Internal Sentence Logic: Are You Guilty of Using Lazy Verbs?


Ever walk into a friend’s new apartment, one they’ve just finished decorating and/or marginally cleaning up in the hope of making it presentable to the general public? Your eye travels around whichever room you land in first, and if they’ve set it up with a reasonable flow, and some semblance of logic, the room feels good. It feels lived-in. Welcoming. Comfortable.

But if there’s an imbalance to the room, you notice it, like the drift of the last tenant’s cigarette smoke. Maybe there’s a blank wall, or a couch in an inexplainable place, or some other barely perceptive decorating Thing That Is Wrong. You’re not sure what it is. You just know something’s… off.

In writing, there  exists similar phenomenon. If it has a proper name, I don’t know it, but I like to call the phenomenon “lazy verb logic.” Or just “lazy verbs,” because that’s shorter, and lazier, and it suits me.

This is somewhat unfair, because either nouns or verbs could be the culprit, but the laziness stems from tying nouns with verbs that don’t quite make sense. Lazy verbs have a tendency to fall flat for your average reader and confuse the really analytical ones, and neither of those results is desirable.

(Really, all parts of a sentence have a part to play in this logic, but I like to pick on verbs.)

Spotting Lazy Verbs

Quick, tell me what’s grammatically wrong with this sentence:

“The answer is solved in under six seconds.”

Trick question, as nothing’s wrong with it.

On a purely mechanical level, this sentence is grammatically correct. It has verbs where verbs should be, subjects and objects where they should be, and all articles and necessary punctuation are present and accounted for.

But it’s wrong on a level deeper than mere grammar. If you’re a careful writer, you’ve spotted the problem: You don’t solve an answer.

THAT’S lazy verb logic.

Fixing Lazy Verbs

Checking the links between your subject and object (by way of some kind of verb) is key to fixing lazy verb logic. When you want to check a sentence, ask yourself, “I wrote, ‘The [subject] [verbed] the [object].’ Can you really [object] that [subject]?”

(Sounds… interesting I digress.)

For example, “The answer is solved.” Ask yourself, “Can you really solve an answer?”

And of course, the answer is NO. You can solve for an answer. You can find an answer. You can solve a problem. Pick any one of those constructions and edit the sentence. “The problem is solved.” “The answer is found.”

Remember Quality

Pay attention to the quality of your words, not just to the direction of your plot and the integrity of your characters. If a sentence’s internal logic just doesn’t make sense, fix it.

What are your tips for making your writing better, tighter, more logical? Share them in the comments!