Don’t Invite Passive Verbs to Your Picnic

January 3, 2014

By Phil Ransom

Ants are interesting and even necessary to our eco-system, but I never invite them to my picnics. Just like I didn’t invite that passive verb “are” to my very first sentence. We’ll leave it there, though, so you can decide how you’d replace it once you finish this.

You remember passive verbs from grammar, right?

is, are, was, were,
be, being, been

Most of us can still rattle off that list of passive verbs machine-gun style like we did back in fourth grade to get an A on the pop quiz. But like ants, passive verbs keep showing up in our writing like unwelcome guests at our writing picnics. “Ewww!  Where did YOU come from??!”

ants and picnic basketUnlike ants who get into everything then invite all their friends, passive verbs just …  well they just sit there like an unwelcome brother-in-law who eats more than he needs to, stays longer than he should, contributing little if anything to the conversation.

I don’t invite passive verbs to my writing. Neither should you.  I treat them this way; if this approach makes sense to you, help yourself.

  1. Write your material. Don’t worry too much about verb tenses, just get the content down.
  2. Now make it flow, focusing on good logic, compelling arguments and supportive information.
  3. Finalize your conclusion. What do I want or need my reader to do? Am I clear but polite? Convincing?  Good.
  4. Knowing now how the piece ends, return to those first few sentences and re-craft as needed so your reader finds himself several sentences into your stream of thought before they need to inhale. Nice!
  5. CTRL-S.  Save your work just to be sure.
  6. Now look for and replace every passive verb you can find.  You’ll feel your work take on more life and energy as you send them packing like unwelcome ants at  your picnic.  All set?  Nice.
  7. Proofread it again, just to be sure, and if you see no ants, invite some friends –or the whole wide world– to enjoy what you’ve written!

-Phil-sig- TranspBkgd

(By the way, eighteen passive verbs perished in the preparation of this article, should anyone wonder or ask.)

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