Friday, August 28, 2009

In Defense of Passive Verbs

Passive: “having the form of a verb indicating that the subject does not act but is acted upon.”

I understand why our writing should not overflow with passive verbs such as be, is, am, was and were. Strong verbs and nouns stir our readers’ imagination, propelling them through the story with abandon. For this reason, at least one expert cautions us to limit our passive verbs to one per page.

Rebel that I am, I stand—actually I’m sitting right now—in defense of passive verbs. What outlandish book have I been reading that led me to my radical stance? The Bible.

Ponder with me how these statements would change if God was editing His writing to remove the passive verbs:

“I AM” becomes “I live eternally, without beginning or end.” Not too bad, but loses it’s punch…

“The Lord is my shepherd” becomes “The Lord guides, protects, feeds, rescues, and exterminates bugs from my wool.” A little on the wordy side…

“I am the light of the world” becomes “My good nature illumines the minds of all mankind, showing them the way of salvation.” A bit erudite, if you ask me…

“Love is patient and kind” becomes “Love exudes the qualities of waiting without resentment and benign responsiveness to others’ needs.” Again, a bit wordy…

“It is finished” becomes “By My sacrificial death I have completed the salvation of mankind planned from before the foundation of the world.” Like the first one, it lost the punch.

Sometimes you can say it best with a passive verb. At least, if you want to write like God.


  1. Great defense of passive verbs, Jeanette! Who can argue against the Bible and the ultimate Author, right?

  2. I love that! In fact, I'm using it the next time somebody picks my sentences apart for using passive verbs. :)

  3. This is too great Jeanetter! I really, really like the point that you have just made. This also shows your expertise as a writer. I mean to be able to further express those simple words of God like that is really good!

    Wow, I so agree with you, and to think that I have been getting so frustrated with not using passive verbs! Wow!

    Oh, and I see that you have placed a word count for your book, therefore, I just want you to know that I will be watching it and checking in on you!!! :)


  4. I once was lost, but now I am saved. Can't get much better than that, now can ya??

    Good post!

  5. Your insight is great. You went right to the top with that one!

  6. Thanks, you guys. I halfway expected some arguments on this one!
    Blessed weekend,

  7. Great....I TOTALLY agree!
    Blessings and prayers, andrea

  8. LOL! That's why we need to use what works best. :-) You go girl!

  9. I've noticed this. I went through MS #2 several days ago hacking away at the passive verbs, but some needed to remain. I've noticed this in books I read, also. I think the kicker/the key is learning which ones to leave in and which ones to pluck. I share your rebellious fervor. :D
    ~ Wendy

  10. As in everything, balance is the key, don't you think?

  11. Excellent post! I love that the Bible is your source of inspiration here. Sometimes saying it a certain way, the simple way, is the best. Have a great weekend!

  12. Hi Jen -

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for changing your comment format.

    Great post! If you read a lot of the older books, passive verbs abound. Hmm, I wonder what they'll be teaching 20 years from now.

    Susan :)

  13. Jeanette:
    This intrigues me. I never thought of the verbs is, are, and be as being passive-weak,yes. I enjoyed the way you presented your case.

  14. As I was reading this, I finished the second paragraph and immediately thought of "I AM". Then I saw you had it a few sentences below!

    The Bible certainly isn't passive! The Word is alive!

    Hugs and Blessings, Leslie

  15. What a great defense! I love the "I Am" example. :)

  16. I just LOVE this post! I couldn't agree more with your excellent examples. My whole book is about "little i am's" - how passive am I??

    Thanks for your encouraging comment on my blog.

    I follow your blog, but it doesn't show up in my listing with the other blogs, and I can't figure out why. Gotta work on that!


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