Why Use Active Verbs Instead of Passive

by Barbara McNichol
Editor of Word Trippers
You’ve probably been urged to use “active” verbs when you write but do you know why? Because sentences written with active verbs do the following:

  • Clearly spell out the action being performed and who is doing it.
  • Convey the ideas more quickly and directly than passive sentences.
  • Frequently require fewer words than passive sentences when space is limited.

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Identify Passive Voice

Two clues help you identify “passive” use in a sentence:

  1. The word “by”
  2. Variations of the verb “to be.”

Passive—“Employees are seen by their managers as responsive and enthusiastic.”
Active—“Managers see their employees as responsive and enthusiastic.”

In addition, passive sentences can foster weasel-like communication and hide who’s responsible for an action and, in this way, evade accountability rather than declare it. For example, if a contract states “the rules for the homeowners will be enforced” but doesn’t note who will enforce those rules, what results? Ambiguity. Confusion. Inaction.

In an active sentence, someone (subject) does something (verb) to someone/something (object). Example: The employees (subject) implement (verb) the new strategy (object). Who’s doing the implementing? The employees. Thus, it’s clear who’s accountable for the action.

Your challenge: Use the clues here to notice passive sentences and change them to active.

 Compliment, complement  “Compliment” means to praise while “complement” means to complete or enhance something. (Note: the words “complete” and “complement” both use the letter “e”) “The wine steward deserves many compliments. The wine complements the food extremely well.”


When you know how to write with precision and accuracy, your professional reputation builds and your career can soar. Barbara McNichol is passionate about helping business professionals add power to their pen. To assist in this mission, she has created a word choice guide Word Trippers: The Ultimate Source for Choosing the Right Word When It Really Matters with details at www.WordTrippers.com.


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