The ROBUST VERBS Exercise Modeled

One of your classmates has submitted a set of revisions for the “Robust Verbs” paragraph. It contains some good work, but also neglects a substantial number of available improvements.

Consider this post an example of the sort of advice you might have received if I were doing feedback on all your posts. It will be very thorough—and probably seem completely over the top—since I will have to do only one.

You may want to return to your own Robust Verbs post for revisions after you see this. I won’t grade them individually, but they’ll become part of your Non-Portfolio collection at the end of the semester. Be radical. It’s just one paragraph, but it can be an extraordinary paragraph.

I’ll respond to the post sentence by sentence:


Vancouver faces a huge problem with heroin addicts committing crimes to support their habits.

—Faces is a pretty robust verb (better than is for sure), but it could be stronger to describe a town struggling with heroin addiction and crime. 
—Scan your work always for double-tells. First you say there’s a problem; then you say what the problem is. First you say there are several advantages; then you name the advantages. Here the double-tell is 1) faces a huge problem; 2) addicts committing crimes.
—What’s the solution? If “addicts committing crimes” is an obvious problem, you don’t have to call it one.
—What’s the real SUBJECT of the sentence? Vancouver? Addicts? Crime? Vancouverites?
—What are the robust VERBS that address those subjects?:
—POSSIBLE SUBJECT/VERB PAIR: Vancouver is suffering a crime surge.
—POSSIBLE SUBJECT/VERB PAIR: Heroin addicts are devastating Vancouver. 
—POSSIBLE SUBJECT/VERB PAIR: Vancouver residents are threatened.
—The strongest candidate is Crime. It’s a huge problem if there’s enough of it. But what kind of crime is the issue here? “Crimes to support their habits” says the original. Those would be property crimes: burglary, robbery, breaking-and-entering, muggings. 
—And who cares about property crimes? The City? Or the Residents? 

POSSIBLE REWRITE: Heroin addicts are mugging and stealing from Vancouverites in huge numbers to support their habits.


“Free heroin for addicts” is a program that has continued to do everything to stop addicts while crime rates have increased significantly due to addicts.

I had to add the verb is to this sentence. It was missing from the original.
—Continued and increased are fairly robust verbs (better than is for sure), but let’s take a close look and decide whether continuing and increasing are the best actions to describe the situation.
Doing and stopping are also represented here, but in the weaker roles of infinitives (to do, to stop), not primary verbs, weaker because of their supporting role.
—Scan your work always for needless verbs to be. Here we can easily eliminate the is by re-phrasing: The “free heroin for addicts” program has continued.
Eliminate repetition whenever possible. You’ve already said addicts are committing crimes, so you can cut “crime rates have increased significantly due to addicts.”

—What’s the real SUBJECT of the sentence? “Free heroin for addicts”? The crime rate? 
—What are the robust VERBS that address those subjects?:
—POSSIBLE SUBJECT/VERB PAIR: “Free heroin for addicts” is solving that problem.
—POSSIBLE SUBJECT/VERB PAIR: The crime rate has decreased because of “free heroin for addicts.”
—The strongest candidate is the program. It keeps addicts from mugging and robbing people (which reduces the crime rate).

POSSIBLE REWRITE: “Free heroin for addicts” is solving that problem.


It’s clear addicts have a hard time getting through their day to day lives.

The verbs here are is and have. Neither is robust. The gerund getting (a weaker verb form) is also used.
—What’s the real SUBJECT of the sentence?: Addicts.
—What do the addicts do?: Struggle.

POSSIBLE REWRITE: Addicts struggle to get through their days.


Activities like jobs, interactions and relationships are hard to continue solely for their using habits.

The verb here is are. The infinitive to continue (a weaker verb form) is also used. We can do better than that.
—We already know addicts are struggling with their days. And let’s use get through as a primary verb. Combining this sentence with the one before gives us: 

POSSIBLE REWRITE: Addicts struggling with addiction can’t get through the day, let alone keep a job or maintain a relationship.


Heroin users will do whatever they have to just to possess the drug.

—The verb here is do, and the sentence contains an infinitive (a weaker verb form) to possess.
—A prior sentence already says addicts are robbing and stealing to buy drugs. That’s already better than the vague “do whatever they have to.” 

POSSIBLE REWRITE: Addicts mug, burgle, and rob to support their habits. 


Breaking and entering as well with stealing are the crimes typically committed.

POSSIBLE REWRITE: Addicts mug, burgle, and rob to support their habits.


The limits are endless to where the addicts will go to retrieve the drug to feed their addiction.

POSSIBLE REWRITE: Desperate addicts mug, burgle, and rob, or worse, to support their habits.


The flaw in the program won’t help addicts stop using heroin, but instead save the city from the rising crime rate.

—Help is a pretty robust verb. Save is pretty good too. The participial using (a weaker verb form) is also used. But let’s be sure we have the subjects right.
—The subject appears to be “the flaw,” which does not appear to be identified. Whatever the flaw, it doesn’t end addiction, but it is reducing the crime rate.
—Obviously, the answer to the mystery is that NOT ENDING ADDICTION is the flaw.

POSSIBLE REWRITE: While the program does not end addiction, it is reducing  the crime rate.


By providing the drugs, the addicts will be off the streets, in all will prevent them from committing minor street crimes, and out of the hospital.

The primary verbs here are be and prevent. The participials providing and committing (a weaker verb form), are also used.
—I strongly suggested you eliminate introductory “By phrases” in the paragraph for this reason: The sentence says that THE ADDICTS PROVIDE THE DRUGS. We know they don’t, but the grammar says, “The addicts—by providing the drugs—will be off the street.” That’s just wrong.
—The other grammar error here is to attempt to combine “committing street crimes” and “out of the hospital” as objects. “Out of the hospital” isn’t an object at all.

—What’s the real SUBJECT of the sentence? It doesn’t have one. SOMEBODY is providing the drugs, but the sentence doesn’t identify WHO. I suggest the city of Vancouver.

POSSIBLE REWRITE: By providing clean heroin, the city KEEPS addicts off the street and out of the hospital, and ELIMINATES the need for them to rob and steal.


Hospitals shouldn’t have to look after drug users who choose to use bad drugs or unsanitary needles, on top of that not being able to pay for the hospital fees.

—What’s the real SUBJECT of the sentence? Hospitals? Users? Drugs? Needles? Fees?
—What are the robust VERBS that address those subjects?:
—POSSIBLE S/V PAIR: Hospitals don’t have to care for addicts.
—POSSIBLE S/V PAIR: Heroin addicts no longer clog the emergency rooms. 
—POSSIBLE S/V PAIR: Bad drugs and unsanitary needles no longer land addicts in the hospital.

—The strongest candidate is the ADDICTS, who used to buy bad drugs, use dirty needles, and clog the emergency room without being able to pay for their care. They don’t do that now.

POSSIBLE REWRITE: Heroin addicts unable to pay for their treatment no longer clog the emergency rooms with illness brought on by bad drugs and dirty needles.


“Free heroin for addicts” gives people heroin the cleanest way possible, but this act will only fix the city, not the addicts’ wellbeing.

—Gives and fix are fairly robust verbs. And the name of the program, “Free heroin for addicts,” is the right subject.
—A prior sentence has already said that “the program does not end addiction but is reducing  the crime rate.” So this sentence may not be needed at all.

POSSIBLE REWRITE: While the program does not end addiction, it is reducing  the crime rate.

Put it all together

Heroin addicts are mugging and stealing from Vancouverites in huge numbers to support their habits. “Free heroin for addicts” is solving that problem. Addicts struggle to get through their days. Addicts struggling with addiction can’t get through the day, let alone keep a job or maintain a relationship. Addicts mug, burgle, and rob to support their habits. Addicts mug, burgle, and rob to support their habits. Desperate addicts mug, burgle, and rob, or worse, to support their habits. While the program does not end addiction, it is reducing  the crime rate. By providing clean heroin, the city keeps addicts off the street and out of the hospital, and eliminates the need for them to rob and steal. Heroin addicts unable to pay for their treatment no longer clog the emergency rooms with illness brought on by bad drugs and dirty needles. While the program does not end addiction, it is reducing  the crime rate.

Eliminate the Repetitions 

Heroin addicts are mugging and stealing from Vancouverites in huge numbers to support their habits. “Free heroin for addicts” is solving that problem. Users struggling with addiction can’t get through the day, let alone keep a job or maintain a relationship.  Desperate addicts mug, burgle, and rob, or worse, to support their habits. By providing clean heroin, the city keeps addicts off the street and out of the hospital, and eliminates the need for them to rob and steal. Heroin addicts unable to pay for their treatment no longer clog the emergency rooms with illness brought on by bad drugs and dirty needles. While the program does not end addiction, it is reducing  the crime rate.

Final Polish 

While heroin addicts in large numbers have been mugging and stealing from Vancouverites for years to support their habits, a “free heroin for addicts” is solving that problem. Users struggling with addiction can’t get through the day, let alone keep a job or maintain relationships, so, to support their habits, they commit property crimes that often lead to violence. By providing them with clean heroin, the city is keeping addicts off the street and out of the hospital, and eliminating the need for them to rob and steal. Furthermore, addicts unable to pay for their treatment no longer clog the emergency rooms with illnesses brought on by bad drugs and dirty needles. While the program does not end addiction, it is reducing the crime rate, keeping Vancouverites healthier, and saving the city money.

About davidbdale

Inventor of and sole practitioner of 299-word Very Short Novels. www.davidbdale.wordpress.com
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