Thursday, May 10, 2012

In Defense of Passive Verbs

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

We 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, experts say we should limit our passive verbs to one per page.  

I Choose to Defend Passive Verbs

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. I'm not a writer, but I love your defense of passive verbs! I like the rebel in you too :)


  2. You realize don't you that God and I have a contract. He writes His way and I write my way about Him. That way He is pleased and I serve Him. :)

  3. This was great, Jeanette, especially the last sentence. Your wit makes me smile. Thank you for linking this unconventional stance with the ultimate Authority. ;-)

  4. This is a good lesson about verbs! I have no idea how to use them, strong or passive. Go ahead and use them like you want:)

  5. Nobody uses passive verbs quite like The Great Author our God! I'm not even gonna try!!!

    I'll stick to my similes and metaphors and give the passive verbs to the Expert! Heeehehehe!

    Cute,cute post my friend.

    God bless ya sweetie and have yourself the best Mother's Day!!! :o)

  6. Thanks, everyone, for your input. I just think we need to be careful not to make hard rules about things like language, when the Creator of all things is the final authority. We like action verbs because we like action, but the Lord loves rest, too.

    So, balance is the key. As usual.

  7. Loving this, Jen! A lot of old books (the Bible is an oldie, right?) were written without a lot of thought given to the craft. Even now, I think some of the best sentences start with "and" or "but". LOL! For me, passive verbs fall into the same category as adverbs and adjectives... use them if you have a good reason to, but sparingly.


  8. Bravo! There is a time and a place for the passive verb. :)

  9. I love everything about this post. I love the way you used active verbs in those scriptures. They were lovely. There is nothing quite like the original, though. You make a great point.


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