Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In writing on an academic topic concerned with IT systems and business stuff, my aim is to write with active formulations which liven the text. But I'm noticing that I tend to use human verbs for non-human things, as other formulations end in bloated or passive sentences. Some contrasts appear in the following examples.

The process depends on section Y.
The process is dependent on section Y.
A dependency between the process and section Y exists.
The domain program cannot rely on factor Z.
We cannot rely on factor Z for the domain program.

Is using human verbs for things a bad style? If yes, how can I fix that? Any golden hammers?

Always just using is makes the text not very fun to read.

share|improve this question

closed as not a real question by MετάEd, JSBձոգչ, Rory Alsop, RegDwigнt Nov 13 '12 at 15:20

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

What do you mean by "human verbs"? –  JSBձոգչ Nov 13 '12 at 14:52
Do you think 'dependent' or 'rely' are verbs which only apply to humans? They can apply to all sorts of things, so the question doesn't really make sense. That said, @BillFranke's answer gives you a way to reduce bloat. –  Rory Alsop Nov 13 '12 at 15:15
If you mean animizing/anthropomorphizing data entities, while some Suits may frown upon this, it's a long-established standard in the tech culture. Processes listen, talk to each other, exchange handshakes, sleep, eat from input, take offense for some undesired behavior (and refuse to talk to the misbehaving entity), boggle at invalid data, get suspicious of atypical activity, have masters and slaves, have children and die. This is all well established jargon and anyone taking offense in this usage is revealed to be less than adequately experienced. –  SF. Nov 13 '12 at 15:31
Are you manufacturing a new rule for us, that there is such concept as "human verbs" and that it is improper to use such so-called "human verbs" on inanimate objects? Are you writing some new rules for us? –  Blessed Geek Nov 13 '12 at 15:52
@BlessedGeek: The correct literary name is "anthropomorphization": using terms applicable to humans and giving human attributes in relation to non-human entities. It's a very common literary device used in poetry and extremely frequent in children literature. It's also somewhat frowned upon in serious, professional texts. Still, the IT jargon is practically overflowing with it and it would be silly to painstakingly filter it off in in texts "meant for human consumption" (for outside the IT zone), especially that the graphic metaphors are really helpful in understanding the problems. –  SF. Nov 13 '12 at 16:07

2 Answers 2

You can avoid bloated sentences by cutting out unnecessary words. E.g., in:

The process is dependent on whatever.

you've turned an active verb into an adjective and added the stative verb "is". Debloat your sentence by saying it this way:

The process depends on whatever.

And if you give "the process" a name and avoid using the phrase "the process of X" in favor of the name of the process (e.g., "the process of growing up" becomes simply "growing up"), you avoid unnecessary bloat.

Sentences like this:

The domain cannot rely on whatever.

are difficult to evaluate because they have no content and no context.

What are "human verbs"? Do you mean that you find yourself anthropomorphizing ("attributing human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects") nonhuman entities like machines and abstractions? It's a common problem with language because most of what we say is metaphorical. And using stative verbs rather than active verbs is difficult to avoid in English.

Finally, this question probably belongs on Stack Exchange Writers because it's asking a general question about writing style rather than questions about specific usage and grammatical points.

share|improve this answer

There is no reason in principle why you shouldn't use such words. You can certainly use dependent on and rely on to describe the relationship between inanimate objects, provided that doing so is appropriate in the context.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.