Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Active and Passive Verbs

There are two basic types of verbs in English: active verbs (transitive and intransitive) and passive verbs.


The subject of an active verb performs the action.

The Minotaur lives inside a labyrinth. [present tense]
The Minotaur lived inside a labyrinth. [past tense]
subject: Minotaur
verb: lives/lived

Theseus kills the Minotaur. [present tense]
Theseus killed the Minotaur. [past tense]
subject: Theseus
verb: kills/killed

Some active verbs are TRANSITIVE and some are INTRANSITIVE. A transitive verb is one that takes an object, while an intransitive verb does not have an object.

The verb "to kill" is transitive, which means it can take an object:

Theseus killed the Minotaur.
subject: Theseus
verb: killed
object: the Minotaur

The verb "to live" is intransitive, which means it cannot take an object:

The Minotaur lived inside a labyrinth.
subject: Minotaur
verb: lived
(no object)


When a verb is passive, it means that the subject of the verb does not perform the action. Instead, the subject is the object of the action.

The Minotaur is killed by Theseus. [present tense]
The Minotaur was killed by Theseus. [past tense]
subject: Minotaur
verb: is killed / was killed
(no object)

To put an active verb into the passive voice, you use the past participle along with a form of the verb "to be." Often the past participle ends in -ed as in these examples:

The Minotaur was killed by Theseus.

Theseus was helped by Ariadne.

Ariadne was abandoned by Theseus.

Sometimes, though, the participle is irregular and does not end in -ed:

The labyrinth was built by Daedalus. 

Theseus was sent from Athens to Crete.

As a general rule in storytelling, you should use active verbs! This post contains some more examples: Examples of Active and Passive Verbs.

Theseus kills the Minotaur.

The Minotaur is killed by Theseus.

Theseus fighting the Minotaurby √Čtienne-Jules Ramey (1826).
Web Source: Wikipedia.

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