Keith Kelly looks at examples of process language in science, covering common verb and noun phrases, structures and sequencing phrases.

Common verb phrases

Verbs for saying that a phenomenon is taking place

happen: What happens when you blow on a mirror, and why?
occur: Supercooling occurs not when water freezes at 0°C, but at some lower temperature.
take place: Most cellular reactions take place in water.

Verbs for describing control of phenomena

allow: Very thin walls allow for rapid exchange of materials between blood and cells.
control: The cell membrane is important because it can control most particles moving across it, and this means what gets into or out of the cell.
let: Before birth takes place, the plug is discharged as the cervix prepares to widen to let the baby through.
stop: Antioxidants stop food from spoiling because of oxidation in air.
prevent: When the temperature is reached, the bimetallic strip bends and breaks the circuit, preventing the flow of electric current and the appliance stops heating up.

Verbs for describing outcome

help: Endothermic animals have special features and processes that help control internal body temperature.
become: Liquids and gases become less dense as they get warmer.
get: The muscles of the iris relax in dim light causing the pupil to get larger and allowing more light to enter the eye.

Verbs for describing tendency

tend to: People suffering from an under-active thyroid, where not enough thyroxin is secreted, tend to gain weight even though they are eating less.
be prone to: Feet are particularly prone to damage from crushed or broken toes.
be likely to: As roots grow downwards they are more likely to find soil for water and anchorage.

Verbs which are used to give examples, aspects, factors (also include)

involve: Convection currents involve hot particles rising and cold particles falling.

Verbs for talking about what is generated by a process

produce: Platelets near a wound cause the blood to produce thread-like proteins called fibrin.
create: Opaque objects do not allow light to pass through them, and create a shadow.
form: Hurricanes start to form as heat from the sea warms humid air directly above.
give off: Oxidizing substances are fire hazards as they give off a lot of heat when reacting with other substances.

Noun phrases

point: The phloem vessels transport food from the point where it is made to parts where it is needed.
stage: Explain each stage in the water purification process.


For example: when a happens, it becomes …, + gerund …; as a happens, b happens; if a happens, then b happens / will happen

Note: the + gerund construction is given in the first example, but it is possible to find it used for adding description to all of the structures above.

when + -ing: When the temperature increases, the alcohol in the bulb expands, pushing the mercury thread up the right side of the thermometer limb, which in turn pushes the steel index above it.
as + -ing: As the insect lands on the platform, the pressure pushes the stamens onto the back of the insect, causing the pollens to be dusted onto the insect’s back.
if … : If an object starts from rest and a fixed thrust is applied, the object will accelerate until resistance becomes equal to thrust.

Sequencing phrases

eventually: Eventually the tongue rolls chewed up food into a ball, also known as a bolus, which is then swallowed.
the next: The process of osmosis will continue from one root cell to the next until the water reaches the xylem vessels.
the next step: If the ink does not wash out, the next step is to use an organic solvent to wash out the stain.
finally: Large rocks break down by weathering until finally they become soil.