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The Virtues of Nouns and Verbs

June 11, 2021

All the parts of speech are necessary in good writing, of course. Without all the parts, our speech would be strange indeed! But as you will learn in the English Department of Southern Adventist University, some parts of speech are more equal than others. That is, some parts of speech, when used correctly, will increase the vivid quality of your writing.

Vivid writing is built around two parts of speech, nouns and verbs. This concept goes against assumptions most people have about “descriptive” writing, which they imagine is full of adjectives. This is not true.

Note this example passage from Barry Bearak, “Muslims Fear India’s Voting Will Erode Their Tiny State,” The New York Times, September 19, 1999. All nouns and verbs are underlined. Nouns and verbs which are used as adjectives are in bold.

“In the slums of East Jogeshwari, the hovelspile atop each other, puny cavities of weathered  concrete and battered  sheet metal. Mohammed Kaseem’s room, which he shares with his wife and three children, is a short downhill stroll from a buffalo shed. The smell of manureis carried in the wayward night  breezes. Flies, crazed  with motion, do an air  dance in every shaft of light.

This text is extremely vivid and imagistic, but note the source of its power. The passage is loaded with concrete nouns and active verbs.

When you write, you should, when appropriate, focus on choosing vivid nouns and active verbs. It is hard to be a bad writer if you obey this one rule.

One final idea: of nouns and verbs, the noun is the most important. To name things is to picture them for an audience. Descriptive writing is not flowery writing full of adjectives. Writing is fundamentally about nouns, nouns, nouns.