Thursday, August 4, 2011

More on Verbs

In the words of Steve Urkel on Family Matters, "I use verbs. Verbs are our friends."

Truer words about verbs have never been spoken. Without a verb you don't have a sentence. That can't be said about any other part of speech, not even the second most important word in the sentence, the noun.

As I mentioned before, in the sentence, verbs are where the action is, literally. And the most important aspect of a story is the action, what happens. And anyone who has ever tried to brush up on their fiction writing skills learns very quickly that authors need to keep the verbs active rather than passive.

But I must confess, even though I've known about avoiding passive verbs for some time, there was something that I've learned only just recently, like what a truly 'passive' verb is.

According to Rosslyn Elliot, historical fiction writer:

"True passive verbs occur when the action of the sentence happens to the subject:
The cake was eaten by the boy."

My husband's family used to say to each other as a joke about certain things, "And a good time was had by all." Now I know what sort of verb they were using.

Rosslyn goes on to say:
"Progressive verbs occur when you use 'was' (or am, is, are, were) with the +ing form of the verb.
The boy was eating the cake."

Until Rosslyn set me straight, I though that progressive verbs were passive verbs. Now I know better.

Rosslyn again:

"Both passive and progressive are weak, but on the few occasions when they do appear, the appropriateness of the use will differ according to whether the verb is passive or progressive.
The progressive form of verbs might occur in dialogue where you must use the phrasing that sounds natural, even if it's progressive.
The passive form of verbs is weak in both narrative and dialogue. Once or twice in a novel, you may need to use the passive voice for clarity because of your sentence order."

Rosslyn really knows her stuff. Thomas Nelson published her debut novel, an historical romance, in April of this year. You can visit her website by clicking on the link below.

Thanks Rosslyn for sharing your expertise.


  1. I agree, action verbs are almost always the best choice. Anything that helps make the writing more immediate, more 'here', and takes the reader closer to the action is a good choice.

  2. Thanks for doing me the honor of quoting me! :-) I wish you the best as you build your blog.