Writing in English: Verbs That Help Your Reader See

dog_with_glasses_by_danihee-d53949bGood writers think of one thing: how to make what they want to say as clear as possible.

In Writing In English As A Second Language, I quoted (said what someone else said) William Zinsser, who wrote that “your best tools are short, plain…active verbs…. So fall in love with active verbs. They are your best friends.”

Mike Emrick is the play-by-play announcer (person who describes a game on radio or TV) for the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team. Many people believe he’s the best. The verbs he uses are one of the reasons why. The verbs he uses help his listeners see the action.

Recently someone made a list of verbs Emerick has used to describe Blackhawk games. I’ve chosen a few of them to show how good active verbs can give your reader or listener a better idea – a picture, in fact – of what you’re describing.

You don’t need to know much about hockey to make sense of (understand) Emerick’s verbs. Just remember that in hockey, players skate back and forth on the ice and use sticks to try to hit the puck (small round piece of hard rubber) into the other team’s net, or goal. It’s like soccer on ice.

I’ve chosen two groups of verbs. The first group describes how players hit the puck. The second group describes how the puck moves, especially as it goes into the net.

Here are some of Emrick’s verbs:

Chop – He chopped at the puck. / He hit at the puck as if trying to cut something with a tool.

Finesse – He finessed the puck into the net. / He hit the puck in a skillful or expert way.

Jab – He jabbed at the puck. / He hit at the puck with short quick movements of his stick.

Muscle – He muscled the puck into the net. / He used all his strength to hit the puck into the net.

Sky – He skied the puck. / He hit the puck high into the air.

Swat – He swatted at the puck. / He tried to hit the puck the same way you would try to hit a mosquito or some other insect that was bothering you.

Hop – The puck hopped into the net. / The puck jumped into the net like a rabbit.

Curl – The puck curled into the net. / The puck moved into the net in a curved (not straight), or circular, line.

Trickle – The puck trickled into the net. / The puck moved slowly into the net, little by little.

Skitter – The puck skittered across the ice. / The puck moved lightly and quickly, like a small animal.

If you do a lot of reading and listening, and pay attention to the verbs writers and speakers use, you’ll discover many more good active verbs.

Can you think of some other good active verbs for hockey or soccer? Let’s see how many verbs we can come up with that fit one of the sentences I used above – He _____ the puck (or ball) or The puck (or ball) _____ into the net. Add your verbs to the comments.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site.

Photo from Deviantart used under Creative Commons license.

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15 Responses to Writing in English: Verbs That Help Your Reader See

  1. peter says:

    Folks ,
    I was let go today !
    Well ,at first ,once ,I was delivered the news , I didn’t take it very well. I was completely out of sorts.
    U know They shimmied me into funk. But ? I snapped out of it.
    Now I have all the time in the world to do things that I have postponed doing it as I was snowed by work.
    In fact , I started it already
    as the first order of business I m planing on runing and swimming for 2 hours everyday in order to whip my body back into shape. My job was very sedentary. I was behind the desk calling people 8 hours weekdays and every other Saturday
    See, There is a silver lining in every gloomy cloud. U just need to put a right spin to it

    Chances are you see more of me around the blog. Poor you ;)))

  2. peter says:

    Hi Warren ,
    Very interesting post.
    U know it is English writing 101. The first rule in writing is to use active word and decorate it wit adjective to show the motion.
    I vividly remember instead of i remember
    Adjectives if they are used right play a major role here.

    Well , I must say I like the verbs but the first two. They vaguely express the motion he is trying to picture. See , “vaguely express” as oppose to “don’t express”
    As a matter of fact , I think it is the adjective that does the job.
    However ,utilizing a active verb is as important as any part of it.
    I like the way you engage us in the end.
    There are some ideas fermenting in my head as we speak. The thing is , u never mentioned if we have just one shot at it, or we can run wild with it.
    Besides , are we allowed to use adjectives to decorate the active verb?
    Well , I suspect u want us to try just active verbs ? no adjective and in one try.
    Thanks God the test is not time sensitive.
    Well , I m whip sth up here using my instinct! I don’t wanna wreck my brain for it. Probably , if I think about it I will blow it.
    What was the sentence in question? Oh there are two blanks to it.
    He _____ the puck (or ball) or

    The puck (or ball) _____ into the net.

    Hum, what are they gonna be?
    For the first one i would say
    “He slid the puck in ”
    For The second one I would say; hum, a bit more challenging. The guy has used all the good verbs already and I don’t want Warren accuses me of plagiarism.
    Where did I put my cheat sheet ?:))))
    Holy cow !!!
    Just came to me.
    The puck ricocheted off the post into the net .


  3. Dan says:

    Hey Hi Warren,

    Wait, wait, this looks simple but it’s not. I just got home and I am not 100%.
    I am staring at those two spaces with my mouth slightly open and nothing in my brain moves, Why!?.
    Ok, let me see, this is going to take time.

    KICK, He kicked the ball EXPLODE, The ball exploded into the net.
    PET, He petted the ball TWIST, The ball twisted into the net
    CARESS, He caressed the ball SLAM, The ball slammed into the net.
    SLAP, He slapped the ball TWEET, The ball tweeted into the net
    BANG, He banged the ball SOAP, the puck soaped into the net
    SPANK, He spanked the ball SWOOSH, The puck swooshed into the net
    SPIT, He spitted the puck RAT, The puck ratted into the net.
    Am I doing alright? I ‘ll go ahead.

    I am done and I promise I did not look those up online. How did I do?
    Hope I did get what I had to do.


  4. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    Nothing to say for now.

  5. Warren Ediger says:

    A word of explanation: I wrote two sentences for each verb. The first sentence is an example of how the verb would look/sound in a sentence. The second sentence explains the meaning of the verb; adjectives were necessary to do that. I was going to put the second sentence in parentheses – ( ) – like we usually do, but I thought it looked better this way.

    One thing to learn here is that if you use a good, descriptive verb, you don’t need all the adjectives.

  6. peter says:

    Seems like we can come up with more

    The puck made a hole into the net
    The puck swang into the net
    The puck glued down into the net
    The puck swooshed into the net
    He tossed the puck
    He span the puck
    He hit the puck
    He shoot the puck


  7. Dan says:

    Good morning everyone.

    I am back after a god sleep and the brain is fresh and reinvigorated.
    Thank you for the explanation Warren, when it comes to do tests I am mentally slow.

    I was thinking to a sexual toy analogy but I am not sure I can use it here. I mean it’s not so dirty/naughty, and it gives out the idea well in my opinion.
    Meh, better not I have received death treat already.
    If you let the brain loose you can come up with many analogies.

    I was thinking something like: BAKE The puck backed into the net. You know, like when you introduce something into the oven.
    SHOOT He shot the ball.
    HAMMER, He hammered the ball

    What about this one, I like it:
    HULK He Hulked the ball. Who does not know The incredible Hulk?

    And this one? ISS He ISSed the ball. ISS (International Space Station

    PHONE He phoned the ball. With this I mean One player passing the ball to another one.

    DRONE When it goes into the net silently and efficiently.
    METEOR? Can I use it as a verb? meteors travel very very fast.

    I better stop here. I do not know how I am doing, and start feeling like a stupid.

    Bye for now.

  8. Dan says:

    Hi guys.
    Let’s pop out verbs everyone like the Duggar family is popping out children.


  9. Dan says:

    Hi, back home again.

    TELEPORTED I had in mind that technology they use in Star Trek for transporting people from a to b
    SWALLOW The pluck got swallowed into the net.
    TICKLE He tickled the ball

    I think I delivered all I got. I feel empty.
    Right now I am going to bed, maybe tomorrow morning. Night.

  10. Dan says:

    Hey people.
    I am going to watch a few videos about verbs.
    I saw there are many on you tube.
    Even funny ones for kids.

  11. emiliano says:

    He smash the puck and it sticks to the red instantly.

    That´s all from me.

    Thank you Warren. emililano

  12. Dan says:

    Hey everyone.

    How are you guys doing? I am good,little tired, but good.
    I just wanted to say that my consumption of sport is zero. I no longer watch TV, I am always on you tube.
    I like the website and I almost always find there what I was looking for.

    Hey, I like the post’s title. Verbs that helps us see.
    I used to read more when younger, and one of the things I remember enjoying the most was how some really good writers where able to describe a scene
    that magically formed in my brain.
    I read a lot from French authors such as: Flaubert and Balzac.
    I remember a scene from madame Bovary,I believe, of a wedding ceremony. It was so well described I could see everything in my head. I read the Italian translation.
    I do not know french.

    Now I do not read that much.
    BTW, I wanna share with you something I read the other day that made me smile:
    Big hat no cattle. I love it! That would be someone who wanna show out, but in reality is without money.
    It’s probably better having a small hat, but with more cattle.


  13. Dan says:


    I like the verbs HOP and CURL.
    Just the sound of HOP make you think of something jumping around.
    And CURL in my brain is linked to one of cats’ favorite position, so that is easy to remember.

    CHOP sound familiar with me because of the printing press I operate on has a part that is called CHOPPER. That’s because it’s just like a huge knife that pushes the paper into two rollers.
    Actually when the press is running you can almost hear the sound CHOP CHOP CHOP.

    A verb similar to HOP could be CRAWL The puck crawled into the net, you know, like a snake does.

    Now that I think about that, the simple act of kicking a ball could be described in countless ways.
    First think comes to mind of course is a powerful kick, but you can also just BRUSH IT, with a gentle touch.

    Unfortunately, as I said before my vocabulary is very limited. I am aware of that.


  14. Dan says:

    Hi me again sorry

    There is so much white space here to be filled.

    I was thinking that often we do not appreciate, so to say, Verbal finesse like for example Mike Emrick the announcer does.

    We are so distracted that we do not even notice that. I’ll try to be more aware of that next times.

    Thanks Warren for lighting a little light in my brain.

  15. peter says:

    Good show Dan,
    U r a tough act to follow. I could come up with just a handful.


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