Writing: Say one thing in five ways

Speech is quick so most of us rely on favourite words, phrases and structures when speaking. We could find other ways to express the same thoughts; but who has time for that in conversation?

In writing we also have habits. Look at your writing and you may see recurring features. Left to my own devices I’d use “so” and “such as” in every sentence! I’m also too fond of “much,” “some,” “many” and “different.”

Good writers venture away from familiar paths. They explore alternative ways of saying just the one thing. Great writers know twenty ways to describe a butterfly’s flight and can gauge the emotional effect of each word choice.

Start with expanding your verb use if you’re interested in increasing expressive variety in your writing. English is blessed with many verbs that mean similar things. The more verbs you know, the more you’ll be able to say without falling back on stock phrases.

Look at these examples below. The verbs in the first example all describe moving quickly, but are they exactly the same in meaning? “Galloped” is horselike whereas “sprinted” is athletic. That’s useful if you want to compare the runner to an animal or an Olympian.

The man moved quickly across the field.

The man ran across the field.
The man sprinted across the field.
The man galloped across the field.
The man sped across the field.
The man rushed across the field.

In this example all the verbs describe energetic throwing, yet they’re all slightly different. I think “chucked” is less forceful than “hurled.” “Lobbed” sounds more violent to me than “tossed.”

The boy threw the ball in an energetic way.

The boy hurled the ball.
The boy flung the ball.
The boy lobbed the ball.
The boy tossed the ball.
The boy chucked the ball.

Increasing the variety of your verb use will heighten your control over the English language. Not only will you have more ways to say one thing, you can say more about that one thing.

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