Do you worry that the tone of your writing sounds overly formal, or worse, induces sleep? If so, you’re probably using too many fake verbs. Meaning, you convert verbs to fake verbs i.e. nouns, and with that, create wordy, pompous-sounding constructions. This post defines camouflaged verbs, provides a few edited examples, and offers tips to replace them.
Defining Camouflaged Verbs
The Plain Language Institute describes camouflaged verbs—also known as ‘hidden verbs’—as a verb the writer converted into a noun. Typically, hidden verbs require extra verbs—and other words—to make sense. Two forms exist including:
-Nouns ending with –ment, -tion, -sion, and ance.
-Nouns linked with verbs like achieve, effect, give, have, make, reach, and take.
A few small examples follow (and I’ve italicized the fake verbs):
Get shipment notifications on your mobile device with the free Amazon app. (The real verbs become ‘notify’ and ‘ship.’)
An edit might read: We’ll notify your mobile device (with the free Amazon app) when we’ve shipped your order.
Please make an application for the job vs. please apply for the job.
Please check your email for order confirmation and detailed delivery information vs. We’ll confirm your order (and delivery) via email.
It’s okay to change tactical direction vs. It’s okay to redirect.
I must make an assumption here: we don’t have your cooperation for this proposal vs. I assume you won’t cooperate for this proposal.
You do not have permission to access this item vs. you’re not permitted to access this item.
I place a lot of importance on the strong management of my team vs. I value managing my team well. (Or, I value strongly managing my team.)
Analyzing when to Change Camouflaged Verbs
So when do we convert these nouns back to verbs? In some cases, converting a hidden verb back to a real one makes no sense—and can even add more words. (Brevity always must rule.)
Also, certain camouflaged verbs must remain that way including: management, operations, or, any other technical term your team/audience might feel lost if they no longer see in writing.
Others feel worth tackling, in my view, because even if writers use the hidden verb prolifically, it might remain unclear, pompous, and vague sounding.
The popular word ‘solutions’ remains a camouflaged verb; the real verb becomes ‘solve.’ Yet ‘solutions’ seems ubiquitous, vague, jargon-y, and marketing-like in tone. Bravely change ‘solutions’ to ‘solve’ and then tell us specifically— using plain, clear language— what issue/challenge you hope to solve with your approach. You’ll sound much more strident (and clever) with this writing style. You’ll also stand out.
Fixing the Blighters
Now we know how (and when) to spot camouflaged verbs in our writing, let’s look at ways to fix them. These few short steps have helped me change my ways:
-Block off a few moments for a line edit and diligently look for those endings (-ment, -tion, -sion, and -ance) in your words.
-Determine the real verb.
-Re-write the sentence using the real vs. the hidden verb.
Have fun uncloaking those fake verbs and circle back for more business communication tips next week!