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Top 100 Power Verbs: The Connection Between Communications and Success

Learn how successful people use the power of human communication to give expressive life to their strategies, operational plans, directives, proposals, ideas, and positions.
This chapter is from the book
  • “Volatility of words is carelessness in actions; words are the wings of actions.”
  • —Lavater

There are two factors for which there are mountains of empirical evidence that overwhelmingly account for the success of individuals in any field. These variables are the verbal and networking skills of the successful people.

Common sense and simple observation can be your laboratory. Just look at the people you have worked for and most of the people you know. Furthermore, look at the people who run or own the organizations and firms where people work. Think about the people who own and run the vendor firms and organizations that service and supply the firms and organizations for which you, or people you know, have owned or worked. What is it that most of these people have in common?

The vast majority of these people have big vocabularies and extensive networks. Consequently, these are probably primary reasons why many are successful and why they are the managers, leaders, and owners of businesses and organizations as well as civic and social leaders. The common denominator of the most successful people is a cross-section of fields; it isn’t education, family money, race, or gender. It’s what they know and who they know!

It has long been known that successful people in every field do not have large, useful vocabularies merely because of their positions. That would be an incorrect correlation and not a proper explanation of cause and effect. In fact, it is the opposite that is true. Successful people in all fields are successful because they are helped tremendously by their skills in vocabulary and networking (Funk and Lewis, 1942, p. 3).

Success is not something achieved by birthright or tenure but rather something that is gained by hard, smart work and the help of an active network. This is a consequence of the successful person’s behavior, actions, work, effort, results, intentions, plans, worldview, responses, and practices, and it is mostly what they do and say in every moment of every opportunity.

It has been said before that it isn’t what one says that matters but how a person says it that counts. Dr. Frank Luntz takes it a step further and claims that it isn’t what you say that counts; it’s what people hear. The issue is you have to choose your words! In addition, you have to time the right words and give the right words the necessary emphasis with the correct supporting body language, so the receiver fully grasps what is said and does not pause or hesitate to understand your meaning.

Verbs are the catalysts of sentences. Power verbs bring sentences to life. More to the point, the right power verbs bring conversations, meetings, speeches, directives, resumés, memos, presentations, networking contacts, sales plans, marketing plans, and business and branding plans to life. Frankly, the right power verbs can put a pop into all interpersonal communications.

The definitive source for the English Language—The Oxford English Dictionary—states it this way: “It is a simple truth that in most sentences, you should express action through verbs just as you do when you speak. Yet, in so many sentences, the verbs are smothered; all their vitality is trapped beneath heavy noun phrases based on the verbs themselves” (AskOxford.com, 2008).

A successful person uses the power of human communication to give expressive life to their strategies, operational plans, directives, proposals, ideas, and positions. Human communication is, of course, a combination of nonverbal cues (body language) and the actual words spoken. Even the words that are chosen to be spoken by successful people are frequently invigorated and fortified with linguistic enhancements, such as metaphors, similes, figures of speech, and other vigorous uses of imagery, including hyperbole.

Sometimes the words are combined in rhythmic and symbolic phrasing called alliteration, repetition, antithesis, and parallelism. Successful leaders, managers, and supervisors are generally considered good communicators, or at least it is recognized that communication skills are necessary for them to succeed. These people can enhance their positions with their staff, direct reports, stakeholders, upper level management, vendors, students, media, and others with greater communication skills through the use of stories, citing references, using quotations, and figures of speech. However, there are two very important caveats. Whatever is used has to be fresh and it has to be apropos. Tired metaphors, idioms, similes, figures of speech, old stories, and lame references are worse than none at all. More importantly, using an inappropriate phrase, figure of speech, metaphor, simile, or a poor analogy can hamper communication.

Some readers may be old enough to remember when live radio entertainment included speakers who had to sell listeners on the plot or story by painting verbal pictures with words. Today, we still have the need to create vivid imagery in our daily communication with what we say and how we say it. Furthermore, we have one more issue and that is, we are dealing with a more attention-conflicted audience. So we add a third need and that is, we have to be aware of the fact that it is not always what we say that matters, or even how we say it, but now we have to deal with what it is people hear.

There are so many filtering biases, prejudices, attention sappers, and diversions that many people simply do not hear what has been said; instead they hear only what they want or need to hear. We cannot always control this phenomenon, nor do we want to, but we need to be aware of this dynamic.

Table 1.1 lists examples of tired metaphors, idioms, and clichés and their more contemporary versions.

Table 1.1Tired Metaphors, Idioms, and Clichés and Contemporary Replacements

Time is money.

Time is profit.

Information is power.

Knowledge is power.

Business is a game.

Business is the game.

Hit the ball out of the park.

Hit for the show.

Take the hill.

Go around the opposition.

Take no prisoners.

Do whatever it takes.

Beat the bushes.

Scope out options

Beat a dead horse.

Been down that road.

Been to hell and back.

Go the distance or went the distance.

Behind the eight ball.

Pinned down.

People respond to language that is highly certain, highly optimistic, highly realistic, and highly active.

Dull and uninteresting verbs make communications of any type dull, uninteresting, boring, and lifeless. On the other hand, the properly chosen power-packed verbs can electrify your communications. Your listeners and readers will be drawn to your topic and point of view like electromagnets.

Power verbs can be used in many ways; however, this book focuses on helping you understand how to use power verbs more effectively where they truly count, such as:

  • In your everyday communications (discussions with peers, family members, friends, clients, customers, stakeholders, vendors, suppliers, and investors)
  • In business documents (memos, reports, plans, and other documents)
  • In toasts and impromptu comments
  • In your networking communications
  • In speeches, presentations, and executive briefings
  • In resumés, cover letters, and interviews

We live, work, and communicate in a Mixed Martial Arts world, and our communication needs to be fresh and crisp, yet it does not need to reflect street lingo or be overwhelmingly “hip.” Some power verbs are meant to assist you in putting life into your communications, giving them a special impact.

The power verbs are shown in the present tense. However, as the examples throughout show, the tense in which you use them depends on the circumstances.

Verb Forms

In English, main verbs also known as “lexical verbs” (except the verb “be”) have between four and six forms. Because this is not a text or style book, we are not going to get into the minutiae of what constitutes regular or irregular verbs or the thrilling discourse on the verb “to be,” which has nine forms. We are more concerned with power verbs that you will be using in everyday communications and that you can use without a style book or cue card.

We will assume you can figure out the base verb from the progressive form we use. For example, if we use the present progressive form “accomplishing,” we’ll assume you will know the base form of the verb is “accomplish.” Or if we use the past progressive form “was accomplished,” we’ll assume you know the base form of the verb is still “accomplish.”

Progressive Forms

The progressive form is a verb tense used to show an ongoing action in progress at some point in time. It shows an action still in progress. Verbs can appear in any one of three progressive tenses: present progressive, past progressive, and future progressive.

The Present Progressive Tense—Verbs Showing ONGOING ACTION

The present progressive tense is one form that describes an action that is ongoing and one that happens at the same moment for which the action is being spoken about or written about.

To form this tense, use am/is/are with the verb form ending in ing.

  • Examples:
  • I am meeting with the others tomorrow. [present progressive ongoing action—using am + ing]
  • The project management team is examining the stakeholder’s proposal. [present progressive ongoing action—using is + ing]
  • The team members are researching ideation options. [present progressive ongoing action—using are + ing]
  • She is feeling happy. [present progressive ongoing action—using are + ing]
  • Use the present tense to describe something that is true regardless of time.

Past Progressive Tense—Verbs Showing SIMULTANIOUS ACTION

The past progressive tense is one that describes an action that happened when another action occurred. To form this tense, use was/were with the verb form ending in ing.

  • Examples:
  • The new project team was presenting its recent findings when the power went out. [past progressive on simultaneous action—using was + ing]
  • Four team members were meeting with the sponsor when the news broke about the award. [past progressive on simultaneous action—using were + ing]

Future Progressive Tense—Verbs Showing FUTURE ACTION

The future progressive tense is one that describes an action that is ongoing or continuous and one that takes place in the future. This tense is formed by using the verbs will be or shall be with the verb form ending in ing.

  • Examples:
  • Only one team member will be presenting during the annual meeting in June. [future progressive on future action—using will be + ing]
  • The clock is ticking. [future progressive on future action—using is + ing]
  • The band is playing. [future progressive on future action—using is + ing]

When the progressive form is not used for continuing events, a dramatic style effect can be produced.

  • The clock ticks.
  • The band plays.


The present perfect progressive tense is one that describes an action that began in the past, continues in the present, and may continue into the future. To form this tense, use has/have been and the present participle of the verb (the verb form ending in ing).

  • Example: The project sponsor has been considering an increase in the budget.

The past perfect progressive tense describes a past ongoing action that was completed before some other past action. This tense is formed by using had been and the present perfect of the verb (the verb form ending in ing).

  • Example: Before the budget increase, the project team had been participating in many sponsor meetings.


The future perfect progressive tense describes a future, ongoing action that will occur before some specified future time. This tense is formed by using will have been and the present participle of the verb (the verb form ending in ing).

  • Example: By the next fiscal year, the new product development project team will have been researching and proposing more than 60 new product categories.
  • Finally, we need to mention transitive and intransitive verbs.

Transitive Verbs

A transitive verb takes a direct object; that is, the verb transmits action to an object:

  • She sent the text (text = direct object of sent)
  • She gave the lecture. (lecture = direct object of gave)
  • In these sentences, something is being done to an object.

Intransitive Verbs

An intransitive verb does not take an object:

  • He works too hard.
  • He complains frequently.

In these sentences, nothing receives the action of the verbs works and complains.

Typical for English, there are many rules and exceptions to the rules for transitive and intransitive verbs, including some power verbs that can be either transitive or intransitive.

Recognize an intransitive verb when you see one

An intransitive verb has two characteristics. First, it is an action verb, expressing a doable activity such as arrive, go, lie, sneeze, sit, die, and so on. Second, unlike a transitive verb, it does not have a direct object receiving the action.

  • Here are some examples of intransitive verbs:
  • Huffing and puffing, we arrived at the church with only seconds to spare. [arrived = intransitive verb]
  • Jorge went to the campus cafe for a bowl of hot chicken noodle soup. [went = intransitive verb]
  • To escape the midday heat, the dogs lie in the shade under our trees. [lie = intransitive verb]
  • Around fresh ground pepper, Sheryl sneezes with violence. [sneezes = intransitive verb]
  • In the early morning, Mom sits on the front porch to admire her beautiful flowers. [sits = intransitive verb]

Sorry, Ms. Finney (my seventh grade English teacher), I know you would want me to talk about lexical and auxiliary verbs, compound verbs, copulas, prepositional phrases, gerunds, participles, adverbs, tense, aspect, mood, model and nonmodel verbs, subjects, objects, complements, modifiers, and so on, but I promised this would not be a style manual.

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