By Kathy Ide
In Passive and Active Verbs, Part One, we encouraged the use of active verbs over passive verbs. Here, we will list five exceptions.
In nonfiction, there are a few acceptable reasons to use passive verbs:
- To emphasize the action rather than the subject.
Example: Jim’s bioengineering proposal was approved by the committee.
- To keep the subject and focus consistent throughout a passage.
Example: The astrobiology department presented a controversial proposal to the committee. After long debate, the proposal was endorsed by …
- To be tactful by not naming the subject.
Example: The e-mail message was misinterpreted.
- To describe a condition in which the subject is unknown or irrelevant to the sentence.
Example: Every year, many people are diagnosed with Environmental Illness.
- To create an authoritative tone.
Example: Visitors are not allowed after 9:00 p.m.
Even in fiction, the occasional use of a passive verb is acceptable. But do a search of your manuscript for is, was, are, were, be, been, would, could, has, had, and have, and wherever you find one of those words, see if there’s a way you can show what’s happening instead of just telling about it.
Kathy Ide is a published author/ghostwriter, editor/mentor, and writers’ conference speaker. Her latest books are Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors and 21 Days of Grace: Stories that Celebrate God’s Unconditional Love, the first in the Fiction Lover’s Devotional series. Kathy is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network (www.TheChristianPEN.comwww.TheChristianPEN.com) and the Christian Editor Connection (www.ChristianEditor.comwww.ChristianEditor.com). To find out more, visit www.KathyIde.com.
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