Energize Your College Admissions Essay with Active Verbs

Teen jumping in the water at sunset, College Admissions Essay Tips for Active Verbs

Verbs, aka action words, have the power to imbue your writing with energy, and even create a sense of mood. In the following excerpt (from a college essay written by H. Charles), notice how the verbs we’ve bolded bring the passage to life. 

Muttering, I scavenge the pile, hunting for my first target. It is usually a youthful log, an easy split. I lift it to my chopping block and stand it on end. A small crack in the log’s center lines up with the center of my body and the maul’s blade. I focus, almost willing the log to fall apart. My base widens; I shuffle my feet. The maul’s head drops low, nearly scraping the pavement, and then, in a contained fury, arcs high over my head and strikes downward. The force of the blow powers into the log, cleaving it into two neat halves. 

Without realizing it, we often fall back on the most common “to be” verbs (am, are, was, is, were, been, being). While these have their time and place, it’s critical that as writers, we select our verbs intentionally to make the picture in our head feel real to the reader.

Your Turn!
  1. In your draft, highlight every “to be” verb (am, are, was, is, were, been, being). 
  2. Now see if you can replace some of these words with verbs that are more interesting and revealing

* This exercise can also be done with a hard copy. With a pen or pencil, circle every “to be” verb, and then consider what replacements you might make. 

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