Dump Those Helping Verbs from Your Ads and Promotion Copy

John T Jones, Ph.D.

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My wife and I wondered across the high school parking lot next to our home this afternoon and watched a girl’s soccer game. We heard shouts like:

“That a girl, Cindy!


“Watch out!

“Move your…”

If there was a verb in a sentence, it was an action verb.

Most sentences had no more than 3 words.

I thought, we’re out here with a bunch of copywriters!

We know that we should not use passive verbs in our ads and promotion copy. Well, watch out for the helping verbs too. They will instantly turn a steel spike into that proverbial wet noodle.

If you don’t remember the 23 helping verbs, here they are as I memorized them about sixty years ago:
be is was were,
am are been being,
have has had,
do does did,
will would,
shall should,
can could,
may might must.

There is a place for these critters if you are studying Spanish verb conjugations. But there is not much room for them in copywriting.

Take a look at these examples:

Have you been tired of getting really bad headaches?

Are you sick and tired of headaches?

Sick of head splitting headaches?

The last one brought up my grammar checker because it doesn’t have a well-defined verb. It claims this is a fragment. It gave me this advice: consider revising.

If you are writing good copy, your grammar checker should be telling you that you should go back to grade school.

The first example has two helping verbs. The second has one helping verb. The last one has no helping verb despite the fact that my grammar checker tells me it needs a helping verb.


The last example has punch to it. The answer, “YES” is demanded to the question. It has your attention and you hope like crazy that you are being offered a solution to a serious problem.

Having said that, what do you think the answer to the first two questions would be? It could be, “Well, yes. I had one a couple of weeks ago. I went to the drugstore and bought some …. . blah, blah, blah. Oh, I’ve got to get the telephone. ”

Try this one (Forgive me. I live in Idaho. ) :

You mustn’t miss out on what could be the big breakthrough in milk production!

Did you hear about our big milk production breakthrough?

Bossy is ready to give more milk. Are you?

Increase Milk Production-Now!

The only exciting thing about the first sentence is the exclamation point.

The second one will bring a response like, “I haven’t read the Farm News this week because I got more plowin’ to do. ”

The third sentence will be a joke to farmers so it may get some attention, but not because of the breakthrough.

The last sentence spells one thing to a dairy farmer, MONEY! You’ve got his attention with no thanks to helping verbs.

Helping verbs are like adverbs and adjectives; they dilute the power of your writing.

Take Mark Twian's advice and don’t use them unless you must!

Darn, I used a helping verb!

Copyright©John Taylor Jones, Ph. D. 2005

John T. Jones, Ph. D. is a retired engineering R&D executive from a Fortune 500 marketing oriented company. He is an author of detective and western novels as well as engineering books. Details are at http://www.tjbooks.com . His main ecommerce site is http://www.bookfindhelp.com .


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