Active Verb Tutorial and List

Why do I need to use active verbs?

Grammatically speaking, active verbs are more powerful and concise than passive verbs. Because space is precious on your resume and cover letter it is important to use active verbs. To add to this, active verbs show you as the perpetrator of an action and are more compelling than passive verbs. Remember that your resume and cover letter are persuasive documents to prove you are the right person for a certain position—this is not a time to be passive or overly modest. Active verbs help you become the subject of your sentence and your job search.

When writing your resume and other application materials, it is important to make sure you are using active verbs to describe your work experience. Likewise in your cover letter and interview, it is important to use active verbs as well.

When you talk about a job you’ve had in the past you’ll likewise use the past tense. When you talk about a job or position you currently have, you’ll want to use the present tense to talk about this job. Below, the first two examples are in the past tense and the last example is written in the present tense.

How do I know if I’m using passive verbs or active verbs?

With some practice you’ll be able to recognize the difference.

 Look at these examples:

Active: Jaleesa researched Banded Tussock Moths.

Passive: Banded Tussock Moths were researched by Jaleesa.

  • In the first example we see Jaleesa as the do-er in research. In the second example, the snails are being acted upon by Jaleesa. The first sentence is powerful and concise whereas the second one is longer and less direct.

Active: Charlie translated 18th century Latvian poetry.

Passive: 18th century Latvian poetry was translated by Charlie.

  • Here again, Charlie is the do-er of the action whereas in the second sentence 18th century Latvian poetry is in the subject-position which not only makes the sentence less powerful but it doesn’t emphasize the job-seeker: Charlie.

Active: Li creates original high-school level educational material about fruit fly reproduction.

Passive: Educational material for high school students about fruit fly reproduction is created by Li.

  • Again, we see that Li has done some fascinating work creating educational material for high-school aged students but we can see that this information is more impactful and precise through using active verbs versus passive verbs.

Okay, I think I understand. But I don’t know where to start. What kind of active verbs should I use to describe the work I do?

It can be overwhelming to try to find the right words to describe the work you’ve done in a way that’s powerful and pays homage to your skill set. Take a look at our list to see if you can get some ideas about how to describe your work. First, start with your industry or skill set and explore the verbs that might help you describe your work. All of these examples are in the past tense but they can be adapted to the present tense as well. And remember—these lists are not exclusive. You may not have any experience in analysis and data but if you find a verb within that column that helps you express yourself then use it!

Check out our Active Verb List for some ideas to help you use active verbs.