Passive Verbs

Here are three sentence patterns. It is the third one that I’d like to talk about most today.

  1. We met this one in the previous post, basically the subject and the verb. We can add modifiers to make it more interesting.

The wintery sky changed dramatically.

  1. The subject, verb, and a direct object.

The dog bit his master.

  1. The subject and a passive voice verb (a verb that does not take a direct object. In fact, if we use sentence #2 as an example, the former object (the master) becomes the subject and the former subject (the dog) becomes the object. The passive verb tells us that something has been done to the subject.

Examples:

The master was bitten by the dog.

The house was built by the carpenter.

The car was driven by Anneli.

***Note that the passive voice (as in the examples above) is not usually the preferred choice for writers of novels. The active voice makes for much better drama. Consider these two ways of writing:

Passive:

The Corolla was driven up the new highway by Marlie. A bear was seen by her. The car was being parked at the side of the road by Marlie. The camera was picked up by her shaking hands. Just then, she was charged by the bear.

Active:

Marlie drove up the Corolla up the new highway. She saw a bear. Marlie parked the car at the side of the road. Her shaking hands picked up the camera. Just then, the bear charged her.

Conclusion:

The passive voice works well in some cases, and has its uses, but for the most part, the active verb form is better. In some cases, the passive verb form is best.

For example, we use the passive verb if something happened to someone but we don’t know who did it:

My neighbour was robbed.

The pedestrian was knocked over.

The money was taken.

Take care to check your verb forms and only use the passive form if it is called for. Needless use of the passive verb form takes the punch out of your writing.

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