Do you ever go over a rough draft and wonder why it’s not quite landing as strongly as you’d hoped? Maybe the characterization is solid and the plot points are all artfully arranged, but it’s just not hitting the desired emotional impact. It might be that your prose is a victim of weak verbs, which are keeping it from being the very best it can be.

As you may remember from primary school, verbs are carriers of action—and action is the carrier of story. That means finding the right descriptive verb for the right moment can go a long way when it comes to elevating your work.

Let’s look at what it means to use vivid verbs in writing, how to get rid of some of the more tedious common verbs in your work, and some examples of vivid verbs that you can shamelessly pilfer to take your story to the next level.

What are vivid verbs?

“Vivid verbs” are active words that convey a clear, concise, and evocative action to the reader, and that are strong enough to stand alone without additional adverbs or description. For example, “shuffle” and “saunter” are two vivid verbs that describe the act of walking, each with different connotations and imagery, that we can use instead of saying “walked slowly” or “walked lazily.”

Another example might be variations of the word “eat.” If you have a character eating in a scene, that can mean a lot of different things depending on who the character is and what sort of preconceptions the reader is carrying with them. Instead of “eat” you could say nibble, inhale, graze, taste, or devour. Each of these vivid verbs conveys something different about both the character and the situation.

Why are vivid verbs useful for writers?

In creative writing, verbs are what keep the story moving. Characters doing, wanting, going, destroying, creating. It’s easy to fall back on broad, boring verbs that paint the characters’ actions in wide, clunky strokes; however, that generality holds your reader at a distance from your story.

By finding just the right word to encompass what’s happening on the page, you create a vivid picture that pulls the reader into the action. The more specific you can be, the more your story will start to come alive. That’s why landing on the perfect vivid verb can lift a basic sentence or paragraph into something transcendent.

The right vivid verb can bring a story to life in readers’ minds.

The same applies to all kinds of writing, even if you’re not crafting fictional characters. If you’re writing poetry, memoir, persuasive essays, or even professional emails (the modern persuasive essay), using powerful verbs will help your words resonate in the reader’ mind.

The ultimate list of vivid verbs

Ready to incorporate some more exciting verbs into your work (and level up your writing skills)? Here are some strong action verbs to get you started.

Vivid verbs for movement

  • amble

  • attract

  • barrel

  • bolt

  • bowl

  • burrow

  • canter

  • careen

  • cart

  • cascade

  • chuck

  • crawl

  • creep

  • dart

  • depart

  • dive

  • drag

  • draw

  • drift

  • drive

  • droop

  • drop

  • edge

  • exit

  • fling

  • frolic

  • gallop

  • haul

  • heave

  • hike

  • hurl

  • hurry

  • hurtle

  • jerk

  • jog

  • lead

  • leave

  • lob

  • lug

  • lumber

  • lurch

  • march

  • meander

  • nudge

  • pace

  • parade

  • perambulate

  • pitch

  • plod

  • proceed

  • prod

  • promenade

  • propel

  • race

  • ram

  • relocate

  • run

  • rush

  • saunter

  • scamper

  • scramble

  • shift

  • shuffle

  • sidle

  • skip

  • slink

  • speed

  • spring

  • sprint

  • stagger

  • stalk

  • stir

  • stride

  • stroll

  • swing

  • swoop

  • tiptoe

  • toddle

  • topple

  • totter

  • tow

  • travel

  • traverse

  • tread

  • trot

  • waddle

  • wander

  • wrench

  • yank

  • zip

  • zoom

Good writing is made up of vibrant, evocative word choices.

Vivid verbs for communicating

  • advise

  • answer

  • argue

  • assert

  • bark

  • bellow

  • blab

  • cackle

  • caution

  • chortle

  • chuckle

  • command

  • comment

  • crow

  • declare

  • decree

  • dictate

  • direct

  • disclose

  • dominate

  • drawl

  • exclaim

  • explain

  • gasp

  • giggle

  • growl

  • guffaw

  • hiss

  • holler

  • howl

  • implore

  • inform

  • inquire

  • insist

  • instruct

  • lead

  • mandate

  • mumble

  • mutter

  • natter

  • notify

  • order

  • plead

  • rage

  • reply

  • roar

  • scream

  • shout

  • sing

  • snap

  • snicker

  • snort

  • stammer

  • state

  • warn

  • whimper

  • whisper

  • yell

Try trading a common verb for one with a more targeted meaning.

Vivid verbs for acknowledgment

  • accede

  • accommodate

  • agree

  • allocate

  • allow

  • assign

  • authorize

  • award

  • begrudge

  • bequeath

  • bestow

  • cater

  • concede

  • confer

  • consent

  • contribute

  • deliver

  • deprive

  • donate

  • embrace

  • endow

  • exclude

  • extend

  • forbid

  • furnish

  • grant

  • impart

  • interdict

  • lend

  • nourish

  • nurture

  • offer

  • permit

  • present

  • proffer

  • prohibit

  • provide

  • render

  • restrain

Vivid verbs for emotions

  • abhor

  • ache

  • admire

  • adore

  • appreciate

  • aspire

  • baffle

  • bamboozle

  • bawl

  • bewilder

  • blink

  • blush

  • burn

  • care

  • cherish

  • chime

  • choose

  • confuse

  • covet

  • crave

  • desire

  • despise

  • detest

  • disconcert

  • disdain

  • enjoy

  • envy

  • fancy

  • flummox

  • giggle

  • grieve

  • hanker

  • hide

  • idolize

  • illuminate

  • lack

  • lament

  • lust

  • marvel

  • miss

  • need

  • perplex

  • pout

  • prefer

  • puzzle

  • require

  • seethe

  • treasure

  • wish

  • worship

  • yearn

There are myriad ways to express your character’s specific emotion.

Vivid verbs for food and drink

  • bite

  • chew

  • consume

  • demolish

  • devour

  • gargle

  • gobble

  • graze

  • gulp

  • guzzle

  • imbibe

  • ingest

  • inhale

  • munch

  • nibble

  • scarf

  • swallow

  • taste

  • wolf

Vivid verbs for creation

  • assemble

  • conceive

  • concoct

  • construct

  • contrive

  • craft

  • create

  • design

  • develop

  • devise

  • fabricate

  • fashion

  • forge

  • ignite

  • invent

  • manufacture

  • prepare

  • produce

  • write

Vivid verbs for sound

  • bang

  • bark

  • bash

  • bawl

  • beat

  • blare

  • blast

  • bleat

  • boom

  • buzz

  • chime

  • clack

  • clang

  • clap

  • clash

  • click

  • clink

  • crackle

  • crash

  • creak

  • crinkle

  • crunch

  • drip

  • echo

  • grate

  • groan

  • gulp

  • gurgle

  • hiss

  • hoot

  • hum

  • jangle

  • knock

  • murmur

  • patter

  • peep

  • pop

  • rap

  • rasp

  • rattle

  • ring

  • rumble

  • rustle

  • scrape

  • screech

  • shout

  • sigh

  • sizzle

  • slam

  • slosh

  • slurp

  • smash

  • snap

  • splash

  • squawk

  • squeak

  • stomp

  • swish

  • swoosh

  • thud

  • thump

  • thunder

  • tinkle

  • twang

  • twitter

  • wail

  • warble

  • whip

  • whir

  • whistle

  • yell

Onomatopoeic sound words elevate a story when read aloud.

Tips for finding the right vivid verbs

Now you have an entire arsenal of strong verbs at your fingertips to bring your writing to life! But how do you choose exactly the right active verb for the right moment?

The first step is to simply nurture your vocabulary (hint: I wrote “expand” and “grow” your vocabulary before I settled on “nurture” as exactly what I was trying to say). Make friends with your thesaurus. Words that may seem like synonyms at first will reveal slightly different meanings, like adjacent colors on a color wheel: they may both be white, but this one says “cottage garden” while this other one says “business class.”

Sometimes, finding a more descriptive verb might come through your revision process. When you’re looking back over your first draft, keep an eye out for weak, passive verbs that aren’t doing much to support the narrative. These will be generalizations like “walk,” “go,” “make,” “talk,” “eat,” “like,” “dislike,” and so forth.

When you come across a weak verb like this, ask yourself if it’s the best possible fit the English language has to offer you. Sometimes, a simple word might be enough; for instance, there’s not much that outshines “said” in a dialogue tag. You don’t need to use creative language in every single sentence (unless you’re Angela Carter). Often, however, it’s helpful to challenge yourself to find more vivid verbs to replace these broad strokes.

Examples of effective vivid verbs

Consider the following examples:

Realizing her mistake, she ran back to the classroom.

“Ran” in this context is a bit wishy-washy. It’s not doing any harm, but it could be better. Is there a more vivid verb we can use instead?

Consider “barrelled,” “darted,” “catapulted,” “raced,” “sped,” “bolted,” or “sprinted.” Each of them feels a little bit different, like finding the right puzzle piece. What you know of your character, setting, and circumstance will help you determine the one word that’s the perfect fit.

With the vivid verb treatment:

Realizing her mistake, she bolted back to the classroom.

Try your sentences with different verbs to find the perfect fit.

Here’s another gasping fish of a sentence to consider:

He liked his new co-worker.

“Liked” is a boring verb that covers a lot of ground; it doesn’t tell us very much. What about:

“Respected,” “appreciated,” “desired,” “enjoyed,” “loved,” “craved,” “adored,” “favored,” “admired,” “idolized,” or “fancied. ”

With the vivid verb treatment:

He admired his new co-worker.

Suddenly, with a strong verb and an active voice, these characters and this place feel alive.

Strong verbs create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind

Sometimes, it’s the smallest adjustments that make the biggest difference in our writing—whether it’s an academic article, a novel, short stories, or personal essays. Professional writers know to make their work as clear and concise as possible, which means snipping out those boring verbs and replacing them with interesting word choices that bring the narrative to life.