You did it. You finally finished that last chapter. Now you can move on to the next stage: tons and tons of editing. Just as you probably guess, this involves fixing grammatical errors and the like, but it also means improving the foundation of your writing itself. When first writing your story, typically you focus more on the plot and story than the sentence structure or word combination. Of course, some of us writers stress over finding that perfect word or phrase the first time around, but no first draft is flawless. Even perfectionistic writers will want to comb through their first draft for tricky “be” verbs; removing these pests will greatly improve the quality of your writing and increase the chances of your story getting published.
What Are “Be” Verbs?
“Be” verbs are any verbs that describe a state of being, including the following verbs: am, are, be, been, being, had, has, have, is, was, and were. There are other variations of these words that also act as “be” verbs, but these are the main ones. You may have also heard these verbs referred to as linking verbs, which are verbs that connect a subject with its identifying noun or adjective. For example, “The cat is soft.” In this sentence, “the cat” is the subject, “soft” is the adjective that modifies the subject, and “is” acts as a linking verb.“Be” verbs are the most popular irregular verbs in the English language, and it is near impossible to write anything without including the occasional “be” verb.
Why Does It Matter?
Okay, so we now know the definition of “be” verbs and that we insert “be” verbs frequently in our writing. Why does it matter how often we use “be” verbs?
“Be” verbs are basically placeholders. They lack actual action and only describe a state of being. Verbs are your action words of a sentence, and they make your writing dynamic and interesting. When most of your verbs consist of “be” verbs, then your sentences start to suffer. “Be” verbs tend to bog down sentences with unnecessary phrases and excess words. Let’s look at some poor examples of “be” verbs in sentences.
To be supportive of the marriage is important for the family or else they might have conflict.
He was a good friend even if he was a little nosy and had listened in on private conversations.
We have expected about three hundred to be in attendance tonight for the basketball game.
How to Eliminate “Be” Words
The above examples seem messy and wordy, and the “be” verbs are the main culprit. Removing “be” verbs typically improves the flow of sentences and makes them more precise and dynamic. Initially, the process of locating and exchanging “be” verbs can take time, but soon it will become second nature to avoid sentences structured with “be” verbs. Although not every “be” verb can or should be taken out, try to eliminate as many as possible. The trick is to find an active verb to replace with the “be” verb, or to reorder the sentence to make it more active. Let’s look at a few poor examples and improve them by using one of these tricks.
She is beautiful in that dress tonight. (This is likely one of the most simplistic “be” word sentences you will need to fix. In this situation, you can swap the “be” word for a more active word. For example, replace “is” with a word like “looks” or “appears.”)
He was walking down the street. (This example is another sentence you will often come across. Instead of using “was walking,” you can swap it for the active past tense verb “walked.”)
The child is a fan of ice cream. (In this case, you might need to change up the wording a little bit, but the overall message would stay the same and the sentence would sound significantly better. There are several variations that would work, such as, “The child loves ice cream.” This alteration eliminates the “be” verb and makes the sentence more active.)
The old man had been attacked outside the bank by the criminal. (You can improve this sentence by restructuring it. In this case, the criminal acts upon the old man, but the sentence lacks the organization to demonstrate this. So, change the sentence around to show this action, with the criminal becoming the subject of the sentence. It could look something like this: “The criminal attacked the old man outside the bank.” As we can see with this change, the sentence sounds infinitely better, all because we restructured the passive sentence and eliminated the “be” verb. For more information on avoiding passive voice, click here.)
With all of that said, “be” verbs still have a necessary place in your writing. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you will find no other way to word a sentence. Simply put, there is a reason “be” verbs exist in the English language. They may not always look or sound pretty, but they sometimes serve a needed purpose. Regardless, try your best to eliminate “be” verbs, and be on the lookout while you write for how often you use these verbs. By making the effort to reduce the number of “be” verbs in your sentences, your writing will dramatically improve as a result.
Mackenzie Hendricks graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with a Bachelor in English. She currently works as a freelance writer and editor.
She enjoys reading all types of genres, but her favorites are fantasy and historical fiction. In addition to writing nonfiction and scholarly articles, she also dabbles in creative writing in her spare time.