If you have never been to a Waffle House, the title of this blog post made absolutely zero sense to you.

If you have been to a Waffle House, then you know they have yummy hashbrowns. And you also know they can be ordered in a variety of delicious ways:

  • Scattered on the grill (in other words, plain)
  • Smothered with sauteed onions
  • Covered with melted cheese
  • Chunked with grilled hickory smoked ham
  • Diced with grilled tomatoes
  • Peppered with spicy jalapeno peppers
  • Capped with grilled button mushrooms
  • Topped with bert’s chili
  • Country with sausage gravy

So if you want onions, cheese, and ham with your hashbrowns, you would order them “scattered, smothered, covered, and chunked.”

Why am I going on about hashbrowns in a post about nonprofit writing? Well, I have not eaten breakfast so when I sat down to write about smothered verbs, all I could think about was hashbrowns. You’re welcome.

Anyway, while smothered is a popular option for Waffle House hashbrowns, it should be avoided when choosing your verbs.

What Is a Smothered Verb?

A smothered verb is a noun that could have been a verb.

Smothered verbs are usually surrounded by lots of unnecessary words, including other verbs, to compensate for the original verb losing its power.

Example: The executive director came to the conclusion that she would extend an invitation to the reporter to visit after she had a discussion with him about homelessness. 

Can you find the three smothered verbs in that sentence?

“Came to the conclusion” can be replaced with “concluded.”

“Extend an invitation” can be replaced with “invite.”

“Had a discussion” can be replaced with “discussed.”

Fixed: The executive director concluded she would invite the reporter to visit after discussing homelessness with him. 

Smothered verbs weaken your writing. You’re using more words than necessary which means it’s not as easy to read as it could be. They can be especially damaging when you are creating calls to action.

  • Use “Donate” instead of “Make a donation.”
  • Use “Choose” instead of “Make a choice.”
  • Use “Decide” instead of “Make a decision.”

These replacements are not only less words, they are also pack more of a punch.  Your supporters aren’t really “making” anything – you want them to “DO” something.

(Struggle with wordiness? You should also read these other blog posts I have written.)

If you have trouble spotting smothered verbs, look for these endings on your nouns:

-tion
-sion
-ment
-mant
-ant
-ent
-ence
-ance

If you see a noun with one of those endings, stop and see if you could use it as a verb instead of a noun.

Practice by changing these nouns into verbs:

  • Decision
  • Assessment
  • Acceptance
  • Invitation
  • Failure
  • Agreement
  • Investigation
  • Consideration

From now on, let’s leave the smothering to the professionals at Waffle House.

Published On: June 20, 2018|Categories: Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Writing|

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