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News & views

Verbless writing

[7 Feb 2014] In business English, it’s generally good to express the action using the best-possible verbs. But marketing copy sometimes omits verbs in pursuit of a pacey style. My hunch is that this can work well if the readers are literate enough to pick up the rhythm and guess the missing verb successfully. Here’s an example from Tisserand on its packaging for an upmarket soap. In square brackets I’ve given my guesses as to the verbs:

‘From the Tea Tree experts [comes] a pure vegetable soap to deep-cleanse & soothe the face without drying. [It is] Particularly beneficial for oily or blemish-prone skin types. [And it’s] Also perfect for bath, shower or basin use for all the family. [This is] A unique blend of skin-purifying Tea Tree essential oil, antioxidant extract of Sage & astringent extract of Cypress with nourishing Avocado & Sea Buckthorn oils.’

Notice that the author keeps to the verbless style in four consecutive sentences. To switch from verbless to verbed sentences would break up the rhythm. As three of the omitted verbs are ‘is’, the author has probably decided that going verbless will avoid boring repetition.

Other tactics are to use the ampersand instead of ‘and’, presumably to save space on the small container; to give swanky initial capitals to herbs, fruits and oils, which in normal style would all be lower case; and to use ‘the face’ instead of  ‘your face’ to support the quasi-medical impression. Three well-placed hyphens (how rare they are) complete the picture of an author obeying a brand style that lays down some carefully thought-out rules.

The rest of the packaging uses verbs in the normal way, eg ‘Essential oils have been used to perfume the skin & hair for thousands of years.’

Having a good style guide can be a great help to authors. Our website offers a free-to-download guide that we can customize to particular clients’ needs – see under the Publications tab. [MC]

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