11/30/2012 11:38 am ET Updated Jan 30, 2013

My Verb Heroes

Most of us learn pretty quickly (like, by age 2) that we need verbs to express our deepest desires. But my serious crush on verbs started when, as a writer, I tried to figure out not just what makes sentences tick, but what makes a readers sit up and pay attention to a passage. I soon learned that the verb is not just at the heart of our every memory, plan, and wish, but at the heart of English itself. The verb gives a pulse to every sentence. Verbs put action in scenes, show eccentricity in characters, and convey drama in plots. They give poetry its urgency. They make quotes memorable and ads convincing.

I've just written an entire book on these magical words--Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch. It is arranged in a grand chronological sweep, taking us from creation myths to Viagra commercials, from Beowulf to Bob Marley, from Shakespeare to Shake N Bake. In each chapter, I turn to my literary heroes for passages that prove just how central action words are to great writing. Here are some of my favorites, along with the verb-packed passages that inspire me.

Great Verbs