What’s an action verb? What’s an active voice verb? Are they they same?

A reader said she is confused about active voice verbs and action verbs.  Are they the same?

Sometimes.

Let’s start with action verbs.  In English there are three kinds of verbs:  action verbs, linking verbs and state of being verbs.

  • In a sentence with an action verb, some kind of action is stated or implied by the verb. Some examples are “Ani ate dinner.”  “Lizzy considered her options.”  “The plan worked.”
  • In a sentence with a linking verb, the subject is linked to a noun, a pronoun or an adjective which comes after the verb. Often the verb is a form of the verb “to be” but it can be other verbs replaceable by the verb “to be.”  Some examples are “My dog felt [was] hot.”  “The tests sound [are] hard.”  “That man is my father.”
  • In a sentence with a state of being verb, the existence of something is noted. Sometimes a form of the verb “to be” is used, but not always.  For example, “Washington, D.C. is in the US.”  “Yes, Grandma and Grandpa are at home today.”  “Jefferson lives.”—words attributed to John Adams on his deathbed.

Some action verbs are active voice verbs, and some are passive voice verbs.  Linking verbs and state of being verbs cannot be made into passive verbs.

  • In a sentence with an active voice verb, the subject does the verb. For example, “Davis eats an apple.”  “The dog had barked for hours.”  “The treaty did not solve the problems.”
  • In a sentence with a passive verb, the subject does not do the verb. The object of the subject does the verb.  Sometimes the object / actor is named, but sometimes the object / actor is not named.  For example, “The assignments were completed.”  [By whom?  We don’t know.]  “An apple is being eaten.”  [By whom?  We don’t know.]   “The medal was won by the Swedes.”  [By whom?  The Swedes.]

So to recap, action verbs can be either active voice (when the subject does the verb) or passive voice (when someone other than the subject does the verb).  Linking and state of being verbs are neither active voice nor passive voice.

Fun picture books for beginning readers, plus learning activities

Are you looking for funny stories for your beginning reader? Silly stories using easy-to-read CVC and sight words?  With silly pictures to make kids laugh? And learning activities to reinforce the phonics?

We’ve made them!

Click on the image above for more information on these beginning readers.

Years ago, when my kids were learning to read, that’s what I wanted. But I couldn’t find them. So I started writing them. My sister, an art teacher, made them even funnier with her cartoon-like drawings. We tried them out on our kids and later my students, improved them, and now they are available for you to use with your beginning readers.

The story themes focus on little kids’ lives.

• A six-year-old receives a yo-yo for her birthday, but her father wants to play with it.

• A baby brother wants to do what his kindergarten-age brother does, but he’s too little.

• A wild child makes a mess while the babysitter gabs on the phone.

• A preschooler talks his grandfather into playing with his toys.

• A five-year-old devises ways to hide her father’s bald head.

After each story are several pages of game-like learning activities to reinforce the words and ideas of the stories.

My sister, Anne Trombetta, the illustrator, and I, the author, are teachers with masters’ degrees. We’ve applied educational research to devise story lines, words, activities and art to engage new readers.

Please check out our early reader picture books. We hope you’ll not only buy  them, but tell us how your little reader responded to the silly stories.

12 reasons to write using a pen name

Have you ever thought of writing under a pen name / pseudonym / nom de plume?

You might think that pen names are an obsolete notion, or that only people who have something to hide would write under a pen name.  But that’s not true.  There are many good reasons to write under a name different from your own.  For example,

  • Your name is difficult to pronounce.
  • Your name is difficult to spell.
  • Your name sounds too young or too old for your target audience.
  • Your name doesn’t fit with your genre of writing.
  • Your name sounds too ethnic or not ethnic enough.
  • Your name brings to mind the wrong image.
  • Your name, or one like it, is already taken by another writer.
  • You need to disguise your identity.
  • “You” are really two or three authors working together.
  • Your name sounds a lot like another author’s name in your genre.
  • You want a website or URL under your published name, but that website name or URL is taken, is difficult to remember, or is difficult to spell.
  • You want a name which creates better marketing opportunities.

If you are a teacher looking for a writing topic for your students, here is one.  After you explain what a pen name is, and why a person might choose one, ask the students to create pen names for themselves.  Then ask them to write about the pen name.  For younger students, the writing might be a paragraph, but for older students, this assignment could be an essay explaining why they are choosing to write under a pen name and why they chose the pen name they did.  You could collect the assignments and read them aloud, letting the students  decide who really wrote the essay.

Next:  Some famous pen names

13 writing tips

The father of one of my students asked me if I could provide his son with a short guide his son could keep near his computer and use while writing.  Here it my suggestion.

Create a detailed prewriting organizer before you write.  Use it.

Make sure you follow directions if you are writing a response.  Cite?  Paraphrase?  Summarize?  Analyze?  Two instances?  Three?

Write the thesis sentence first before you write any other sentence if you are writing an essay.

Decide who your main character is and the problem he or she will face before you write your first sentence if you are writing a narrative.

Read your first draft aloud.  Does every sentence make sense?  Do you follow your organizer?  If something is missing, include it.  If something is irrelevant, delete it.

Make sure every body paragraph supports the thesis of your essay.

Make sure every action moves the main character closer to solving his or her problem in your narrative.

Identify weak or overused verbs and replace them with specific verbs.

Identify and vary sentence structures.  Especially include complicated simple sentences and complex sentences.

Show, don’t tell.  If you are concluding, you are telling.

Search for your typical grammar mistakes and fix them.

Add more precise details such as names, numbers, dates, locations, direct quotes, dialog, examples, thoughts, precise descriptions and sensory information.

Do revise.  First drafts are seldom good enough.

What is FANBOYS?

FANBOYS is an acronym for the seven words recognized in English as coordinating conjunctions.  Those words are

  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So.

Using these words is an acceptable way to join two or more nouns, verbs, and many other grammatical constructions, including independent clauses.  When independent clauses are joined they form a compound sentence.

The FANBOYS acronym is an easy way for children to remember which words can be used to form compound sentences.  If one of these coordinating conjunctions is used, then a comma must be used after the first clause unless the clause has only a few words.

Some people use “then” as if it were a coordinating conjunction, but it isn’t.  “Then” is an adverb and cannot join two clauses unless a coordinating conjunction is also used.

Another way to form a compound sentence is to use a semicolon.  When a semicolon is used, no coordinating conjunction is used.  Clauses joined by a semicolon must be related in content.

Other conjunctions, called subordinate conjunctions, are used to join one independent clause and one or more dependent / subordinate clauses.  Complex sentences join two clauses of unequal weight while compound sentences usually join two clauses of equal weight.

Beginning readers needn’t know about coordinating conjunctions.  By third grade students are learning rules of grammar.  That is when they usually encounter FANBOYS for the first time.

Beginning writers sometimes think that if they use a coordinating conjunction to join two little sentences, they are writing better.  Sometimes they are.  But sometimes they are just creating stringy sentences.

Masters of introductions

Are you looking for good ways to start novels?  If so, here are some great models.

If you want to foreshadow:

A crisis in a marriage caused by a man’s casual affair is how Leo Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina, a novel whose introduction is considered by many to be the best ever written.  Ultimately, the  couple reconcile, with their affair acting as a comparison to Anna’s affair later in the novel.  Because the comparison is not a direct, and because it involves Anna’s brother, it is all the more compelling.

If you want to highlight a first person point of view:

Start with a character who reveals his personality with a bang, such as Holden Caufield in The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”  From this first sentence we know this is a kid with an attitude, and we are hooked.

Or how about Huck Finn’s opening comment in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.”  The poor English hints at Huck’s lack of education and perhaps backwoods roots.  So much is revealed about the protagonist in one sentence.

If you want to capture tone:

If the tone is satirical, start with a satirical statement, such as Jane Austen does in Pride and Prejudice. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  Must be?  Acknowledged by whom?  We can expect wit, comic characters and a happy ending–a marriage.  This introduction is considered a classic.

If the tone reveals the misery of life, layer it on as does Frank McCourt in the third paragraph of Angela’s Ashes. “People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version:  the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.”

If the tone is mystery, Edith Wharton in Ethan Frome nails it.  “I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.”  Not until the second last word of the sentence do we realize where the author is going, and we are hooked.

If you want to focus on an important symbol or motif:

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 immediately talks about fire, but with a twist.  “It was a pleasure to burn.”  This seems like a contradiction.  Is the narrator an  arsonist?

If you want to describe a character:

Joseph Conrad, in Lord Jim, starts with a powerful character sketch. “He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.”

If you want to rattle the reader:

See how L. P. Hartley does it in The Go-Between. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”  Comparing the past with a foreign country provokes thoughtfulness, but then the writer compounds the mystery with the second clause.

Or see how Charles Johnson does it in Middle Passage. “Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women.”  A woman is a disaster?  Even if you disagree, you want to find out why the narrator believes this is so.

Things you can learn from a narrative

Original cover of Huckleberry FinnGreat lives can be lived anywhere.  Hogwarts School. Macomb, Alabama.  On the Orient Express.  On a raft on the Mississippi River.

Life usually works out.  Elizabeth Bennett marries Fitzwilliam Darcy.  Brian Robeson gets rescued from the wilds of Canada.  Phileas Fogg wins his bet.

If not, wait for a sequel.  ScarlettLittle House on the PrairieDouble Fudge.

Odd names won’t hold you back.  Farley Drexel Hatcher.  Hercule Poirot.  Huckleberry Finn.  Jeeves.

It’s good to be odd, to be complex, to be eccentric.  Sherlock Holmes.  Junie B. Jones.  Huck Finn.  Anna Karenina.

Secondary characters can be fascinating.  Mercutio.  Mrs. Malaprop. Severus Snape.  Grover.

original cover of Sherlock HolmesThe best characters are not perfect.  Jay Gatsby.  Tom Jones.  Ebenezer Scrooge.  Lady Brett Ashley.  Scout.

When things go wrong, hang in there.  After all, tomorrow is just another day.