Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Passive vs. active verbs: Following up BSAS Investment Commentary Class

Can you show me an example of passive vs. active verbs?

That question from a participant in my BSAS class on "How to Write Investment Commentary That People Will Read" sparked my decision to publish the article below from my Investment Writing e-newsletter.


Sentences featuring active verbs typically have more oomph than their passive counterparts. You can also ratchet up your sentences' appeal by using colorful active verbs, such as "ratchet."

Here’s a quick test. Which of the following sentences uses an active verb?

  1. The announcement of a peace treaty sparked a stock market rally
  2. The stock market rally was caused by the announcement of a peace treaty.
Yes, it’s sentence number one. In sentence number two, the use of "was" -- a form of "to be" -- betrays the sentence’s passivity.

Still confused? Check out this explanation of active vs. passive verbs.

Scroll down to the fourth section, “Changing Passive to Active” for hints on how to purge your sentences of passivity.

I must thank Karyn Greenstreet’s Passion for Business e-newsletter for bringing this grammar web page to my attention.

I like this related tip from Richard H. Weiss' "How to be your own best editor,": "Use powerful verbs. Underline all the verbs in your copy. Did you find a bunch of 'is' and 'are' constructions? Can you replace those words with verbs that convey momentum and action?"

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