I've read that "People buy on emotion and justify with logic" and that, when writing sales copy, one should use "emotive" words.

Now understand my background is intensely technical and, while I can bang out a well-written technical manual without a second thought, I am struggling with verbs that "arouse intense feeling" especially since I am selling something (software) where technical precision matters. My goal is to connect emotionally with my prospects (using strong verbs of moderate comprehension complexity) while still weaving such emotion around the technical fabric of my actual business.

So my question: is there a clear method to know where a particular verb falls on the spectrum of emotional to logical?

Consider this construct: "Ever feel like your business ...". Ok, "feel" is clearly an emotive verb, but it's weak. Replace that with "Ever suspect your business...". Now "suspect" is a stronger verb, but is it emotive? Probably, it's about trust. But another synonym is "reckon", which is getting closer to "measuring", which is logical. And going further to "calculate" we're clearly in logical territory.

So when I choose a stronger verb, is there a clear technical way to know the emotional impact of the verb, or do I just need to tap into my inner emotional self and take off this logical hat?

  • 1
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    – bib
    Feb 18, 2014 at 21:22
  • I think you may be overthinking some of this. Generally, you want to use active (rather than passive) voice, and you want to evoke stronger emotion in the reader. But in your example, feel vs suspect vs reckon vs measuring vs calculate all have VERY different meanings. You really want to be careful about your word choice and not just use suspect because it might be 'stronger'.
    – Doc
    Feb 18, 2014 at 21:22
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    That's not the right spectrum. There are several different varieties of words with many kinds and flavors of "emotiveness". Many of them are ordered on some cline or other; and even more of the ones from metaphor themes (UP/DOWN, HOT/COLD) are clinal, and some are polar. But you need much smaller granularity for your terms; consider the verb classes in Levin 1993, to see how much more granular. All of these classes can be distinguished by syntactic criteria, but they all group together semantically, too. How many are "emotive"? Feb 18, 2014 at 21:25
  • @ Doc: Exactly: each have vastly different de- and conno- tations but are orderable from less evidence-based to more (or more belief based to less). But the belief-to-evidence spectrum is just one way verbs can become more or less emotive (as @JohnLawler mentioned). I was hoping for some macro quantification... like how do people decide what words qualify on lists of feeling and emotional words
    – bishop
    Feb 18, 2014 at 21:35
  • You could check Framenet, or Wordnet; if you code your inquiries within their parameters, you may get lists. Feb 18, 2014 at 22:10

3 Answers 3


The short answer to your question is "no" the longer answer is "we're working on it." The rabbit hole here gets very deep but it also a really exciting aspect of modern language. Deciding that one word sounds better than another is something that human beings do millions of times when writing. No one sits down and parses through a thesaurus, analyzes historical context, looks for similar usages and then, based on this process, plucks the perfect word out of a list of 30 that mean the same thing. Yet people somehow make these choices all the time and generally agree that some writing feels 'better' or more 'eloquent' than other writing, without being able to pin down exactly why.

One paper that doesn't do exactly what you are looking for, but shows how it might be done is this study of politeness in language done by Stanford another project by the same department is a program that does the exact opposite of what you are looking for (it converts language to logical axioms). Some commercial software can also gauge the degree to which words are positive or negative or find underlying psychological associations with certain terms. These are largely directed towards marketing analysis and other more profitable fields so they often cost a ton.


Split Testing

(Honestly, that's all I can think of).

If you put out two versions of something with slight differences, and one of them performs better, than I suppose you would rank that one ahead of the other in terms of it's emotional impact. This would give you some sort of relative ranking, if not an objective one.

So, if you had a website with two versions, and "Ever feel like your business" resulted in a 10% conversion rate, while "Ever suspect your business..." only resulted in a 5% conversion rate, you would rank the one other the other. You could do this with any number of words, phrases, and layout elements, individually and in combination.

I think this could get a bit complicated though, as the impact of a word or phrase may be tied in with it's environment - other words, phrases, colors, fonts, images, etc., that change along with it, and you may find that two weak changes can be combined into a strong change, and how do you rank that?

I suspect a relative measure is the best we can get. I also suspect that you wouldn't be able to take that measurement and generalize to other uses of the word or phrase, as the context and 'environment' of a word or phrase will also affect it's impact.

I believe there is some split testing software that will let you try many different tweaks and find the best combination, and I imagine some of them have meaningful measures of the results. I'm not particularly familiar with them though, so you'd have to consult the Google.

(Obviously, this mainly applies to sales, or other copy with some sort of measurable conversion)

  • Yep, I'm A/B testing the different variants and relying on a relative measure as you say. That's really the crux and well said: my idealistic self wants an absolute measure, but no such thing can exist. It's relative to audience, context, etc.
    – bishop
    Mar 3, 2014 at 17:20

I know of no mechanical way, but here are a few suggestions:

1) If you have a word that you want to make more "emotive," check it in the thesaurus. A thesaurus will show you similar words, and (at least for native English speakers) you can quickly see how its emotional effect in comparison to synonyms. This at least gives you a systematic pool of candidates.

2) Dictionaries also will sometimes highlight emotional aspects of a word.

3) Look for it's use in quotes (for example, by searching for the word here). You can get a sense quickly from reading how other people have used the word in well-known places what emotional attachments come with the word.

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