What Is a Hidden Verb in Grammar?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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Hidden verb is an informal term in traditional grammar for needless nominalization: a verb-noun combination used in place of a single, more forceful verb (for example, make an improvement in place of improve). Also known as a diluted verb or a smothered verb.

Because hidden verbs contribute to wordiness, they are generally considered a stylistic fault, especially in academic writing, business writing, and technical writing.

Examples and Observations

"Common in functional prose is the weakened or dilute verb. Some writers avoid a specific verb like consider; they choose instead a general verb of little meaning like take or give and add the noun consideration with the necessary prepositions, as in take into consideration and give consideration to, devote consideration to, and expend consideration on. Thus they not only use three words to do the work of one, but also take the meaning from the strongest word in the sentence, the verb, and place the meaning in the noun that has a subordinate position. . . .

"Weak as a jigger of Scotch in a pitcher of water, this is neither good liquor nor good water."

(Henrietta J. Tichy, Effective Writing for Engineers, Managers, Scientists. Wiley, 1966)

Making a Sentence Say What It Means

"Here's a sentence from a report I once edited:

The consumer must make intelligent choices when buying tires.

The verb in this sentence is make. But is the consumer really making something? No. What the sentence means is that the consumer must choose. So we can improve this sentence by making it say what it means:

The consumer must choose intelligently when buying tires.

Alternatively, since the word consumer implies buying, we might revise the sentence even further:

The consumer must choose tires intelligently.

(Kenneth W. Davis, The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course: Business Writing and Communication, 2nd ed. McGraw-Hill, 2010)

Latinate Suffixes

"When you turn a verb into a noun, you are nominalizing--a horrible thing to do. An obvious indication that you have just nominalized a verb is that the word gets longer, often by adding a Latinate suffix like tion, ization, or worse. . . . Don't abuse a verb by making it act like a noun."

(Lisa Price, Hot Text. New Riders, 2002)

Spotting Hidden Verbs

"The number of hidden verbs is as great as the number of verbs to be hidden. However, these nine 'helping' verbs commonly produce long, verb-suppressed constructions: 'have,' 'give,' 'perform,' 'make,' 'produce,' 'accomplish,' 'achieve,' 'experience,' and 'conduct.' Compare the hidden verbs in the sentence pairs below. In each case, the second example contains a verb that has surfaced.

The new law will have an influence on future building.

The new law will influence future building.


We will need to perform an analysis of traffic volumes at this intersection.

We will need to​ analyze traffic volumes at this intersection. . . .


The new policy produced benefits for employees.

The new policy benefited employees.


We can conduct a survey of this lot.

We can survey this lot.


Too many nouns will achieve the dilution of writing.

Too many nouns will dilute writing.

Looking for the helping verbs above is one good way to identify potential verbs."

(Barry Eckhouse, Competitive Communication: A Rhetoric for Modern Business. Oxford University Press, 1999)

Losing Weight

"Many writers suffer from an overdependence on nouns. Given the choice between a verb and the noun form of a verb (called a 'nominalization'), they instinctively choose the noun, perhaps under the mistaken notion that the noun will add authority and weight to their words. Well, it does add weight, but it's the wrong kind of weight, and this tendency results in a noun-heavy style. For example, rather than writing 'I need to revise that sentence,' they will write, 'I need to make a revision in that sentence.' . . .

"Here's another example of a sentence weighed down by nouns. 'My suggestion is that we make a reduction in our overhead.' Compare that sentence with 'I suggest we reduce our overhead.' The verb-energized version is not only more concise (six words rather than eleven), but also more emphatic--and the person standing behind those words sounds more decisive."

(Stephen Wilbers, Keys to Great Writing. Writer's Digest Books, 2000)

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