July 13, 2015
Passive vs. Active Verbs
“Am, are, is, was, were, be, been!”
I don’t know how many times throughout my teaching career I had kids in my English classes recite those “BEING VERBS” so they would know NOT to use them in their writing assignments so often. I dare say thousands of times. So, the list has been ingrained in my thick brain as much as I hoped it was ingrained in my students’ mushy minds.
But, you know, after all the years I’ve taught English and all the years I’ve been writing for publication, I still catch myself overusing these words when I’m expounding. Using these words seems to come as natural as breathing, not only for beginning writers but for seasoned vets as well.
These nasty little three-and-four-letter words are like pesky little gnats in your eyes and the foundation to what we call the “passive voice,” a voice you should try to avoid 90% of the time. Why?
The passive voice makes your writing dull, lifeless, and uninteresting. These little nasties take the punch right out of any really good story you’re trying to write.
Let’s look at a few examples of passive voice verbs vs. active voice:
Passive: Joe was walking his dog Barney last night. (Ho hum.)
Active: Joe walked his dog Barney last night.
Passive: Martha was listening to her brother’s phone conversation.
Active: Martha listened to her brother’s phone conversation.
Passive: Trigger, a handsome Palomino, was ridden by Roy Rogers.
Active: Roy Rogers rode Trigger, a handsome Palomino.
Passive: Sally’s baby boy is loving his new toy.
Active: Sally’s baby boy loves his new toy.
Passive: The Jones’ kids have been going to camp every summer for years.
Active: The Jones’ kids have gone to camp every summer for years.
So, in a nutshell, there you have a quick survey of one aspect of the passive versus active voice. Take the time to evaluate some of your latest writings. Use a highlighter and see how many times these little nasties pop up. You’ll probably be surprised.
Just working on this one facet of your writing will improve your manuscripts far beyond what you can imagine. Work on sentence structure. Throw out the little nasties and make stronger sentences with more of a punch. Your readers will be glad you did, and they’ll be eager to turn the page in your book to see what’s coming next.
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