By Kathy Ide


In Passive and Active Verbs, Part One, we encouraged the use of active verbs over passive verbs. Here, we will list five exceptions.

In nonfiction, there are a few acceptable reasons to use passive verbs:

  1. To emphasize the action rather than the subject.
    Example: Jim’s bioengineering proposal was approved by the committee.

  2. To keep the subject and focus consistent throughout a passage.
    Example: The astrobiology department presented a controversial proposal to the committee. After long debate, the proposal was endorsed by …

  3. To be tactful by not naming the subject.
    Example: The e-mail message was misinterpreted.

  4. To describe a condition in which the subject is unknown or irrelevant to the sentence.
    Example: Every year, many people are diagnosed with Environmental Illness.

  5. To create an authoritative tone.
    Example: Visitors are not allowed after 9:00 p.m.

Even in fiction, the occasional use of a passive verb is acceptable. But do a search of your manuscript for is, was, are, were, be, been, would, could, has, had, and have, and wherever you find one of those words, see if there’s a way you can show what’s happening instead of just telling about it.



Kathy Ide is a published author/ghostwriter, editor/mentor, and writers’ conference speaker. Her latest books are Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors and 21 Days of Grace: Stories that Celebrate God’s Unconditional Love, the first in the Fiction Lover’s Devotional series. Kathy is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network ( and the Christian Editor Connection ( To find out more, visit

It is an infringement of copyright law to reproduce this publication, in part or in whole, without the express permission of the author. To request permission, please e-mail