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