In this lesson, you’ll learn about the power of active verbs.
In your everyday and professional writing, it is important to use verbs in an active, clear, and powerful way. Let’s learn how to use verb power.
Use "to be" Verbs Less
It is best to use “to be” verbs (am, is, are, was, were, being, been) only occasionally. This is because those verbs do not show action nor specific detail. Sometimes these verbs are necessary, such as when explaining the location of something (The pens are on the desk).
However, it is usually better to use active verbs to express detail. Let’s compare two sentences. The verbs are bolded. See below:
Weak: Our new waiter was really quick to learn the menu items.
Strong: Our new waiter learned the menu items quickly.
The weak sentence used was and the base form of learn. The result is a sentence that only passively tells about the new waiter. The strong sentence used an active, descriptive verb, learned, to describe the new waiter. Let’s look at two more sentences:
Weak: Being patient is important when you are a mentor.
Strong: Mentors must show patience.
What makes the strong sentence better? It immediately states the subject of the sentence (mentors) and uses an active, descriptive verb phrase: must show.
Use Active Voice
Sometimes writers move the focus away from the subject (the doer of the action) in a sentence. This is called using “passive voice.” Passive voice is not assertive and can confuse your reader.
When you write, use “active voice.” Focus on the subject (the doer) and what the subject is doing (the verb). Let’s compare two sentences. The verbs are bolded and the subjects are underlined. See below:
Passive: The birthday cake was given to me by my coworkers.
Active: My coworkers gave me a birthday cake.
Notice that the passive sentence focuses on the object of the sentence (me). The active sentence focuses on who gave the cake (the doers) and what they did (gave a cake). Let’s look at two more sentences:
Passive: Accusations were made and feelings were hurt.
Active: The supervisor accused his team and hurt their feelings.
What makes the active sentence better? It is clear who the doer is and whose feelings were hurt. The actions of the doer are also clearer (accused and hurt).
1. True or False: The verbs am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been are active, descriptive verbs.
2. True or False: When writing in active voice, it is best to focus the sentence on the object of the sentence.
3. True or False: This sentence is in active voice: Felipe joined the new accounting firm.
4. True or False: This sentence is in active voice: Newer equipment is needed by us for this job.
5. Select the option that shows the sentence in active voice:
- Better pay is being demanded by the teachers.
- The teachers demand to be paid better.
- The teachers demand better pay.
- Better pay is what the teachers are demanding.
6. Select the option that shows the sentence in active voice:
- Our CEO submitted a letter that says that she is resigning this morning.
- This morning, a letter of resignation from our CEO was submitted.
- A letter of resignation was submitted this morning by our CEO.
- Our CEO submitted a letter of resignation this morning.
Need More Help?
- Study other English Language Practice pages in the Resource Center.
- Visit the Online Tutoring Resources in the Resource Center.
- Contact your Instructor.
- If you still need help, Schedule a Tutor.