Clear Technical Writing
Engaging Action

Helping Verbs 1

Consider a sentence written two ways:

The emergency network is expandable without interrupting service.

The emergency network can be expanded without interrupting service.

Which one "feels better" to read? Almost all readers prefer the second sentence. It's easier to read and comprehend. It's more engaging.

The cumbersome expression, is expandable, is standoffish and formal. The helping verb, can, is by itself vague and impersonal. However, when we use it this way it creates a sentence that is clear and conversational.


is repairable
   → can be repaired

is transportable
   → can be transported

is avoidable
   → can be avoided

Other cumbersome expressions can be improved in a similar fashion.

Their supervisor is able to respond within an hour.

Their supervisor can respond within an hour.


has the ability to X
   → can X

is amenable to Xing
   → can X

is capable of Xing
   → can X

Another helping verb, must, can be used to make sentences more engaging.

It is essential to order more supplies.

More supplies must be ordered.


it is necessary to X
   → must be Xed

is responsible for Xing
   → must X

removal of X is mandatory
   → X must be removed

Yet another helping verb, help, can be used the same way.

Our programmers will participate in the development of the app.

Our programmers will help develop the app.


worked on the design of X
   → helped design X

was instrumental in creating X
   → helped create X

lends itself to lowering X
   → helps lower X

Edit your writing by underlining cumbersome verb phrases that can be improved with a helping verb.

The wind turbine they built is transportable with a flatbed truck. It is necessary to secure it with special ropes. I was instrumental in designing the controler. They are amenable to installing several on their property.

Lesson: Helping Verbs 1
Module: Engaging Action
Course: Clear Technical Writing