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19 academic verbs that all students should know

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(Last updated on: 19/04/2022)

There are lots of academic verbs and it is important that we understand what each academic verb means! In this article I outline the most common academic verbs and what each of them mean. If you don’t need to know all 19 of these now, then bookmark this page, because you probably will in the future!

What is an academic verb?

A verb is basically a ‘doing’ word, so by default, an academic verb is simply a doing word used in academia. In the real world this translates into the actions that students are asked to take, usually in regards to their assignment. Unfortunately, many students do not fully understand what these academic verbs mean and the result is that the work that they produce is just not quite…. right. So, it is vitally important that students understand what the academic verbs mean!

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Common academic verbs and their meanings

Below I will briefly outline the 19 most common academic verbs and what each of these mean- I recommend saving this page so that you can return to it in the future, because you will probably come across most of these at some point in your academic studies!

ANALYSE

To separate something into parts and discuss, examine, or interpret each part.

CLASSIFY

To put something into a category with things of a similar type. You might need to defend or explain how you arrived at a category and how one category differs from another.

COMPARE

To examine two or more things and to show their similarities.

CONTRAST

To examine two or more things and show their differences.

CRITICISE

To analyse and make reasoned judgments (positive, negative, or both) about something.

DEFINE

To give the meaning of a term or concept (or to express the essential nature of something).

A definition may be simple or complex. The available techniques for definition include examples, synonyms, antonyms, etymology (word’s history), or dictionary definitions.

DESCRIBE

To give the physical or non-physical qualities or characteristics of something.

DISCUSS

To offer the pros and cons of an issue.

EVALUATE

To give a reasoned opinion about something, usually in terms of the merit of a particular work, idea, or person.

EXPLAIN

To describe how something functions. To give a definition for something.

IDENTIFY

To indicate what a thing is, what it is composed of, or when and where it occurred (very similar to describe).

ILLUSTRATE

To give examples or to describe something.

INTERPRET

To comment upon something or explain its meaning.

OUTLINE

To give a historical overview of something, or to describe its main ideas or parts.

PERSUADE

To urge or influence the audience to embrace your point of view. To argue specific points supported by evidence and relevant details.

PROVE

To argue a position by supporting your claims with factual evidence.

STATE

To explain something clearly and concisely.

SUMMARISE

To give the main points or highlights of a longer work. To give a condensed account of an article, story, or event.

SYNTHESISE

To blend together research or information from several sources into one cohesive discussion.

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