BLOG: Eye-Popping Tips

From Karen Saunders

Your Branding, Marketing & Self-Publishing Coach

Why Use Active Verbs Instead of Passive?

Why Use Active Verbs Instead of Passive? This is part 3 of a 3-part series by my team editor Barbara McNichol on communicating clearly and writing like a pro.

Barbara McNichol says to use active verbs in your prose

During the summer months of June, July and August, I’ll post a 3-part series on helpful writing tips by Barbara. 

You’ve probably been urged to use active verbs when you write but do you know why? Because sentences written with active verbs:

  • Clearly spell out the action being performed and who is doing it.
  • Convey the ideas more quickly and directly than passive sentences.
  • Frequently require fewer words than passive sentences when space is limited.

Two clues help you identify “passive” use in a sentence: 1) the word “by” and 2) variations of the verb “to be.”

Passive—“Employees are seen by their managers as responsive and enthusiastic.”
Active—“Managers see their employees as responsive and enthusiastic.”

In addition, passive sentences can foster weasel-like communication and hide who’s responsible for an action and, in this way, evade accountability rather than declare it. For example, if a contract states “the rules for the homeowners will be enforced” but doesn’t note who will enforce those rules, what results? Ambiguity. Confusion. Inaction.

In an active sentence, someone (subject) does something (verb) to someone/something (object). Example: The employees (subject) implement (verb) the new strategy (object). Who’s doing the implementing? The employees. Thus, it’s clear who’s accountable for the action.

Your challenge to use active verbs: Use the clues here to notice passive sentences and change them to active.

Today’s Word Trippers:

Compliment, complement “Compliment” means to praise while “complement” means to complete or enhance something. (Note: the words “complete” and “complement” both use the letter “e”) “The wine steward deserves many compliments. The wine complements the food extremely well.”

Distribute, dispense, disperse – The verbs “distribute” and “dispense” are similar in meaning. “Distribute” refers to dividing something into portions and handing them out. “Dispense” means to issue or distribute something such as medication. When used as “dispense with,” it means to set aside or do without. “Disperse,” a verb, means to break up, scatter, disband, or make something disappear.

“Before their guests disperse, the hosts of the party will dispense with the formalities and distribute their gifts to each of them.”

When you know how to write with precision and accuracy, your professional reputation builds and your career can soar. Barbara McNichol is passionate about helping business professionals add power to their pen. To assist in this mission, she has created a word choice guide Word Trippers: The Ultimate Source for Choosing the Right Word When It Really Matters with details at