O Level English Literature in Sri Lanka is on the rise! So should your writing skills!

When you write a critical essay on a poem or any other text, the register of language you use should be formal. It shouldn’t be the style ‘u use wen u txt sm1.’ It shouldn’t be the style you use to speak with your friends. There has to be a level of professionalism to it.

Meta-Writing Verbs
We always use phrases like ‘the poet says/ shows/ writes’ or the phrase ‘shows, means, says.’ However, in essay writing, you need to use better verbs and should avoid using the same verb too often.

What are some of the easy verbs to learn which would make your writing much better? Here
are some examples.

The words below are usually followed by The Writer/ Poet/ Author…
Example – The writer explores/exposes/portrays…

Explore is used in a general sense. You can use it in an introduction. (The poet
explores/elaborates/explains/expresses the fear and possessiveness that grips a mother’s
heart in relation to her daughter.)

Present – The poet presents the narrator as belonging to the working class people who are
possibly occupying the streets because they are unemployed (almost same as portrays).

Expose – used when the poet or the narrator or the words/phrases in a poem reveals a
negative side about a person or thing. (The poet exposes the horrors of segregation in

Portray – basically the way a person, place or situation is described (presented) to the
reader. (The writer portrays Nicholas as a mischievous boy with a sparkling imagination).

Describe – (The writer uses strong visual imagery to describe the horrific atrocities of Black
July/ The writer describes Richard Cory as an impeccable gentleman with riches that could
buy him anything)

Juxtapose – When the writer places two contrasting things (images, concepts, places) in
close proximity. (Yasmine Gooneratne juxtaposes images of violence with religious imagery
to expose the hypocrisy of people who call themselves religious but do not live by their

Compares – (The writer compares the free bird and the caged bird to emphasize the
injustice that the caged bird experiences, as well as to expose the ignorance or the callousness
of the free bird who turns a blind eye on its own.

Personify – When the writer gives human qualities to an inanimate object. (The writer
personifies the fire of ethnic tension, effectively capturing the spread and terror of the
violence by using the word ‘grip’).

The following verbs are followed by The Narrator/ Persona or a character… These are actions done by a character.

Reminisce (the narrator) – To look back at the past with longing. (The narrator reminisces
about better times when people used to be sincere and trustworthy).

Contemplates – to think deeply about something. (Jagan contemplates about the many
rituals and traditions that he had to uphold at his wedding).

Questions – This simply means the act of questioning something – having doubts about something (The narrator questions the adult behaviour which he sees as full of performances and acts).

The words below can be followed by The Writer/ Poet/ Author… as well as The Word/Phrase (Or Quotation).

Capture – when the writer or the word/phrase contains meaning just like a camera captures
all the details of an image. (The author captures the whole plot in the first line of the novel
in The Vendor of Sweets) / (The phrase ‘Fearful trill’ captures the deep anguish and the
urgency of the caged bird).

Highlights/Emphasizes – To draw attention to something. (The writer emphasizes the
struggle for freedom by repeating the phrase ‘opens its throat to sing’) / (The phrase ‘fat
worms’ highlights the excessive material prosperity that the free bird, or the privileged
communities enjoy at the expense of the oppressed).

The following verbs usually follow The Word / Phrase.

Reflect – When a word or phrase reveals something about the character, place or situation, just
like in a mirror. (The phrase ‘bars of rage’ reflects the immense anger that blinds the caged
bird, not allowing it to perceive its reality clearly) / (The word ‘game’ in this context reflects
how the loss of lives is similar to entertainment or profit for politicians).

Connotes /suggests /implies – What a word implies or suggests (In addition to the literal
meaning). The phrase ‘dares to claim the sky’ connotes / suggests / implies ownership and the
authority that the free bird enjoys.

Symbolize – When a word or phrase stands as a representation of a larger entity. (The image of a bird flying ‘till the current ends’ symbolizes the social system with its laws and social structures which guarantees an effortless and resistance-free life to the privileged community.’

Conveys – Means to carry/deliver a message. (The word ‘scuttle’ conveys the fear of the tourists as
they are horrified by the violence that the country fell into).

Check out these links to improve your writing!
Using Brainstorming!
Simple and Useful Guide to Writing an Essay Answer

Here are some useful link!
Click here to find a comprehensive list of words and technical terms to help you!
To find literary techniques and words used to describe them, check out this AWESOME PDF document!

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