I came across a writing test which marks the quality of what you have written. In my results, I was advised to use "strong verbs" which definition I couldn't understand. Please tell me what it means, why it is advised to use strong verbs and how do I master this.


When you live in the city where people keep dying, ...

Here, "in the city" demands the use of "strong verbs".

  • Strong verbs are irregular verbs
    – Maulik V
    May 26, 2016 at 11:30
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    Please add a link to the writing test you found.
    – MorganFR
    May 26, 2016 at 11:40
  • @MorganFR It's a writing test on paper so I'm afraid I can't tell you a link. May 26, 2016 at 12:21
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    Though the term "strong verbs" as explained by others is technically correct, I can't see why your teacher or test examiner would advise you "to use 'strong verbs'" in this case. (It would've made more sense if they had advised you to use 'strong verbs' "appropriately/correctly". Another possibility is that they were trying to advise you to use "power words" more often, but then again, 'strong verbs' is not the best way to put it, in my humble opinion.) May 26, 2016 at 12:42
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    Apparently, some people seem to indeed use "strong verbs" in the meaning of "power(ful) words/verbs". Here is one such example: allendalek8.com/cms/lib7/NJ01001462/Centricity/Domain/90/…. May 26, 2016 at 12:51

3 Answers 3


It's true that "strong verbs" could mean "irregular verbs" as suggested by others (and a quick search would give you similar information), but I think in your context, which is feedback on a piece of writing in a writing test, it makes more sense to understand this "strong verbs" as powerful verbs (also known as power verbs or power words) commonly used in essay writing.

I'm not familiar with calling these verbs "strong verbs", but, clearly, some people call them so. From a page on Sophia Learning:

  1. Strong verbs create a detailed picture in the reader's mind.
    weak verb: The lion is fighting with a zebra.
    strong verb: The lion attacked a zebra.

  2. Strong verbs convey a degree of meaning to the reader.
    weak verb: The customer asked the clerk to check the price.
    strong verb: The customer demanded the clerk check the price.

  3. Strong verbs directly connect the subject to the action in the sentence.
    weak verb: The car was washed by Mark.
    strong verb: Mark washed the car.

BONUS: Even though each writing test may have its own criteria, we can assume that any writing tests share more or less the same criteria. In other words, they want to assess your writing ability. In IELTS Academic Writing, the four main criteria are:

- Task Achievement/Response (depending on the task)
- Coherence and Cohesion
- Lexical Resource
- Grammatical Range and Accuracy.

So, using the right word choices in your essay counts. If your word choices are too plain, the test examiner may understand that your lexical resource (i.e., vocabulary) is limited.

To demonstrate this point, let's weaken an example sentence on the IELTS Academic Writing description page!

Original (stronger): This criterion is concerned with the overall clarity and fluency of the message: how the response organises and links information, ideas and language.

Edited (weaker): This part is about seeing if the writing is clear, and if the test taker is fluent. We would like to see if the output has enough structure, and also if its information, ideas, and language go together well.

But, be warned! I'm not saying that you should aim at using the fanciest words you can think of in your essay! If you can't control them well, they'll know. So, make sure that you know these words well enough before using them in the test. Keep in mind that though words are important, other criteria are important, too, that is, whether your essay is strong or weak is not only about your word choices.

Happy learning!

  • 1
    And "the city denied permission to build X", "Somebody assassinated the mayor", "some soldiers massacred innocent civilians", "city council erected a magnificent monument", etc. Basically the city is a big place, so strong words are used to add effect to the language. May 26, 2016 at 17:17
  • So now it's okay to offer general writing advice (which is somewhat opinionated) based on a guess as to what the question is asking, meanwhile ignoring the specific clause asked about in the question, specially the assertion about the given prepositional phrase? My gosh what has the SE Model come to? No DV from me, though. May 26, 2016 at 18:39
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    @AlanCarmack I wish I knew why they gave "strong verbs" for in the city, too. I agree with them that When you live in the city where people keep dying, ... is a bit weak, but I wouldn't suggest that the verb was the problem. It's hard to suggest anything substantially without seeing the whole sentence, though. I just hope that we've made the meaning of "strong verbs" in the context of writing tests clear for the OP. May 26, 2016 at 18:49

Strong verbs are irregular verbs (be, go, come, etc) whereas weak verbs are regular.

The term "strong" has been inherited from Old English grammar, and a great many of today's irregular forms are descendants of common Old English verbs.

Here's the list of most common irregular verbs.

If you render your sentence to "When you are in the city..." or "When you dwell in the city...", it'll become a sentence with irregular (strong) verb "to be" or "to dwell".

And here are the rules for using irregular verbs.

  • Thanks for the answer. Can you also explain how I'd use this application in my example sentence? May 26, 2016 at 12:21
  • No I can't. Test was on a paper. Also, I just need to know how strong verbs actually work. Is link to the test relevant here? May 26, 2016 at 12:31
  • Rees@ Added the link to the rules for using irregular verbs.
    – Victor B.
    May 26, 2016 at 12:41
  • Live is not a strong verb in the way you are using the term. May 26, 2016 at 15:59
  • @Rompey thanks. I will have a look at them now. 😊 May 26, 2016 at 16:15

Your writing test is wrong. In

When you live in the city where people keep dying,...

the prepositional phrase in the city does not demand a strong verb.

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