Writers commonly use "be" verbs, also known as "being verbs," "to be verbs" and "linking verbs," to convey meaning in essays. However, replacing some linking verbs that make boring or repetitive structures with action verbs creates more effective writing, resulting in more specific sentences and a more professional, sophisticated tone overall.
Linking verbs convey a state of being rather than an action. The most common "to be" verbs are "am," "is," "are," "was," "were," "be," "been," "being," "become," "became" and "seem." These verbs have an important function in the English language since they help writers indicate temporal relationships between ideas. For instance, "was" indicates an event took place in the past, "is" indicates the action is currently occurring and "will be" illustrates a future event.
Replace linking verbs with words that convey action to create more vivid, effective writing. Action verbs include words like "walk," "drives" and "sang." Substituting action verbs for "be" verbs leads to better and more descriptive writing because it gets straight to the point, thereby minimizing wordiness, and is less repetitive. You can sometimes eliminate "be" verbs entirely. Here are some examples:
This paper is about the Civil War. This paper discusses the Civil War.
The two restaurants are very different in their service. The two restaurants differ greatly in their service.
There are many reasons for the discrepancy. Many factors cause the discrepancy.
"Be" verbs often occur when writers use passive voice, a grammatical structure in which the subject is acted upon by the object, such as in the sentence, "The bill was passed by the committee." Passive voice tends to create a dry, prosaic tone readers typically find monotonous and difficult to read. Passive voice can be effective to change the emphasis of the sentence, but active voice eliminates the linking verb: "The committee passed the bill."
At times, "to be" verbs are necessary in writing. When writers pair them with words ending in "-ing" they become helping verbs and typically need to appear to establish the time element as in "The boys are walking home after school" (present tense) as opposed to "The boys were walking home after school" (past tense). The linking verb in the latter sentence can be easily replaced by saying "The boys walked home after school" instead, which reduces wordiness and sounds better. The linking verb in the first sentence, however, cannot be eliminated because the sentence would not make sense without the "were." In other cases, you can replace the weak linking verb with another, less common verb that indicates a state of being, such as revising "The sunset is beautiful" to "The sunset looks beautiful." Such revision reduces the redundancy associated with the primary linking verbs.
Kristie Sweet has been writing professionally since 1982, most recently publishing for various websites on topics like health and wellness, and education. She holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Northern Colorado.