How to Use Active Verbs to Enhance Your Sentence Structure


Are you enjoying our 90 Second Writing Lessons? Lesson #3 just went up yesterday, so if you’re a little behind you can catch up on previous lessons here.

The downside of lessons lasting only a minute and a half is there isn’t much time to grab your attention, explain a concept in detail and give you plenty of examples to get the point across before (shamelessly) begging you to subscribe.

That’s the point: it’s supposed to be quick, so you can watch on-the-go. But we want to make sure you’re getting the most out of important concepts, especially related to grammar.

Using active voice often comes naturally, but it’s normal to let down your guard and let a few passive sentences slip in here and there without realizing it.

Regardless of what you’re writing, the more you utilize active verbs, as Lesson #3 points out, the easier sentences are to read and understand.

But what is the difference between active and passive voice?

There wasn’t enough time to cover this in detail yesterday, so we’ll do it for you here.

Passive Voice Emphasizes the Direct Object

For this remainder of post we will use the following sentence as an example:

Every book on the shelf has been read by Lia.

A brief grammar review: Lia is the subject. Read is the verb.

In a passive sentence, the direct object comes before the subject. In our example sentence, the direct object—the noun which the action is being performed on—is book.

Did you notice that passive voice above? Hard to read, right?

Passive voice requires us to add extra words we can eliminate by using passive voice.

Active Voice Puts the Subject First

In an active sentence, the subject performs the action. This requires us to put the subject and verb before the direct object. This also means we can eliminate been and by.

Lia has read every book on the shelf.

Putting the subject in front makes it clearer who is performing the action (verb). The books aren’t reading Lia. That would be awkward.

Why Use Active Verbs?

Writing in passive voice can make your sentences appear wordy and complex.

The original, passive form of our sentence, Every book on the shelf has been read by Lia, contains 10 words.

The revised, active form, Lia has read every book on the shelf, has eight.

Only a slight difference, but if you have multiple passive sentences on a page to start with, you can easily cut out a lot of unnecessary words.

The more straightforward you can be—subject performs action on direct object—the more your readers are likely to get the point. Adding an adjective in there (every book) shouldn’t change the clarity or simplicity.

Leave your subjects in their starring roles and your direct objects “to be acted upon.” Sometimes passive voice in dialogue does end up as the most natural arrangement—“Your book. It has been terminated. By me.”

Or, you know. Something like that.

But the majority of the time, active verbs are the way to go. When in doubt, put your subject first and rearrange the sentence accordingly.

See? Not so hard after all.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.