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Active and Passive Verbs
Writers are often advised to use active verbs because they are more direct, more emphatic, and more concise than passive verbs. Passive verbs are necessary, however, when writers do not know the "doer" of the verb, the "doer" of the verb is not important, or there are too many "doers" of the same verb.
If the subject of a sentence "does" the verb (the action), then the verb is active. In the examples below, the subjects are in bold, and the verbs are in italics. Notice that the subjects are "doing" the action of the verbs.
If the subject receives the action of the verb, the verb is passive because the subject of the sentence is not "doing" the verb (the action). Passive verbs are often preceded by helping verbs (is, am, are, were, was, been) or followed with by. In the following examples, the subjects are in bold, and the verbs are in italics. Notice that the subjects in the sentences are not "doing" the action; they are receiving the action.
Although writers are often encouraged to use active voice, in some fields (especially the sciences) and in some instances (those mentioned at the top of this page), passive voice is acceptable and may even be preferred.
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Last update: 8 February 2000