An Incomplete List of Verbs

Umberto Eco on the enigma that is the world

According to Umberto Eco, “We like lists because we don't want to die.” He says lists create culture:

“The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible.

It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity?

How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.

There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte.

We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.”

We like lists because we want to matter.

Lists are also signal. We make lists to remember and get things done. The lists we share indicate what we pay attention to, what resonates, the things we appreciate even though we may not necessarily agree with them wholeheartedly.

And so we should save those writings for the dual purpose of enjoying them and disagreeing intelligently.

On the practical side, I have been keeping a list of verbs to refer to for inspiration. Maybe it's something you can use.

An incomplete list of verbs

Accelerate, accept, access, accomplish, achieve, act, adapt, add, address, adjust, admire, admit, adopt, advance, advise, affect, afford, aim, alter, allow, amplify, analyze, answer, appear, applaud, apply, appreciate, approve, argue, arrange, arrive, assume, ask, assist, attach, attract, attack, avoid

Bake, balance, ban, battle, be, become, behave, behold, begin, believe, belong, bless, blink, boast, book, bore, borrow, bounce, bow, box, bake, brand, break, breathe, bridge, bring, build, burn, bury, buy

Calculate, call, capture, carry, care, cast, carve, catch, cause, celebrate, center, circle, challenge, change, chase, charge, check, choose, claim, clean, clear, climb, close, collaborate, collect, come, combine, command, commit, communicate, compare, compete, complain, complete, compress, conceive, concern, confirm, confuse, connect, consider, consist, construct, consult, contact, contain, continue, counsel, contribute, control, converse, converge, convey, copy, correct, count, cover, craft, create, cross, crowdsource, culminate, cure, cut

Damage, dare, deal, decide, define, delay, delegate, deliberate, deliver, demand, deny, depend, describe, design, destroy, detect, develop, direct, disagree, disappear, discover, discuss, distill, diversify, divide, do, double, doubt, draft, drag, drain, draw, dream, drip, drive, drop, drum

Earn, educate, embarrass, embrace, embody, employ, empower, empty, enable, enact, encourage, end, enhance, energize, enjoy, enroll, enter, entertain, escape, examine, exchange, excite, excuse, execute, exercise, exist, expand, expect, experience, explain, explore, express, extend 

Face, fade, fail, fall, fasten, fashion, fear, feast, feed, feel, fence, fight, file, fill, film, find, finish, fire, fit, fix, flood, flow, fly, focus, fold, follow, fool, force, forge, forget, forgive, form, formulate, frame, fuel, fulfill, function  

Gain, gather, generate, give, glue, go, govern, grab, greet, grow, guarantee, guard, guess, guide 

Hack, hand, handle, happen, harm, hatch, hate, haunt, have, head, heal, heap, hear, help, herd, hide, hit, hold, hook, hope, hover, hug, hunt, hurry, hurt

Identify, ignite, ignore, imagine, implement, impress, improve, include, increase, indicate, influence, inform, inject, initiate, innovate, inspire, instruct, intend, interact, interest, interfere, interrupt, introduce, invent, invite, invest, involve, irritate, itch

Jog, join, joke, judge, juggle, jump

Keep, kill, knock, knot, know

Label, land, last, laugh, launch, lead, learn, leave, lend, let, level, leverage, license, lighten, lie, like, limit, link, list, listen, live, load, lock, look, love

Make, manage, mark, match, master, matter, mean, measure, meddle, meet, melt, memorize, mention, miss, mix, model, mold, motivate, move, multiply

Nail, name, narrate, navigate, need, nod, note, notice, number

Obey, object, observe, obtain, occur, offer, open, operate, order, organize, orient, oversee, overcome, owe, own

Package, paint, park, pass, pause, pay, personalize, perform, permit, pick, pitch, pivot, place, plan, play, point, polish, position, possess, pose, power, practice, preach, precede, prefer, present, preserve, press, pretend, prevent, price, prioritize, proceed, produce, program, progress, promise, protect, prototype, provide, prove, publish, pull, pursue, push, put

Qualify, quantify, query, question

Race, radiate, rain, raise, rarefy, reach, react, read, realize, reboot, receive, recognize, record, redefine, reduce, refer, reflect, refrain, refuse, regard, regret, reject, relate, relax, release, rely, remain, remember, remind, remove, renew, repair, repeat, replace, reply, report, represent, reproduce, request, require, rescue, research, resonate, respect, respond, rest, restore, result, retain, rethink, retire, return, reveal, reverberate, revive, ride, ring, rise, risk, rob, rock, roll, ruin, rule, run, rush

Sail, satisfy, save, say, scale, scare, scream, screen, scrub, seal, search, segment, see, seek, seem, sell, send, sense, separate, serve, set, settle, sever, shake, shape, share, shave, shelter, shift, shoot, shop, show, shut, sigh, signal, simplify, sing, sit, sketch, skip, sleep, slip, slow, smile, snack, solve, sort, sound, spare, spark, speak, spell, spoil, spot, spread, spray, squeeze, stamp, stand, start, state, stay, steer, step, stick, stir, stop, store, strategize, strengthen, stretch, strip, study, subtract, succeed, suffer, suggest, suit, supply, support, suppose, surpass, surprise, surround, survive, suspect, suspend, switch

Take, talk, tailor, tap, taste, teach, tease, tell, tempt, tend, test, thank, think, thrive, throw, tie, tip, touch, tour, trace, track, trade, train, transform, transport, travel, treasure, treat, trick, trigger, trot, trouble, trust, try, turn, twist, type

Uncover, understand, unify, unlock, unpack, upload, usher, use

Value, vanish, verify, venture, visit, voice, vote

Wait, walk, wander, want, warn, wash, waste, watch, wave, wear, weigh, welcome, whisper, will, win, wink, wish, wonder, work, worry, wrap, wrestle, write

Zap, zip, zoom


The first step in learning to diversify our writing is to read more. Some things that work for me are reading comparatively, for sheer enjoyment, to exercise the mind, and to discover something new. The second is to write a lot, experimenting with finding words that get closer to what we want to say, to the truth we want to transmit.


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