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Chapter 2

ENGCMP 0200 Chapter 2: Grammar Notes Chapter 2 - Prefer Active Words

English Composition
Course Code
Laura Feibush

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2 Prefer Active Verbs
As a rule, active verbs express meaning more vigorously than forms of the verb be or
verbs in the passive voice. Forms of be (be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been) lack vigor
because they convey no action. Passive verbs lack strength because their subjects receive the
action instead of doing it.
Forms of be and passive verbs have legitimate uses, but choose an active verb
whenever possible.
2A When to replace be verbs
Not every be verb needs replacing. The forms of be (be, am, is, are, was, were being,
been) work well when you want to link a subject to a noun that clearly renames it or to a vivid
objective to it.
If a be verb makes a sentence needlessly wordy, however consider replacing it. Often a
phrase, following the verb will contain a word (such as violation, resistant) that suggests a more
vigorous, active verb (violate, resisted).
NOTE: When used as helping verbs with present participles to express ongoing action, be
verbs are fine: She was Swimming when the whistle blew.
2B When to replace passive verbs
In the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action; in the passive, the
subject receives the action.
Active The committee reached a decision.
Passive A decision was reached by the committee
In passive sentences, the action (in this case committee) frequently does not appear: a
decision was reached.
In most cases, you will want to emphasize the actor, so you should use the active voice.
To replace a passive verb with an active one, make the actor the subject of the sentence.
The passive voice is appropriate when you wish emphasize the receiver of the action or
to minimize the importance of the actor. Inn the following sentence, for example, the writer
wished to focus on the tobacco plants, not on the people spraying them:
As the time for harvest approaches, the tobacco plants are sprayed with a chemical to
retard the growth of suckers.
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