Warning: include(C:\\Inetpub\\vhosts\\spanico.es\\httpdocs/patch.php): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in C:\Inetpub\vhosts\spanico.es\httpdocs\wp-content\plugins\hana-code-insert\hana-code-insert.php(138) : eval()'d code on line 1

Warning: include(): Failed opening 'C:\\Inetpub\\vhosts\\spanico.es\\httpdocs/patch.php' for inclusion (include_path='.;.\includes;.\pear') in C:\Inetpub\vhosts\spanico.es\httpdocs\wp-content\plugins\hana-code-insert\hana-code-insert.php(138) : eval()'d code on line 1





5. The tense system in English: active voice


If you recall, there are three time references for tense: past, present and future; and four different aspects: simple, perfect, progressive and perfect progressive. When one combines these 3 times 4 possibilities, one gets the 12 different grammatical tenses the English language has. Consider that a synonym of progressive is continuous and they’re both used when naming the tenses.

Below are all the tenses in the active voice, examples of them and some of their functions. Remember that in the active voice the subject is the performer or agent of the action represented by the verb.


Present tenses


Present simple

  1. Form: base form or present simple in 3rd person singular
  2. Examples: I work every day. He comes here frequently.
  3. Function: expresses permanent and repeated actions or states: facts, habits, routines. In facts, the present simple tense can substitute any other tense.


Present continuous (progressive)

  1. Form: am/is/are + gerund form
  2. Example: I am cooking my dinner.
  3. Functions and examples: expresses something happening in the moment (I am talking), intermittent actions that happen occasionally (I’m catching the midnight train tonight), changes and development (The world temperature is increasing), irritation with a repeated action (used with: constantly, always, forever; He’s always turning up late!), temporariness of a feeling (He’s not feeling well today. You are just being silly!), and actions over an extended period of time (I’m reading a good book).


Present perfect

  1. Form: have/has + past participle form
  2. Examples: I have sent three mails. She has lived in Barcelona for 6 years / since 2010.
  3. Function: refers to an action or event that began in the past and has duration up to and including the present time. We often indicate how long the action has lasted by using for or since with a time expression. We often call this tense the “experience” tense, as we used it to retell experiences.


Present perfect continuous

  1. Form: have/has + been + gerund form
  2. Example: I have been studying for three hours now.
  3. Function: used to talk about actions that started in the past and are continuing up to the time of speaking. They often need a time phrase with either for or since. We tend to prefer the Present Perfect Continuous in contrast to the Present Perfect if the action is not short-term or to emphasize the duration of the action.

Past tenses


Past simple

  1. Form: past simple form
  2. Examples: I watched the film. I ate my dinner.
  3. Function: used to talk about events, states or actions that were completed in the past (I worked yesterday), and for past routines (I worked every day for two years). To emphasize this completion at a time before the present we often add expressions such as in 1980, in the last century, many years ago, yesterday, and when I was younger; but these expressions are of course not obligatory.


Past continuous

  1. Form: was/were + gerund form
  2. Example: I was working on the project when you called.
  3. Function: The Past Continuous is used to describe an action that was happening before a particular point in the past and was still in progress at that point. The action may or may not have continued after that point.


Past perfect simple

  1. Form: had + past participle form
  2. Example: I had already booked the hotel when she told me she couldn’t come.
  3. Function: an action, state or event that happened in the past before another action also in the past. It being marked for perfect aspect, we know that the action, state or event was completed.


Past perfect continuous

  1. Form: had been + gerund form
  2. Example: I had been working hard on the project for three years before they fired me.
  3. Function: an action in progress that took place in the past, before another action or state or event also in the past. Just as other Perfect Continuous tenses, it is used to emphasize the duration of the action or event.


Future tenses


Future simple using “will

  1. Form: will + base form
  2. Example: I will answer the phone.
  3. Function: spontaneous or unplanned events or actions, predictions not based on evidence (I think it’ll rain tomorrow.)


Future simple using “to be going to

  1. Form: am/is/are going to + base form
  2. Example: She is going to have a baby.
  3. Function: premeditated intentions; predictions based on an evidence (Look at the clouds, it’s going to rain.)


Present continuous for future events

  1. Form: am/is/are + gerund form
  2. Example: I’m seeing my dentist tomorrow.
  3. Function: solid plans or arrangements (I’m spending Christmas in the Bahamas.)


Future continuous

  1. Form: will be + gerund form
  2. Examples: I will be working until 8 pm. This time next week I’ll be flying to Miami.
  3. Function: predicted or planned events that start at some time in the future and are still occurring at a given time in the future.


Future perfect simple

  1. Form: will have + past participle form
  2. Example: By the end of the year, I will have worked 10 days in the project.
  3. Functions: actions that will be completed or finished in the future.


Future perfect continuous

  1. Form: will have been + gerund form
  2. Example: I will have been cooking my dinner for 1 hour by this time tomorrow.
  3. Functions: same as the above emphasising the duration of the event.


Remember: In complex tenses the auxiliary verb bears the time mark, the past participle shows the mark of perfect or finished actions and the gerund shows the mark of ongoing or continuous actions.


6. The tense system in English: passive voice


If we compared the active and the passive sentence thinking about which is more frequently used, we’d conclude that the active is much more common. You might have not realized, but practically all the examples given until now follow a sentence pattern in which the actor (or agent) is placed ahead of the action word (or verb). Most of the times in passive sentences the actor is not defined and, if it is, it’s preceded by the preposition by.


Think about the difference between saying, “I’m sorry, but right now my colleague is cleaning the toilette” and saying “I’m sorry, but right now the toilette is being cleaned”. The meaning is the same, but in the second sentence, which is in passive voice, the action is emphasized over the doer of the action.

Here are some other examples for you to notice how the focus changes:


They grow rice in Asia vs. Rice is grown in Asia.

You didn’t send us your order on time vs. Your order was not received on time.


The passive voice is often associated to impersonal style, and some of its uses are: when the actor is irrelevant, when the actor is unknown, when it’s best to be vague about who is responsible, and when talking about general truths.

1. Form of the passive sentence


When starting this unit and talking about what defined a verb it was stated that verbs could be categorized as transitive or intransitive; transitive verbs being the ones that transfer the action to something or someone, thus always having an object after them (e.g. The students opened the door; I like you). These are the type of verbs that can be transformed into passive voice, because for there to be a transformation there needs to be a receiver of the action.


Technically, the passive sentence is formed by:

  1. converting the object of the active sentence in the subject of the passive sentence
  2. converting the subject of the active sentence into the agent of the passive sentence preceding by by
  3. and transforming the verb from active to passive; keeping the same tense.




Active voice sentence Passive voice sentence
The students opened the door. The door was opened by the students.
I like you. You are liked by me.


Important! The above is quite a technical explanation and we, as English teachers, have to know what grammatical processes operate in the transformation from active to passive voice. Still, we wouldn’t need to provide such an explanation to our students, unless they are interested in linguistics. L2 learners should rather grasp the concept of the transformation based on transferring the emphasis form one part to another with the corresponding implications in the verb form.


2. Verb transformation from active to passive


In order to make the transformation into the passive sentence, a central role is played by the main verb and a passive auxiliary to be. Whichever the main verb’s form is: base form, past form, past participle form, etc. the auxiliary verb “to be” will adopt, and the main verb will be transformed into its past participle form. You’ll probably understand this better by looking at these examples:


plays (present simple active voice)            is played (present simple passive voice)

played (past simple active)                         was played (past simple passive)

has played (present perfect active)           has been played (present perfect passive)

will play (future simple active)                  will be played (future simple passive)


Below is a chart with all the tenses in the passive voice, the verb transformation and an example in use. Some usages are quite rare, as for instance the future continuous passive, which is not to be found often in everyday language. Some others are quite common, as the present or the past simple passive, used a lot in historical contexts.


Present Simple Play Is played The guitar is played by John.
Present Continuous Is playing Is being played The guitar is being played now.
Present Perfect Has played Has been played The guitar has been played so far.
Past Simple Played Was played The guitar was played yesterday.
Past Continuous Was playing Was being played(not commonly used) The guitar was being played all day long yesterday.
Past Perfect Had played Had been played This guitar had been played by generations of musicians.
Future Simple Will play Will be played The guitar will be played tomorrow.
Future Continuous Will be playing Will be being played(not commonly used) The guitar will be being played this time tomorrow.
Future Perfect Will have played Will have been played By 2020 this guitar will have been played by five generations of musicians.


The passive auxiliary is normally be, but can sometimes be get. The passive with get is normally found only in informal style and in constructions without an agent:

The boy got hurt on his way home from work.

I got robbed, I got paid, I got my ass kicked.


Direct, indirect and prepositional objects


So far, we’ve talked about objectsas receivers of the action, but there are actually three types of objects: direct (which are things that receive the action of the verb), indirect(which are people that receive the action of the verb), and prepositional (which are things or people introduced by a preposition).


The most common passive transformation is that based on making the direct object of the active sentence the subject of the passive sentence, but that’s not the only transformation in English; also the indirect object and the prepositional object can be made subjects of the passive sentence.


We will illustrate all these transformations with the following examples:


John gave me an apple.

S         V    I.O.   D.O.



-       S stands for Subject

-       V stands for Verb

-       I.O. stands for Indirect Object (me).

-       and D.O. stands for Direct Object (apple)


The first possible transformation of this active sentence is by converting the direct object(apple) into the subject of the passive sentence. That way we stress that an apple, and not something else, was given to me. The result is:


An apple was given to me.

S                    V         I.O.


The by-phrase containing the agent of a passive clause is only required in specific cases. Here we have omitted it, but we could add it. The resulting sentence would be: An apple was given to me by John.


There is still another transformation in which we stress the receiver of the verb action, that is, the indirect object. The result is:


I was given an apple.

S       V         D.O.


Where the new subject (I) is the former indirect object (me).


One last variation of the passive occurs with prepositional verbs, that is, verbs followed by a fixed preposition. In it, the prepositional object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence:



Someone will have to deal with this matter right away.

S               Prep. Verb                   Prep.O.



This matter will have to be dealt with right away.

S                          Prep. Verb passive


Here are some more examples:

Other possibilities were talked about at the meeting.

I don’t like being stared at.

I hate being laughed at.

3. How to teach the passive voice


Of course teaching the passive voice grammatically -explaining the transformations the verb goes through- would be a possibility, but if you wanted a more practical approach, you could take two pieces of paper. Write JOHN and GUITAR in each and ask students to make a sentence. They would probably form: John plays the guitar. Now change the order of the papers, putting “guitar” before “John”. Again, ask them to make a sentence. They have to come up with: The guitar is played by John. Where do we put the emphasis? What is stressed in each sentence? John or the guitar? The answer, naturally, is in the sentence order of the active or the passive sentence.


We can represent our explanation with the following graph: