You’ve heard active verbs make your writing clear, more concise, and easier to read. Right?
And passive verbs should be avoided because they’re clunky and imprecise. They can be confusing and difficult to read, too, because they require more words in a sentence than active verbs do.
Knowing the difference between active verbs and passive verbs is essential to avoid passive voice.
Recognizing passive and active verbs can be tricky sometimes, but it’s your key to sharper, snappier writing.
“Voice,” by the way, refers to the relationship between verbs and other words in a sentence, like subjects and objects. But “active verbs” or “passive verbs” means the same thing when used casually.
Take a look at this example.
Active voice: The writer deleted all passive verbs in the article.
Passive voice: All passive verbs in the article were deleted by the writer.
Do you see the difference?
In the active voice, the subject of the sentence (usually a noun or several nouns acting as an agent of action) takes action (a verb) on the recipient of action, called a direct object (someone or something that’s acted upon).
In the active voice example, “writer” is the subject (agent of action) “deleted” is the verb (the action), and “verbs” is the direct object (the recipient of the action). Here are some more examples.
UPS shipped the packages.
The hungry dog ripped apart the dog food bag.
Heavy rain pelted them all afternoon.
In the passive voice, the direct object becomes the subject (now a recipient of action), the verb includes a form of the verb “be” (am, are, is, was, were, been), and the active voice subject is now the object of the preposition “by” (a prepositional phrase) and the agent of action (instead of the recipient).
The packages were shipped by UPS.
The dog food bag was ripped apart by the hungry dog.
They had been pelted by heavy rain all afternoon. (Notice the pronoun “they” is now the subjective form instead of the objective “them” in the active verb example.)
Be careful, though. Not all cases of passive voice use the word “be.”
The packages were shipped.
The dog food bag was ripped apart.
They had been pelted all afternoon.
Each of these examples are still passive without the prepositional phrases (without “by” someone or something, the agent of action). If you want to learn more before taking the quiz, check out this article.
Are you ready? Take the quiz to test your knowledge and learn how to avoid passive voice.
Active and Passive Verb Quiz
PS Do any of the directions contain passive verbs? If so, which one(s)? Mention it in the comments!
Hi Leah 16/20 … 80% not bad for a high school drop-out.
I was impressed by your ability to disobey all your training and write so much garbage. Hopefully that focus on trash will not creep into your every day work.
I can assure you that even if you wear short skirts and fishnet stockings I will not change change my sour attitude toward your convoluted, indecipherable, and useless creations.
Yep, 80% is pretty good! As for the rest, well, of course it says more about you than me. 🙂
Obviously my attempt to be witty missed the mark. I started with a compliment and I remain impressed by your ability to operate in complete opposition to all your training and practice.
We all know that the human mind tends to reproduce what it is focused on. Hopefully that tendency will not influence you as you return to your normal writing.
As for my drifting into a paraphrase of some text that you deliberately intended to be samples of bad writing… I incorrectly assumed that your sense of humor would recognize a spoof when you saw it.
Please accept my apologies, no harm was intended.
Apology accepted–no offense taken, no harm done. You should hear what students in college classes have said straight to my face. I’ve learned to shrug and see if I can get them to state outright and politely exactly what the issue is–clearly and directly. And I’m not sure what yours is, if you have one. Or…
That said, I don’t understand what you think my “training” and “practice” might be and what, exactly, is in opposition to it. Or what my “normal” writing is. Actually I don’t follow you at all. I don’t get the fishnet stockings bit (What huh? The little story in the quiz is fictionalized and exaggerated although based on a real event 20 years ago.) Lots of assumptions on your part, seems like. It’s a quiz. With 60 out of 80 sentences totally butchered so the 20 correct responses stand out. General hilarity and silliness thrown in for fun. That’s “normal” for me, among other styles. Not everyone will like it or understand it, and that’s fine. I can’t please everyone nor do I want to.
PS Come to think of it, maybe you’re working with a stereotype in mind? Like maybe you imagine I’m a stuffy librarian type (which is just a stereotype) since I know grammar and majored in English and so on? If so, interesting. I’m about as far from that as anyone can get. I should write a post on what else I studied. *chortle*
THAT COMMENTS it says more about you than me was right on.I like this sight
My comment was off,IT was not my intention to get involved in two people’s conversation. I just really do like that comment and don’t hear it enough
Yippee, 100 out of 100!
I couldn’t believe. It’s really encouraging for me. I thought I’m dumb at it, but actually not.
Well, I’ve to test myself more, for what I’m not dumb at..:)
Thank you Leah.
Yay! That’s awesome! There haven’t been too many 100s. And you’re not “dumb” at anything. Sometimes we just have to learn stuff, that’s all. That’s not “dumb.” 🙂
No child of God is dumb,not even mentally challenged kids.were all intellectual beings,the question is are we smart enough to do the work to get us to better things.for instances I’m 47 And getting my GED and then paralegal studies.Oh and learning Yiddish.I’ve heard what!!?Your old.yes I’m old,but if I live to be 89,I don’t enjoy the alternative of getting disability on the third of month until I’m old.I can be in and out of school by 51,while that angry person is waiting for 1am so she can get her money and smoke it up.My dear keep putting one foot in front of the other.your fine
got 85%. can it be said the “to be” followed by verb-ed is passive but “to be” followed by verb-ing in not?
85% is pretty good! And good question. Are you thinking of a particular example?
The short answer: no. But you’re on to something. Take a look at my examples.
“If she were to be promoted, she would be happy.” At a glance, this seems like a passive verb construction: “promoted” (by someone). But “were” is the subjunctive mood of the verb “to be” used as a linking verb that doesn’t express action. Rather, it connects the subject to additional information about the subject. And then the main sentence follows with another linking verb (neither passive nor active, just a separate category).
Another one: “To be skilled as a piano player requires many years of practice.” Here the “to be + -ed” isn’t a main verb; it’s part of the subject.
With these examples, the “to be + -ed” construction has no bearing on whether the main verb is in active or passive voice.
“We are going to be eating dinner by 6pm.” This is awkward, but it’s not technically incorrect. This is another case of a linking verb (are) renaming or describing the subject rather than depicting action. But it certainly seems active compared to the other one.
“To be swimming in the moonlight is my idea of heaven.”
Here we have “to be + -ing” functioning as the subject, so we can’t consider whether it’s passive or active since it’s not a verb.
I hope that helps! If you have something in particular in mind, let me know.