To be or not to be: that is the question. – William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene I
I begin this final post on the virtues of reading aloud with the first line of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy to refute those rhetoricians who claim that use of the verb to be lacks clarity, conciseness, grace, and vigor. Hamlet is equating his decision to act or not to act with whether he chooses to exist or not exist. Clear, concise, graceful, and powerful it is—no doubt about it.
But these rhetoricians have a point. Too often, we use the verb to be when a more powerful verb would serve the situation better. Here are two examples of sentences lacking vigor because of an overabundance of to be:
The point is that the president is not being amenable to being on the committee.
There are times when it is necessary for being assertive about what it is you are saying.
Once again, reading aloud would have picked up the dreadfully weak style of those sentences. A straightforward approach to editing would eliminate all to be verbs from each sentence (four in the first and five in the second):
The president does not want to serve on the committee.
Sometimes you need to speak assertively.
Read your sentences aloud to promote powerful, fluent writing!
Books by Philip Vassallo