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Compounding Problems

Here’s the thing about compound verbs (verb + preposition). Because the verb is generally a multipurpose verb (such as “get,” a much overused verb) and because prepositions are typically location, all you’re getting out of the deal as a writer is a vague overview of the situation. Let’s talk about Yosef.

Yosef, feeling his years, got onto the plane.

We can guess from the “feeling his years” that Yosef is an older man, but “got onto” doesn’t follow up, it makes a generic statement of movement. A five year old and a ninety year old both “get onto” a plane. “Get onto” doesn’t provide the reader any significant information. In writing, you don’t want to waste space. Replacing a generic compound verb with a more exact single verb is the ideal way to use the same space provided, in a superior way.

Yosef, feeling his years, shuffled aboard the plane.

A verb like “shuffle” gives us more specific information about the way he moves, emphasizing his age. The writer is providing the reader a visual image, not just a direction. Let’s look at one more example:

The waiter set down the flaming dessert with a gesture toward it.

Once again, the reader is provided a verb of action (“set”) and a preposition to indicate direction (“down”). I’ve given you a second compound verb at the end (“gesture toward”) that also has a broad definition. Directions provide the reader some information, but as in the earlier example, we’re looking for some kind of flavor. Finding superior verbs makes a great deal of difference.

The waiter presented the flaming dessert with a flourish of his hand. 

Exercise time:

1. Figure out how many ways you can use the following compound verbs:

-Let out

-Get down

2. Try to think of twenty compound verbs and twenty single verb replacements for the compounds.

For my more specific gripe about the verb “get,” see  “Get Rid of Got!”

Looking for more tips? Here’s what’s up so far. More to come!

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