Business Writing Tip #59—Building Sentences: Verbs

In my last post I talked about sentences and subjects. Remember there are three essential elements in a sentence:

  1. The subject or subjects,
  2. A verb or verbs, and
  3. Punctuation.

Today I’m going to look at verbs. We won’t be able to cover everything about verbs in one post, but we’ll make a start.

Action verbs are the strongest kind of verb we use. They are direct and often dramatic. Compare the sentence, “The cat was in the room”, with these two new versions. Cat photo

  1. The cat prowled around in the room.
  2. The cat napped in the room.

In these two sentences something is happening.

Linking verbs do just what their name says. They link things to each other. They might link nouns to subjects, or pronouns or adjectives to a subject. They don’t add any action to a sentence but they have an important role. They give you additional information about a condition or state of being. Think about:

The most common linking verb is “to be”.

  • His mother was an author.

Other, rather more interesting, linking verbs include:

  • Feel, sound, taste, look, smells, grow, seem, appear and remain.

Here are some examples.

  • She felt ill.
  • He looks strange.
  • It seems like fun.
  • The aromas from the kitchen smell good.

If you just wrote ‘she felt’ or ‘it seems’ the sentence is missing something. These verbs invite you to continue. They lead you on to finish the sentence.

And here’s a simple test to help you work out if a verb is a linking verb. If you can replace the verb by am, is or are and the sentence still makes sense, it’s a linking verb.

With the above examples we would have:

  • She is ill.
  • He is strange.
  • It is fun.
  • The aromas from the kitchen are good.

So they are linking verbs.

There’s another thing about linking verbs. This category is finite—I can make a list of all the linking verbs. Some verbs are always linking verbs, and others may be linking verbs but can also be action verbs.

The verbs that are always linking verbs are:

  • Become
  • Be
  • Seem

Nice and easy, isn’t it? Only three to remember.

The list of those that may be linking verbs is a little longer.

Feel Grow Look
Appear Remain Smell
Sound Stay Taste
Turn Prove

Here’s an example of a verb “taste” used in one sentence as a linking verb, and in the next as an action verb.

  • The food tasted really delicious.
  • The woman tasted the food before serving it to her young child.

In my next post I’ll look at another category of verbs. These are given various names depending on what you are reading. Some people call them auxiliary verbs. Others like to keep things simple and call them helping verbs.

Until next time…


Business Writing Tip #58—Building Sentences: Subjects

Today I thought we’d start a tour of how sentences are made up. There are three essential elements in a sentence, the building blocks of a sentence:building blocks 1

  1. The subject or subjects,
  2. A verb or verbs, and
  3. Punctuation.

So a sentence can be as simple as:

  • Fred swims.

Today we’ll focus on subjects.

The subject of the sentence is the actor, and usually it is near the beginning of a sentence.

To find the subject ask yourself the question, “Who or what is this sentence about?”

  • Samuel wrote the report.

In this sentence when you ask who or what it’s about, the answer is “Samuel”. “Samuel” is the subject of the sentence.

The subjects of sentences are often nouns (words that name), but not always.

They can be pronouns (words that take the place of nouns).

  • She finishes work at 6 pm each day.

They can also be gerunds. Gerunds are the “–ing” form of the verb used as a noun. They usually represent physical or mental activities. “

Let’s take the verb “write”. It has an –ing form which we use often to indicate an action is continuing.

  • Christine is writing.

But we can use “writing” as a noun (a gerund).

  • Writing can be great fun if you like playing around with words.

When I ask who or what this sentence is about, it’s about “writing” – so “writing” is the subject.

Here are some more examples of gerunds:

  • Running up hills can be hard work.
  • Jumping over tall buildings is something only Superman seems able to manage.
  • Swimming in the sea in rough weather isn’t a good idea.
  • Thinking critically is good exercise for your brain.
  • Feeling bad about what you did doesn’t change anything.

We can also use the “to” form of a verb, the infinitive form, as the subject of a sentence.

  • To drive through peak hour traffic in Dubai can be terrifying.

The final type of word we can use as a subject is something called the “understood” subject. This is when the subject is not stated. Take a look at this sentence:

  • Please finish the report by 3 pm tomorrow.

The “understood” subject is you.

Business Writing Tip #57—More Conjunctions

You may remember some time back I posted about coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. In this post I want to talk about correlative conjunctions.

Correlative conjunctions join words, or work groups, that are of equal importance. They come in pairs. Here’s a list of the most common correlative conjunctions.

  • not only . . . but also
  • whether . . . or
  • both . . . and
  • not . . . but
  • either . . . or
  • as . . . as
  • neither . . . nor

And here are some examples:

  • You may have either entrée or dessert.
  • I want both the black dress and the pink sweater.
  • He is neither too fat nor too thin.


I also thought I’d include a reminder about subordinating conjunctions. They indicate either

  • cause and effect,
  • concession,
  • condition,
  • comparison or contrast,
  • purpose, or
  • space or time.

Here’s a table showing the most common ones.

subordinating conjunctions

Business Writing Tip #56—A bit more about rhetoric

Today I thought I’d share three more rhetorical devices that you can use in writing or in presentations.

Rhetorical Questions

One of the most well-known rhetorical devices is the rhetorical question. This is a question that we ask without expecting an answer. We ask it for effect. Your audience knows the answer to the question. In presentations, asking a negative question is an effective way to get your audience to think about something.

Just because it's spring and the flowers are beautiful

Just because it’s spring and the flowers are beautiful

Think about:

  • Shouldn’t we be learning from our mistakes?
  • Don’t we all know that this is true?
  • Isn’t this what we need to do know?

Contrasts and Opposites

Another fairly simple technique. It’s most effective when you make your main point second.

  • If we don’t seize the opportunity, someone else will.
  • Some people are saying we can’t afford to pay for staff training. I say we can’t afford not to.
  • Five years ago this company was going nowhere; today we’re number one in the industry.


By reversing the word order in a statement, you can add a sense of formality.


  • We’ve done better in Central Europe than anywhere.
  • Nowhere have we done better than in Central Europe.

Business Writing Tip #55—A word or two about rhetoric

I don’t know how often you hear the phrase, “It’s just rhetoric”. I hear it a lot. It seems to be the usual response to a politician’s promise. And it seems to suggest that rhetoric is a bad thing.

Somewhere we seem to have lost the original meaning of the word “rhetoric”. My trusty dictionary (The Concise Oxford Dictionary) defines it as “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing”.

Perhaps people object to being “persuaded”. It may be that they consider “persuasion” to be a synonym for “unethical manipulation”. Well, I think it’s time we reclaimed “rhetoric” as a useful and powerful tool in our writing toolbox.rhetoric

In business we often try to persuade people.

  • We want to persuade our customers to buy our products or services.
  • We want to persuade our clients to accept our proposals.
  • We may even want to persuade our bosses to give us a pay rise.

Careful use of rhetorical devices can help. And there are many that we can choose from. In this post we’ll look at three.

Sound Repetition (Alliteration)

This technique calls for us to repeat an initial consonant sound in a series of words. It’s fairly simple to do and can be very powerful.

“Let us go forth to lead the land we love.” (J F Kennedy)

Repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses (Anaphora)

With this technique we repeat a word, or words, two, three or more times. In the example both “we shall” and “we shall fight” are repeated to give emphasis to the words. And to make them memorable.

“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.” (Winston Churchill)

Series of three parallel statements (Tricolon)

Lists of three are powerful. People can remember three things without much effort. Think about it. If you lose your shopping list with three items on it, you’re much more likely to remember what to buy than if you try to remember your lost shopping list of ten items.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” (Benjamin Franklin)