Understanding Passive and Active Verbs


Identifying active verbs and passive verbs

Active verbs show the subject of the sentence performing an action.

  • The author wrote the book.
  • The author hired an editor.
  • A cover artist designed a stunning cover for the book.
  • After working with an editor and cover artist, the author finally published the book he had spent months writing.

The sentence structure is: subject + verb + direct object

Passive verbs show the subject of the sentence receiving an action.

  • The book was written by the author.
  • The editor was hired by the author.
  • A stunning cover for the book was designed by a cover artist.
  • After working with an editor and cover artist, the book the author had spent months writing was finally published.

The sentence structure is: subject + helping verb/verb + doer of action

Tips to help identify passive verbs and active verbs

  • Passive verbs always have a direct object.
  • The subject isn’t doing anything when a passive verb is used.
  • When a passive verb is used, something is done to the subject by someone or something. *Note* “By someone or something” is often implied rather than included in the sentence.
  • When an active verb is used, the subject is doing something.

When should passive verbs be used?

  • For less confrontational discussions and in customer service situations.
    Using active verbs (active voice) can often carry an accusation. Passive verbs (passive voice) communicates the same message but is gentler and is more likely to lead to a conversation rather than a confrontation.

    • Example 1 Active: You didn’t get me anything for my birthday.
    • Example 1 Passive: I didn’t get anything (from you, implied) for my birthday.
    • Example 2 Active: You didn’t pay your bill on time, and we disconnected your cell phone service.
    • Example 2 Passive: Your bill wasn’t paid (by you, implied) on time, and your cell phone service has been disconnected (by us, implied).
  • When the doer of the action is unknown.
  • When it is irrelevant who performed the action.
  • When you readers don’t need to know who performed the action&emdash;or you don’t want them to know who performed the action.
  • To emphasize an object and/or de-emphasize an unknown subject.

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Very helpful. I am showing this to my children.

Unfortunately, many people think this topic is not very important. Knowing the differences will help make my writing stronger.