Writing Style – Smothered Verbs

Paul’s question: “My manager was talking about smothered verbs last week. What are they and why should we avoid them?”BizWritingTip response: Smothered verbs deal with style. There is nothing wrong with them grammatically.

Smothered verbs are created when writers take our strong English verbs and turn them into nouns. They then have to insert another verb to make the sentence make sense. Writers think it makes them sound more professional.

I have a preference for (“Have a preference for” is a smothered verb.)
I prefer (The verb is not smothered.)
The accountant conducted an analysis of the figures. (smothered verb)
The accountant analyzed the figures.

Smothered verbs make sentences lengthy, and the tone is not as strong. If you reduce your use of smothered verbs, your sentences will be clearer and more concise.

Oftentimes, you can pick out a smothered verb by the word ending. Smothered verbs frequently end in –ion (e.g, recommendation), -ment ( e.g., overpayment), -sis (e.g., analysis), and -nce (e.g., preference).

A recommendation was made by staff. (smothered verb)
Staff recommended … (better)
We made an overpayment to you of $20. (smothered verb)
We overpaid you $20.