Verb > Exert

Verb – Exert

We took the word “exert” from a Latin one that means “to put forth, or to thrust out.” (Or more literally, and a lot more weirdly, “to arrange outward.“) And at first, that’s the meaning we used in English, too, as in “Apple Trees…exert themselves in Air” (John Dryden, 1697).

Over the centuries, the meaning changed from “push out” to “put into use” and “make a strong effort.”

In other words, to exert something (like to exert your power or your control) is to use it: to put it to use. And to exert yourself is to work really hard, either physically or mentally, as if you’re putting to use all of your power or energy.

Part of speech:
Verb, the transitive kind: “they exerted their power,” “they exerted themselves.”

Other forms:
Exerted, exerting, exertion.

how to use it:
This common word has a harsh, forceful tone.

To use its first meaning, talk about people exerting their power, control, or influence over things or other people: “When the government exerts too much control over our daily lives, we fight back.” Or, talk about objects, events, and situations exerting force, pressure, and other effects on things: “Black holes exert a strong gravitational pull.”

And to use the second meaning of “exert,” talk about people exerting all their effort, exerting all their energy, or simply exerting themselves. Or, over-exerting themselves. Have some sarcastic fun with this. “I really had to exert myself, but I made you this Pop-Tart.”

“Her body language and the amount of forward pressure she was exerting on her skis made it clear that she was thinking her way through her run.”
— Bill Pennington, New York Times, 19 February 2018

“The larger the tech platform, the more worrisome it is when they exert editorial power. We probably don’t want a service that has become our national communications infrastructure to endorse political candidates, for example.”
— Casey Newton, The Verge, 29 August 2019