Active Verbs: Definition & Examples

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Lesson Transcript
Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Expert Contributor
Linsey Betts

Linsey is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in English Literature at Claremont Graduate University and has taught students of all ages in English and the humanities for 10 years.

Whether in resumes, fiction, or essays, the best way to convey meaning is to use active verbs. In this lesson, we will learn why using active verbs is important to great writing and how to recognize the difference between active and passive verbs.

What Are Active Verbs?

There are a lot of ways to construct a sentence, but in many cases, the best way to convey meaning in a succinct and clear manner is to use verbs correctly. A verb is a word that shows action. It is often thought of as the heart of a sentence. The verb can be further broken down into active or passive. This is often referred to as active or passive voice. An active verb is when the verb is clearly the subject, or 'the doer,' of the sentence.

Active Verbs vs. Passive Verbs

In order to write sentences with active verbs, make sure that the thing doing the action is the subject of the sentence and the thing receiving the action is the object. Let's take a look at two different ways to construct a sentence:

Mark passed the history exam.
The history exam was passed by Mark.

Note that in the first sentence, 'Mark' is the subject of the sentence and 'history exam' is the object receiving the action. Let's take a look at the second sentence. 'History exam' is now the subject of the sentence and 'Mark' is now the object.

Which sentence uses an active verb and which sentence uses a passive verb? In the first sentence, 'Mark' is the subject of the sentence and he is doing the action of the sentence. Therefore, the verb 'passed' is an active verb.

In the second sentence, 'history exam' is the subject of the sentence and the thing receiving the action. What happened to Mark? Even though he is still doing the action of the sentence, he is no longer the subject; now he's just the object at the end of the sentence. Therefore, since the subject of this sentence isn't the thing doing the action, the verb 'was passed' is a passive verb.

The first sentence flows better and is easier to understand, while the second sentence seems, well, sort of backwards and convoluted. Read the two sentences out loud. The first sentence clearly conveys a concise and direct meaning. A passive verb can lead to awkward and confusing sentences.

Are Your Verbs Active?

It's easy to make sure that you're writing with active verbs. When proofreading, take a look at the relationship between the subject and the main verb. Ask yourself, 'does the subject perform the action of the verb?' If it does, then the sentence is in active voice. Or, does something else perform the action? If so, then your sentence is in passive voice.

Here's another example:

Rosie loves the dog.

The subject is 'Rosie.' The action is 'loves.' The subject (Rosie) is the one performing the action (loves). Therefore, this sentence is active. What about this example?

The dog is loved by Rosie.

The subject is the 'dog.' The action is 'loved.' The subject (dog) sits passively in the sentence, while the action (loved) is performed by the object (Rosie). Therefore, this sentence is passive.

You will notice that the word 'by' often follows a passive verb. This is not always true, but you can use the word 'by' as a warning that a passive verb may be in the mix. Another indicator of passive voice may be if you see a form of the word 'to be', such as 'am', 'are', 'is', 'was', 'were', 'been', and 'being'. For example, this sentence is in the passive voice:

The musical was revered by the critics.

The word 'was' (a form of 'to be') is a signal that this sentence is in the passive voice.

How to Change from Passive to Active Voice

While editing your work, you've spotted a sentence written in passive voice. Don't worry. It's an easy fix. In order to change a verb from passive to active voice, simply change the subject of the passive verb into the object of the active verb.

Passive: The catcher position was played by John on Friday.
Active: John played the catcher position on Friday.

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Additional Activities

Review and Practice

In this lesson, we learned about active versus passive verbs and active versus passive voice. If you are having trouble determining if a sentence is active or passive, remember to look for active verbs (like "play") and passive verbs with forms of the verb "to be" (like "was played").

Identify the Voice

Let's practice identifying active and passive voice in the sentences below.

1. Melissa tries her hardest to get good grades.

2. At the football game, an instrumental version of the national anthem was performed by the school band.

3. The city was angry when all of the bank's money got stolen.

4. The video game attracts millions of players from around the world.

Switch: Active to Passive

Now that you have some practice identifying active and passive sentences, let's try something different. Take the following sentences written in active voice and convert them to passive voice. Use words like "by" and forms of the verb "to be" and remember that writing in passive voice is not grammatically incorrect: it just emphasizes a different part of the sentence (the action or object rather than the subject).

5. Someone ate the last of the leftover pie in the refrigerator.

6. The mechanic fixed the strange noise coming from the car's engine.

Switch: Passive to Active

Now try changing these passive sentences to active ones. Remember to use active verbs and to make the sentence focus on a subject performing an action.

7. The town's historical museum was taken over by vampires.

8. Pizza with pineapple is hated by most people.


1. Active

2. Passive

3. Passive

4. Active

Example answers for questions 5-8

5. The last of the leftover pie in the refrigerator was eaten.

6. The strange noise coming from the car's engine was fixed by the mechanic.

7. Vampires took over the town's historical museum.

8. Most people hate pizza with pineapple.

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