How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs in Business Writing

Verbs are massively important in business writing; a product would be nothing without its ability to “zoom,” “shine,” “enhance” or “satisfy.” But one of the most commonly used verbs in copywriting is also one of the most problematic–one that we rarely even realize that we’re using. That verb is “be,” and while we could hardly do without it and its many forms, it can also cripple your writing when overused.

Forms of the verb “to be”

To Be Verbs - Example of Bad Writing

Using forms of the verb "to be" can make your writing fluffy, convoluted and boring.

To eliminate “to be” verbs, we must first know our enemy. Forms of “to be” in proper English grammar include:

  • Present tense: am, are, is

  • Past tense: was, were

  • Future tense: will be

  • Perfect form: have been, had been, has been

  • Continuous form: am being, was being, is being, are being, were being

There are other miscellaneous variations (such as “may be” and “shall be”), but these aren’t too difficult to recognize once you get the hang of it.

Why are “to be” verbs bad?

They’re not bad, per se. In fact, in certain situations (such as when you want to write in passive voice), they’re downright necessary.

But compared to other verbs, forms of “to be” are awfully wimpy. They’re not just an intrinsic element of passive voice; they’re pretty passive verbs themselves. For example, if you’re looking for technical support, who are you more likely to turn to: a company that “will be standing by” to solve your problem, or a company that solves your problem?

Sentence Example Without To Be Verbs

This sentence has no "to be" verbs, and as a result it's much quicker, cleaner and more confident.

By itself, a word like “is” or a phrase like “will be” has no real meaning until other words are added to it. Comparatively, verbs such as “solve,” “refine,” or “attract” are fairly descriptive; even with just a single word, you get a sense of what the service or product is intended to do. “To be” verbs are weak and extraneous, and using them too much can really bore your reader.

Avoiding “to be” verbs in writing

If you find that your business writing has an excess of words like “are,” “was,” or “have been,” there are a few easy ways to identify and eliminate them.

  • Live in the now. Future tense can be problematic in business writing because it can sound passive and unconfident. A phrase like “we will be standing by to solve your technical issues” sounds a bit meek and timid, as in “we’ll be here if you need us!” Instead, switch to present tense and use an active verb: “We solve your technical issues.”

  • Be descriptive. Making good use of the “show, don’t tell” strategy is a great way to avoid “to be” verbs. Rather than saying that your food “is delicious,” show us that deliciousness through emotional and descriptive imagery. Maybe it “tantalizes your taste buds,” or “tastes like a chocolatey cloud.” We get a much better sense of the product from these phrases, and we didn’t need to say what the product “is” to do it.

  • Switch to active voice. We’ve already covered examples of active and passive voice in detail, so you should have a sense of how to identify them. Chances are that when you find a passive voice sentence, a “to be” verb is lurking nearby. Switching to active voice usually trims sentences down to a concise and manageable size, and eliminates those pesky verbs at the same time.

Conclusion

“To be” or not “to be”? These verbs are necessary for many situations, but it’s best to avoid excessive usage of them. When you cut back on forms of “to be” in favor of more creative verbs, your business writing will become much more confident and expressive as a result.





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