbs. In most cases, "Be" verbs lack clarity and don't show action. They also become very repetitious, and this makes for simple and sloppy writing.

Example:
Sara is sick. She is going to the store to buy some more medicine. She has been sick for awhile, and she is worried she might miss her play tomorrow. This is a role she has been working on for 3 months. Her cast mates are also worried, but the understudy is super ecstatic.

Easy cowboy! That's a lot of "Be" verbs. Let's count 'em folks. 8 "Be" verbs. 8. "Be" verbs should make up roughly 25-35% of all verbs in a paper. So, let's rework this paragraph and bring the "Be" verb usage down a bit.

Better Example:
Because of her sickness, Sarah is going to the store to buy some more medicine. She worries that she might miss her play tomorrow because she has been sick for awhile. This role is 3 months in the making. Her cast mates also worry, but the understudy can’t contain her excitement.

Okay, we've eliminated a lot of "Be" verbs, and we now have them down to 3. Not too shabby. Now, this is important: you need "Be" verbs. Do not completely eliminate them from your writing. Like I mentioned before, they are necessary.

A good way to see if you're using a lot of "Be" verbs is to take a red pen and a paper that you're working on and circle all of the "Be" verbs. You might be very surprised by how much blood, I mean red ink, is on the page. Then, rework the paper where can. Don’t force it, and don't eliminate all of them. That's just ridiculous.

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