What are action verbs?

When you are assigned a writing task, the instructions will generally include certain verbs to let you know what kind of text you are expected to produce. These verbs are called action verbs. Some action verbs in English are to reflect, to compare, to describe, to explain, to apply, to explore, and to discuss. Understanding the use of these verbs is essential when writing, but what do they really mean?

En tegnet mann med en tankeboble
En tegnet mann med en tankeboble


When you are asked to reflect on a given subject, it means to think carefully about the topic and examine it from all sides and perspectives. This activity also requires you to test your own thoughts and beliefs to gain greater insight and understanding on the given subject. The nice thing is that these are also one of the few academic writing assignments where you can “speak” in the first person (use “I/me/my”) in your text.

In terms of writing assignments, you may be asked to reflect on a variety of topics such as specific actions, beliefs, and ideas, along with case studies, common practices, and your own learning.

For example, you may be given an assignment in English class asking you to reflect on racism in the United States. You need to gather information on what people think and how they feel about racism, what the situation is like in the United States, and why it is so. In addition to checking your comprehension, the underlying goal of this type of assignment is to help you develop a better understanding of your own thoughts and beliefs. There are no right or wrong answers in reflection tasks.

Basic reflection skills are acquired at a very young age. For example, if you touch a hot burner, it will hurt. Touching the burner would have immediately caused you to reflect on why it hurt so much. The answer, of course, would be that you had touched a hot burner, and after that you know not to do that again.

As you have grown older, you will also reflect on your friendships from time to time. If your friend suddenly gets angry at you one day, you try to figure out (reflect on) what happened to make them angry.  Your reflection will then help you reach a new understanding of why and how the situation developed.

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Hånden til et barn prøver å ta på en varm kokeplate.
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