Why Should You Use Active Verbs?
Today, I want to discuss active versus passive verbs, sometimes referred to as active and passive voice.
What Makes a Verb Active?Active verbs put the reader into the story's action. They experience everything as it occurs. When the verb is active, the subject of the sentence performs the action. When the verb is passive, the action is performed by the object of the verb, so the action becomes indirect.
The easiest way to understand this is to look at an example. Here's a short passage from Southern Heat by David Burnsworth:
What Does Passive Voice Look Like?
- I was paid by the store. (passive)
- The store paid me. (active)
Odds are you learned to do this while in school. Your teachers gave writing assignments with a required word count. In order to increase your word counts, you used passive verbs. (In the example above, the passive sentence has six words while the active only has four words.) The educational approach to word counts backfired by teaching you how to write boring sentences.
Once we move into the real world and write creatively or for business, we find it difficult to break this habit. Many professionals maintain an inaccurate impression that the passive voice sounds more professional. It doesn't.
Imagine if you read sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, page after page of sentences using the passive verb. You would put the book, or document, down! It's boring.
As a side note, the example above uses the past tense (paid, was paid), but even with tenses that require a helping verb, such as past perfect, there is an active and passive approach to the verb:
- I had been paid by the store. (passive)
- The store had paid me. (active)
How Do You Remove Passive Verbs?
If you look at the two examples above, the difference is the placement of the noun performing the action. The passive sentence becomes an active sentence by flipping the sentence over. Remember, in a passive sentence, the action is performed by the object.
Quick! Which voice appears in my last sentence? Who is performing?
Hopefully, you recognized a passive construction. What would the sentence look like if we reverse the subject and object? "Remember, in a passive sentence, the object performs the action."
See how easy that was?
In most cases, a reversal will work, but if it becomes too complicated, don't push it. It's OK to have a small percentage of passive verbs in your writing.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, that's our goal. Keep the reader reading.