My point was that cooking is an activity, so we need direct language that shows action. Active verbs are the ticket, an effective and efficient way to show movement.
In these examples below, you won’t find a whiff of passive voice. There is also no use of “you,” which some readers found objectionable. Others pointed out that active verbs are imperative, where the writer commands readers to action by implication. (Haven’t you always wanted to command?)
I plucked these examples from my bookshelf. Note how many verbs writers crams into a paragraph. It’s like watching a movie, sports event or ballet:
1. Julia Child
Scoop (peppers) into mixing bowl. Spread both sides of the bread with mustard, film frying pan with 1/8 inch more oil, and brown bread light lightly on both sides. Dice the bread and add to the bowl; stir in the garlic, egg and salt and pepper to taste.
2. Jane Grigson
Cut the rabbit or chicken in serving pieces, and turn it in the flour. Place in a pie dish. Fry onions and mushrooms until lightly coloured, then add them with their juices. Tuck the grilled bacon and the quartered hard-boiled eggs into the gaps. Pour in a half pint of stock. Cover with pastry…and brush with beaten egg.
3. Richard Olney
Cut off the tough, dark-green parts of the leeks and discard them. Slit the remaining parts halfway down to facilitate washing them, and when they are well washed, cut each in 2 to separate the greenish parts from the white of the leek. Put the white parts aside and coarsely chop the green parts. Peel the onions, put 2 aside and coarsely chop the third. Crush the 4-5 cloves of garlic.
4. Alice Medrich
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it stand until it is pliable enough to roll without cracking. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 14-15-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick, rotating and dusting the surface with flour to keep it from sticking. Brush the excess flour from the rolled-out circle, fold the circle into quarters, and transfer it to the pie pan. Unfold, easing the pastry into the pan without stretching it. Trim the overhang to about 1 inch. Turn the excess dough under and flute or crimp the edge.
5. James Oseland
Place the chicken, breast side up, in a shallow roasting pan. Scatter the onions around the chicken, making sure that 1 or 2 halves remain inside the cavity. Rub the chicken inside and out with the softened butter. Pour the remaining marinade over the chicken, placing the cinnamon sticks and a few of the cloves inside the cavity. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil.
Could you see the cooking happen, right before your eyes? So check your recipes to see how you compare in the active verb count department. And try not to rely on the same verbs repeatedly. The next time you find yourself writing”add” or “use” for the millionth time, let these examples inspire you to come up with a “scatter” or “tuck.”
Now, please tell me: what are your favorite active verbs?
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