Passive or Active: Which way to go?

Passive or Active: Which way to go?

There might be a time and a place for passive sentences in your writing, but first you have to recognize the difference between active and passive and be able to switch back and forth with precision and confidence.

One common way of describing how an active sentence works is to say that the noun does the action. In a passive sentence, the verb acts upon the noun.


Active: The girl washed the dog.

Passive: The dog is being washed by the girl.

Active sentences are generally considered better because they give punch to your writing. They keep events moving forward, allow you to use a wide range of action verbs, and keep the tension high.

Passive sentences can get tangled up in themselves as the writer tries to avoid starting with the subject, which often is “I” or “You.”

So how do you figure out whether a sentence is passive? Look for the agent of change, which might not be the subject of the sentence. To find the agent, look for the who or the what that’s doing the action.

Some clues:

  • A “by the” phrase, as in the sentence about the dog being washed above, indicates the verb is acting on the agent.

  • Because the agent might be implied, it can be a tad difficult to find. The first sentence of this blog is passive, and the “you” is implied. To make it active, add the agent. In this case: you might want to use passive sentences in your writing, when appropriate.

  • Look for “be” verbs, such as is, was, and were. These are often used in passive constructions. Ahem! Passive constructions often use these verbs.

 One way to improve your writing is to go through your manuscript looking for passive sentences. Not only will that help you spot them more easily, but you’ll become more aware of them when you write.

When you’ve made more of your sentences active, you’ll also see a huge difference. Characters will become more vivid, action sequences will reach a new level, and your story will become more readable.

Your readers might not know what you’ve done to improve, but they will know they enjoy your books more, now. And that’s the bottom line.





5 Steps to Building a Great Author Website

5 Steps to Building a Great Author Website