by Lora Doncea

Here is an intriguing fact. The human brain is instantly stimulated when we read action verbs—more than any other words. We unconsciously react to “jumped” and “ran” more than verbs such as “went” or “pondered.” We respond even less to nouns. Too many non-visual words can slow our reading and comprehension. Here are two scientific studies on this topic (they are technical but very informative):

Concepts Are More than Percepts: The Case of Action Verbs
“PLTC activity for action verbs reflects the retrieval of modality-independent representations of event concepts, or the grammatical types associated with them, i.e., verbs. … Moreover, their response was higher for verbs than nouns, regardless of visual-motion features.”

The Time Course of Action and Action-word Comprehension in the Human Brain as Revealed by Neurophysiology
“These results suggest that the early activation seen for action-words in the ERP reflects an essential part of the action-word recognition system.”

This is an automatic brain response, so writers and editors should intentionally utilize action verbs to capture readers’ attention.

Here are a couple of quick tips:

1. Replace dull verbs with vivid action verbs
Instead of: “She decided to try to get away from the man in the alley by hitting him and then crying out for help.”
Reword to: “She punched the man in the face and tore down the alley, screaming for help.”

2. Put verbs at the front of a line, not at the middle or end
Instead of: “A brownish-black bear who was enormous and terrifying came out of the woods and rushed straight toward the boy.”
Reword to: “An enormous bear crashed through the woods and rushed straight toward the boy.”

3. Keep verbs with their subjects
Instead of: “The two cars almost—if the drivers didn’t slam on their brakes—collided.”
Reword to: “The two cars almost collided—but the drivers slammed on their brakes just in time.”

4. Write the verb’s intended purpose—that is what we will remember
Instead of: “The DEA didn’t want to forget the man’s face.”
(The brain registers “forget,” which is not what we want the DEA to do.)
Reword to: “The DEA determined to remember the man’s face.”
(The brain registers “remember.”)

5. Remove all unnecessary words to snag readers with the verb
Instead of: “After a long, freezing cold day filled with drizzle and fog which clouded the mind and made thinking difficult, the editor dashed into the warm coffee shop to work.”
Reword to: “The editor dashed into the warm coffee shop to work, unaffected by the freezing cold weather.”

Subconsciously they will be hooked, and your writing will make an impact, literally, in their brains.

Lora thoroughly enjoys editing fiction and nonfiction books for Christian authors. She views editing as a ministry, partnering with authors to make their writing polished and successful. She also writes a blog of “Savvy Writer Tips” to help writers spot and fix common problems. Read them on her website: or on Facebook: SavvyWriterTips. Lora’s varied life experiences help her when editing. She’s been a recorded Christian musician, a computer and web programmer, a college teacher, and a Bible study leader. She spent years oil painting and loves photography. She recently exchanged life in the big city for a cabin in the mountains where she savors gorgeous scenery, diverse wildlife, and peaceful times with family and friends.