Helping verbs are often necessary, but remove those that are not required to express a tense (time).

Write with strong verbs, a valuable piece of wisdom for centuries, doesn’t refer only to using verbs that denote strong action and imagery, such as plungesmash, or sprint. It also means reducing the number of helping verbs by using them only when you need to express a verb tense. Why say “when we were talking” if you could write “when we talked“?

Common helping verbs are forms of have (have, has, and had) and forms of be (am, is, are, was, were). They accompany a root verb to express a time. When you say that “she has worked here 10 years,” you indicate she worked here in the past and continues to work here. There is a carry-over effect, and this is called the present perfect verb tense. But if she is still here, it is more efficient and stronger to just use the present tense “she works here.”

Here are other examples:

  • I have spoken with management ……. I spoke
  • have been receiving information …….. have received
  • We were discussing that ………………..We discussed
  • what will be appealing ………………….what will appeal (You need will to express future tense, but one helping verb is better than two.)
  • I am assuming ………………………….. I assume
  • Customers have been telling us…….. tell us (preferable) or have told us

Whenever possible, use the verb forms you see in a dictionary. When you look up a verb, you see it as one word; no helping verbs accompany it. It appears as make, not as will make, or should make. With one-word verbs, the action is more compact. It is contained in one word, rather than being spread over two or three words. But helping verbs are an integral part of the language and frequently are unavoidable.

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Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available at here at Amazon.com.

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