Kathy Ide

Kathy Ide

Hi! I’m Kathy Ide. In addition to being a published author, I’m a full-time professional freelance editor. For CAN, I’m blogging about “PUGS”–Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling … tips for writers based on the most common mistakes I see in the manuscripts I edit.

Active vs. Passive Verbs

Wherever possible, strive to use strong, precise verbs rather than weak, vague verbs. Instead of saying, “They were going,” write, “They went.” Or better yet, show how they went. “They jogged,” “They raced,” “They ambled,” for example. The more description you can fit into a single action verb, the better.

Here are some examples:

Passive: It is believed by Sue that a curfew must be placed on her son, Matthew.
 Active: Sue believes that she must place a curfew on her son, Matthew.

Passive: It was earlier demonstrated that Matthew could be intimidated by too much freedom. Active: Friday’s party showed Sue that too much freedom could intimidate Matthew.

Passive verbs often indicate that a subject exists, or that something happens to the subject. Active verbs describe something a subject does.

Passive: Andrew had dark, curly hair and a bushy beard. Active: Andrew ran his fingers through his dark, curly hair and stroked his bushy beard.

Passive: Two cups of coffee were on the table. Active: Joe picked up two cups of coffee from the table.

NOTE: Verb phrases that include is, was, are, were, be, been, would, could, has, had, have, etc. are usually passive.

In nonfiction, there are a few acceptable reasons to use passive verbs:

  1. To emphasize the action rather than the subject. Example: Jim’s bioengineering proposal was approved by the committee.
  2. To keep the subject and focus consistent throughout a passage. Example: The astrobiology department presented a controversial proposal to the committee. After long debate, the proposal was endorsed by …
  3. To be tactful by not naming the subject. Example: The e-mail message was misinterpreted.
  4. To describe a condition in which the subject is unknown or irrelevant to the sentence. Example: Every year, many people are diagnosed with Environmental Illness.
  5. To create an authoritative tone. Example: Visitors are not allowed after 9:00 p.m.

In all other instances, and in all fiction writing, use active verbs in place of passive ones wherever feasible.


These are all excerpts from my book Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, which reveals how multi-published authors proofread their manuscripts to avoid typos, inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and PUGS errors. If you’re interested in working with a freelance editor (or know someone who is), e-mail me through the contact page of my website. Or go to the Christian Editor Connection to get referrals to other established, professional editorial freelancers. If you’re a freelance editor yourself, or think you might be interested in that field, check out The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network.


About Kathy Ide

Kathy Ide, author of Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, has written books, articles, short stories, devotionals, play scripts, and Sunday school curriculum. She has ghostwritten ten nonfiction books and a five-book novel series. Kathy is a full-time freelance editor/proofreader/mentor for new writers, established authors, and book publishers. She speaks at writers’ conferences across the country. Kathy is the founder and director of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network (www.TheChristianPEN.com) and the Christian Editor Connection (www.ChristianEditor.com). For more about Kathy, visit www.KathyIde.com or find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, or Pinterest.

2 Thoughts on “Proofreading Pointers #39

  1. Thanks for the comments on when to use passive and examples of how to change passive to active. I frequently work with new writers on the passive/active verb usage. I also use passive to slow the reader down.

  2. Glad you found my post helpful, Karen!


Post Navigation