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All writers have heard passive verbs should be avoided as much as possible and active verbs are fundamental to good writing.
Do you know the difference? Can you find active verbs and passive verbs in your writing? Do you know why active verbs are considered better than passive verbs? Do you know when you should use passive verbs?
Why active verbs are better (most of the time) than passive verbs
Active verbs clearly show who or what is doing something and who or what is responsible. Using active verbs equals writing that is more concise since active verbs require fewer words than using passive verbs. Active verbs make writing flow more smoothly. When using active verbs, your writing also seems to move more quickly.
Passive verbs can create wordiness and are often found in lengthy sentences that may be hard for readers to understand. Sentences written with passive verbs (or in passive construction) can lead to misleading and/or confusing statements. However, passive verbs can be effective when you want to slow down the pace of your writing, focus on a scene, or emphasize an object over a subject.
The most common passive construction happens to be past tense (e.g., I’ve been robbed), which adds to the confusion in identifying passive verbs. The difference is voice has to do with who, while tense has to do with when.
Once you understand the difference between passive verbs and active verbs, you’ll be able to detect passive verbs in your writing and change them to active verbs. You’ll also understand when passive verbs should be used. These understandings will lead to writing that is clear, concise, and effective.
Before looking at the difference between passive verbs and active verbs, let’s quickly review verb types, subjects, and direct objects first.