Hidden Passive verb forms

Hello, Writer Peeps!

It’s great to connect with you again! Recently someone asked the question, “Why shouldn’t we use verbs ending in -ing in our writing?” In fourteen years of professional writing, this was the first I’d heard of this “rule.” Maybe it’s new. Has anyone said that to you? Did it help your writing?

This writer said that her editor told her to look out for verbs ending in -ing and avoid them. I don’t know the editor, but after looking into it, I came up with some reasons to support the admonition–with a caveat.

I think the main reason to pay attention to (not avoid) verbs ending in -ing is because they are not always active, and they are not always true verbs. A verbal looks like a verb because the root word is a verb, but its function in a sentence may be noun, adjective, or adverb.

First, we need to understand the difference between a passive verb or sentence and an active verb or sentence. Neither one is correct or incorrect as-is, but active language is generally more engaging for the reader, and makes for more interesting and concise language.

There is a simple way to tell if a verb is passive or active: Find the subject of your sentence. Does the subject do the action of the verb? Is the subject the actor? If so, the verb and the sentence is active. But if the subject receives the action, the verb and sentence is passive. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy!

There is a simple way to tell if a verb is passive or active: Find the subject of your sentence. Does the subject do the action of the verb? If so, the verb and the sentence is active. But if the subject receives the action, the verb and sentence is passive.
Easy-peasy lemon squeezy!

ACTIVE: Poindexter scoured the archives for more scholarly papers on werewolves.
PASSIVE: The archives were scoured all night for scholarly papers on werewolves.

In the active sentence, the simple subject is Poindexter. The simple verb is scoured. Poindexter does the action.
In the passive sentence, the simple subject is archives. The simple verb is were scoured. Archives does not do the action. The action is done to the subject. In the second, passive, sentence, we also see the hint of the helping verb were. Whenever you see any form of the verb “to be,” (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been) the verb is passive.

Verbals as participles. Participles are words that have a verb for a root word, but they act as adjectives. A participial verbal describes nouns or pronouns.

The howling beast was surely a werewolf!

In this sentence, the word howling describes the subject (noun) beast. The verb in this sentence is was. Passive.

Gerunds look like verbs and they usually have an -ing ending, but they act as subject, direct object, or object of a prepositional phrase rather than giving action to the subject.

Gerund as subject of the sentence.
Fighting werewolves is hard work.
Fighting is the subject; is is the verb. Passive.

Gerund as direct object.
Ludwig’s plan to escape the werewolves was running, screaming, and crying.
Plan is the subject. Was is the verb. Running, screaming, crying is a compound direct object.

Gerund as object of a prepositional phrase.
Michelle is thinking of leaving the werewolf-hunting business.
Michelle is the subject. Is thinking is the verb (passive, because of the helping verb is). Leaving is the object of the prepositional phrase of leaving.

My caveat is to write how you want your writing to sound. If you’re going for passive, do it. If you’re going for active, do it. The best writing, in my opinion, is writing that mixes it up and sounds interesting.

Have you been told a rule for writing that you don’t understand or that you choose not to follow? Do you know an easy-peasy lemon squeezy way to remember a grammar rule? Let us know in the comments, so we can learn from one another.

By the way, I’ve added a new page to my website, where I will be posting freebies for you. Head on over and check it out! The first freebie is a printable and reproducible Messianic Haggadah for Passover.

Coming soon is a Messianic Passover coloring book. I posted a preview for you to print and color. Enjoy!

We’re all in this together.

Socially-distanced cyberhugs,
Kathy




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