Passive Voice and Present Participle


I know I promised y’all a post on passive voice and here it is!

Passive voice is when an action used on a noun is made the subject of a sentence, or the subject is acted upon. By contrast, active voice is when the noun or subject is the one acting.

Although this is not the only way to determine passive voice, the following formula is a good rule to follow:

Verb form “to be” + past participle = passive voice

Note: a past participle typically ends in -ed, and is used to form perfect and passive tenses.

Here are examples of passive and active voice contrasted in various tenses:

Passive                                                                                            Active

I was attacked by snakes on a place! Mothertruckin’ snakes attacked me on a plane!
The night is ridden by pale horses. Pale horses ride at night.
Dead leaves lying on the ground covered the sidewalk. Dead leaves covered the sidewalk.
On the hour, the chiming of the clock is heard. I heard the clock chime on the hour.
That guy was friend-zoned by me. I friend-zoned that guy.
Executive leadership skills look like they are possessed by you. You look like you possess executive leadership skills.
The bustling metropolis was devastated by an earthquake. An earthquake devastated the bustling metropolis.
Her terrible cooking was eaten by her reluctant children. The reluctant children ate her terrible cooking.
The poor nose was picked by the disgusting boy. The poor boy picked his nose–disgusting.
The populace was mesmerized by alternative facts. Alternative facts mesmerized the populace.


As with all rules in writing, one shouldn’t completely discard passive voice. The need to make a particular word the subject of the sentence will determine whether a sentence is passive or active, but active voice should always be the default.

Active voice makes the writing concise, clear, bold–passive voice is wordy and confusing.

If you are tasked with shortening a draft, an easy way to do that is look for passive voice and switch it to active. This will naturally shorten passages, as you can see in the chart above.

Remember, you want your subject to actually DO something. Actions, or verbs, are the nuts and bolts of writing. Passive voice may sound flowery and poetic, but I can assure you, it is not. It is a darling that needs killed. If you want to write lyrically, be sure to write in an active voice.

Speaking of darlings that need killed, what is the mothertruckin’ deal with present participles?

Note: I would like to reiterate that no one word or tense is inherently bad on its own, it is an over-reliance on certain words, tenses, and phrases that is the issue.

Present participles are verbs that end in -ing and are used to denote continuous tenses. They are paired with auxiliary verbs that change the tense.

To make matters worse, they can also be used as nouns and adjectives, e.g., in good standing, and whipping wind.

If used as a noun, they are a gerund. Gerunds are present participles that act as nouns. Examples:

Sleeping is addictive.

Running early in the morning, or at all for that matter, is awful.

Present participles are not bad on their own if their use is to bring clarity and variety to your work.


He scoffed, running his fingers through his hair.

The child laughed while running towards the ball.

She smiled, whistling while she worked.

These examples are fine. They are used as an auxiliary to a main action. Any good writer would use these for variety and to show what is happening in the passage. Where we run into trouble is when they are used heavily, and then they render a passage wordy and imprecise.

I will revert to an older post of mine as an example: 

The movie was boring, causing me to yawn. Wanting to sleep, I quickly left, pushing the door open while rubbing my eyes.

You also run the risk of using passive voice when you rely too heavily on the present participle. Notice the first sentence in my example is passive. The I or me is the subject of the passage and is compelled to do something by the movie. I am acted upon. The fix:

I was bored at the movies, and wanted to go to sleep. Yawning, I pushed the door open, rubbed my tired eyes and left quickly.


The movie was boring and I yawned and rubbed my eyes. I wanted to go to sleep. I opened the door and left.

So again, make the subject DO something. And don’t forget that it is okay to use a present participle to denote continuous action, but don’t use them in abundance.

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