So was Hamlet confronting an existential moment … or just contemplating grammar? He probably was composing an email and noticed how often he’d relied on the unexciting verb “to be” (“I am,” “you are,” “she will have been,” “they were,” “we had been,” etc.). No wonder the poor guy was so anxious and perplexed. Overusing forms of “to be” is a common failing when we want to lend more zest or finesse to our writing.
Not to worry, though. Here’s a quick practice session on using a lively verb or verb phrase in lieu of some form of “to be” – or just eliminating “to be.” (Note that sometimes “to be” is part of a phrase that contains a strong verb, such as in “Dawn was ejected from the team” or “Drew will be honored for his efforts.” That’s fine. We’re focusing on forms of “to be” when they’re not linked to a strong verb.)
Your challenge sentences
1. Dave will be responsible for the refreshments.
2. I believe I introduced you to Dina, who is our newest life trustee.
3. At the end of his orientation, Dan was skillful at fielding questions.
4. Did you remember to collect all the flowers that were left on the stage?
5. Deb and Don are excellent at building client loyalty.
6. Several of us were wondering who will be the best candidate.
7. DeeDee should be the chair of the panel because she is someone we all respect.
My suggested solutions
1. We can improve “will be responsible for.” Dave will handle (or manage) the refreshments.
2. We can delete “who is.” I believe I introduced you to Dina, our newest life trustee.
3. We can improve “was skillful at fielding.” At the end of his orientation, Dan skillfully fielded questions.
4. We can delete “that were.” Did you remember to collect all the flowers left on the stage?
5. We can improve “are excellent.” Deb and Don excel at building client loyalty.
6. We can improve “will be.” Several of us were wondering who will emerge as the best candidate.
7. We can improve “should be the chair” and “is someone.” DeeDee should chair the panel because she commands everyone’s respect.
“To be” is a cornerstone of our communication. It will always be the verb we use the most. But when we are writing something that deserves extra time, a sure way to add a touch of elegance is making a few edits like the ones above.
In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml.