Lift the Fog and Make the Point Stick: Concrete Nouns and Precise Verbs
Does your motion to the court say
“The Sheriff performed an execution by taking possession of the furnishings and appurtenances of the enterprise’s economic activity.”
Ask yourself, “Will readers see in their minds the things and actions you want to stand out?”
Readers will “see it” if you use concrete nouns and precise verbs.
First, check your nouns. Are they too abstract or vague?
What do you see when you read, “appurtenances of the enterprise's economic activity”?
Then, evaluate your verbs. Are they mushy? Do they tell the reader what the action is?
When the Sheriff performed an execution – did he take a bow and did the audience applaud?
Let’s lift the fog and let the judge visualize our client’s problem by editing the motion to read:
“The Sheriff seized all the mechanic’s tools, thereby putting him out of business.”
Do you need to be even more specific? Sometimes, depending on – you guessed it – context, audience, and purpose.
When we edited the motion to the court, it was enough to identify the mechanic’s tools as central to the plaintiff’s livelihood.
If you were writing a letter to the defendant’s lawyer demanding immediate return of the items, you would be more specific. You might list each item and even include their value.
Let’s try some more:
Concrete Nouns: Now You See It
We asked our students to vanquish abstract nouns. Here are some of their edits.
|“The plaintiff has a property interest in the home”.||The plaintiff has a two-year lease for the entire second floor of the defendant’s home.|
|“Under the parent’s separation agreement, the mother has a financial obligation to the child.”||The parents’ separation agreement required the mother to pay the daughter’s undergraduate college tuition.|
|We will ask the tribunal to remedy the unfairness in this situation.||We will ask the tribunal to order the employer to reinstate the plaintiff in her administrative assistant job.|
Hunt for Mushy Verbs
We asked our students to revamp mushy verbs. Here are some of their edits.
|Applications for business licences are handled by the commission staff.||The commission staff issue business licences.|
|The senior partner manages the hiring of staff in the law firm.||The senior partner hires the staff in the law firm.|
|The expert report indicated several possible reasons for the damage to the plaintiff’s property||The expert report established several possible reasons for the damage to the plaintiff’s property.|
Our students found that when they examined sentences for imprecise verbs, they also noticed vague and abstract nouns they could edit. Here are some more examples from our students’ papers.
|Singh proceeded with a review of the evidence. He reached out to counsel for the co-accused and indicated he would consider a modification of his client’s plea.||After reviewing the videotape of the robbery, Singh telephoned the co-accused’s counsel to tell her that Singh’s client would be pleading guilty to a lesser charge.|
|You have advised me of your argument with your neighbor about the fence separating your properties.||You told me you argued with your neighbor about the fence separating your properties.|
Keep a list of the mushy verbs you find in your work. Here is a list to start you off.
The mushy verb list:
|indicates||demonstrates or proves or establishes|
|indicated||said or told|
|suggest||show or state|
|contacted||telephoned or wrote or emailed or spoke to|
|deemed||think or consider|