Port of Subs, Roadsidepicutures, Flickr

Source: Photo of a sign on top of a building that reads “Port of Subs”

Substituting or replacing text is also an effective strategy for refining an essay and enriching your style. Think of some everyday situations in which substitutions are made to improve or enhance performance. A coach might send in a “sub” to replace another team member on the field or the court to increase the team’s score before halftime. Likewise, there are strategic ways you can make substitutions in your writing to boost your score on a writing assignment or a standardized test.

Exchanging general language for specific language is one method of substitution you might try. You worked on this in the last section, but now we will focus on a particular part of speech—nouns.

Remember, general language describes a group or a whole and may be too vague for your essay’s purpose. Specific language is exact, detailed, and precise. Just as a coach may send in a particular sub at a critical moment in the game, one who can throw a touchdown pass or shoot a three-pointer, you can substitute nouns to enhance your writing.

Having exchanged more specific nouns for broad, general ones, now look at how the right verbs can enliven your ideas and attitude (tone). Substituting strong verbs for weaker ones is an important revision strategy, just as substituting a player who is stronger on defense can be crucial during a game.

A photograph of a female student working on a laptop computer

Source: Kathy doing a paper, imjustkimmie, Flickr

Students often rely on the verbs says, said, and states in their writing. Yet those verbs often fail to convey the nature and force of their claims. (Remember this question from earlier in the lesson: “Is what I’ve written what I wanted to say?” It is an essential question for evaluating and revising your writing.)

Suppose you want to express exactly how a coach spoke to a team after the third defeat of the season. Let’s say this is not the first loss of the season and that the team lost to a weak opponent. The coach probably wouldn’t say or state the message to the team. Think about the probable nature (quality) and force (strength or vigor) of the coach’s remarks in the locker room after the game.

take notes icon In your notes, rewrite each sentence below. Substitute a more powerful and precise verb for said.” When you’re finished, check your understanding to see some suggested replacements for said. The first sentence has been revised for you.

  1. Sentence: The coach said that he was disappointed in the team.
    Revised Sentence: The coach shouted that he was disappointed in the team.

  2. Sentence: The coach said that the players would be spending a lot more time practicing.

  3. Sentence: The coach said that three losses in a row was inexcusable.

  4. Sentence: The coach said that losing to such an unworthy opponent was unacceptable.

Check Your Understanding
Sample Responses:

Answers will vary, but suggested replacements for “said” could be: threatened, warned, contended, asserted, and bemoaned.

In revising the said sentences, you might also have considered restructuring the sentences, making the players the object of the coach’s probable anger. For example, the coach condemned the players for three losses in a row. The coach lashed out at the players for losing to such an unworthy opponent.