Do you want your words to create a more powerful impact on your reader? Who wouldn’t, right? One of the best tips I’ve learned when teaching college writing for over a decade is how to substitute weak words with more powerful words. 

“To Be” Verb

Sure, Shakespeare can pull off the “To Be” verb in his famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy.

But the rest of us? Honestly, most of the time that you use a “to be” verb, you are missing out on using a more powerful word that can communicate your message more clearly. Let me walk you through how to identify “to be” verbs and how to replace them.

What Are To Be Verbs?

“To be” verbs are sneaky—they crop up in nearly every sentence we write (including this one!). To Be verbs include:

  • Are
  • Is
  • Was
  • Were
  • Be
  • Am
  • Being

More often than not, whenever you use a “to be” verb, it could be replaced with a far more powerful verb.  But let’s be clear (because by now, I’m sure you’ve already seen a few of these verbs in my own text): you don’t need to remove ALL of them. In later revisions of your blog post, it’s always helpful to do a search for the words listed above & to take a second to see you could insert a more specific verb.

Remove weak words from blog posts

You’ll find instances when the “to be” verb is common & appropriate practice. For example, rather than a politician owning up to a mistake by saying, “I made a mistake” (ha! wouldn’t that be nice!), you’ll often hear something like, “A mistake was made.” It prevents them from placing blame on others or themselves. It pacifies people in that situation. Research papers commonly use the language “___ chemical was tested” because it removes the researcher from the paper. But in the case of blogging, you want that powerful impact on your reader.

Let’s look at an example of how replacing a To Be verb with a different verb packs a better punch. Check out this headline:

“9 Ways to Be More Productive”

It’s not bad right? But there’s room for improvement. What if we swap out the “Be” and rearrange words around. Try this revision:

“9 Ways to Increase Your Productivity”

That simple change gave the sentence far more directness. One important note: you’ll often find that removing a “to be” verb may mean that you need to completely rearrange a sentence. Don’t think you can simply insert a new verb where the “to be” verb is, and if you can’t, then your work is done. Quite often you can rearrange the sentence, insert that new verb, and create a much stronger sentence.

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Thing

This one trips me up a lot in my own writing. Whenever you use the word “thing”, more often than not you are missing out on an opportunity to identify a concept that you might be unconsciously glossing over. Here’s one example:

“The thing that makes motherhood rewarding is….”

What if we reword this to:

“Motherhood has a rewarding influence on my life because….”

The “thing” in the example above is unclear——by moving the words around an inserting “rewarding influence”, the sentence becomes more specific and more personable.

This example also applies to the word “stuff.”

Weak words in blog writing

Really & Very

Really and very are very weak words that you could use <—ha ha I couldn’t resist! When you add “very” or “really” you are trying to add a magnitude to a word when, more often than not, there’s a better word to use.

“The iPhone takes very good photos”

What can we do with that sentence? We don’t want to just say “The iPhone takes good photos”…it does more than that! Removing the “very” challenges you to add more power.

“The iPhone takes higher quality photos than any other phone on the market”

By removing the “very” I had an opportunity to truly identify why I should emphasize what I’m talking about. I can further explore what justifies me wanting to say “very.”

Here’s another one:

“I have a really caring husband”

Why? What about him makes him caring? By challenging that “really”, I have an opportunity to explicitly state why he is caring.

“My husband is caring because he….”

Can’t think of a way to be more specific? Then chances are the “very” or “really” aren’t needed; it’s just fluff.

Weak words in blog posts

“I think”/ “I believe”

Take a look at these two sentences and tell me which one is more powerful to you:

“I think Harry Potter is the best book series ever written.”

or

“Harry Potter is the best book series ever written.”

Second right? (and for the record, it is the best book series ever written).

I’ve always taught my students that whenever you write “I think….” or “I believe….” you open up the door for your reader to think, “Well, I don’t believe that.” You’re introducing the doubt in your credibility, instead of the readers doing it themselves.

Look at major influences out there in society. For example, people flock to financial gurus such as Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman. What makes these individuals so appealing? Their confidence. If Dave Ramsey tells you “THIS is the method you need to get out of debt” you trust him because of his confidence (and of course experience as well). Suze Orman has a similar effect: watch any of her interviews and she is emphatic about what she feels people should be doing with your money. What if she got on CNN and said, “I think that people should do X, Y, and Z.” She’s not doing that! She gets on there in her passionate voice, advising readers that they “should do X, Y, and Z”.

You, as a blogger, want that confidence. But be cautious, when you make these statements, you need to back them up with why you make those claims.

Don’t want to come on too strong? One way to soften the language a little (but to not get as soft as using “I think”) is by saying something to the effect of, “Most likely….” or “Possibly….”
Weak words in blog posts

Quite often we say “I think” or “I believe” because we already know a doubt that the reader might have. Because of that, we soften our language. I’ve found it far more effective to address those doubts of the reader head-on. I remember back in college when I knew there were certain holes in my arguments of my papers, but pushed them under the rug and hoped my professors wouldn’t notice. They always noticed. Once I began addressing those holes and stating with authority why I disagreed with them, that’s when my writing took off. For example, you could say something like, “Sure, it could be X, Y, and Z, but here’s what it really is….” <—-ha! Did you catch that? TWO “to be” verbs there!

Just like with other words in this article, the “I think” and “I believe” words could be useful in other situations (for example, “I think that your dog smells” is probably nicer than just a “your dog smells”). But in terms of writing blog posts, that could have an impact on your reader, you give off greater confidence by removing the instances of “I think” and “I believe”.

One common rule: use common sense. Have you seen that Friends Episode where Joey gets ahold of a Thesaurus and re-writes text? He wanted to say: “They’re warm, nice people with big hearts.” However, thanks to a thesaurus, the sentence turned into: “They’re humid, pre-possessing homosapiens with full-sized aortic pumps?”

That makes no sense! Don’t get so carried away with removing those words and adding new ones that the text means something completely different from what you intended.

YOUR Trigger Word

Do you overuse a certain word? I overuse “so” and “just.” For some, it’s “like”, “basically”, “likely”, “thus”, “as a result”, “typically”, etc. Those aren’t awful here and there, but if you find that you constantly write that word, you should probably pay attention to make sure that the word isn’t overused.

When to Look For These Words

I personally look for these words in the final stages of my blogging process. And it’s easier than you might think! From your keyboard, press Ctrl+F (if you have a PC) or Command+F (if you have a Mac), then type in the words, one at a time. Here’s a completely list of what words to put in:

  • Are
  • Is
  • Was
  • Were
  • Be
  • Am
  • Being
  • I think
  • I believe
  • Very

I want to open this up to YOU now—what other words we could remove from our blog posts?

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 Weak words in your blog posts

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