The passive tenses

Another general area of English grammar which is often neglected is the passive. English students, and English teachers too, sometimes treat the passive as secondary to the active tenses. And it is true that the active tenses are a little bit simpler than the passive and more common, but not by much. However, what many people do not realise is that looking at the passive, in all of the different tenses, is a way to see and remember the key parts of all tenses active or passive. What you will see in this post is a cheat sheet that you can use for almost every tense.

It will be helpful for you to read my previous post about the meaning of simple, continuous and perfect, because that knowledge will come into play in this. But we also need to remember one important thing: The construction of the passive, and what is essential to use it.


We always need at least one instance of the verb to be. This auxiliary is usually the one which indicates the tense of the sentence; showing whether it is past, present or future. The past participle is also necessary, and always finishes the structure.

So, if we combine the knowledge of the past, present, and future active tenses with the above rule for the passive; then we do this:

Past Present Future
Simple was/were + V3 (past participle) is/am/are + V3 (past participle) will be + V3 (past participle)
Continuous was/were + being + V3 is/am/are + being + V3 will + be + being + V3
Perfect had + been + V3 has/have + been + V3 will + have + been + V3


Past Present Future
Simple It was done yesterday. We are trapped! She will be crowned champion.
Continuous They were being arrested when I saw them. Are you being served? The building will be being repaired from 9am to 5pm.
Perfect All the trees had been cut down before we could do anything. She has been caught for her crimes. It will have been completed by the time you arrive.


So, for simple you only need to be using be + V3.

For continuous you need to add being (because the main verb must be in the past participle).

And for perfect you need have and been in there to make it work.


Finally, if you want to use this table as a way to remember all of the grammar, you just need to take away the extra elements and you should be able to see the original. For example, for the present continuous, deduct being and the past participle. You are left with is/am/are. The add the verb in the continuous form (doing, going, seeing, etc.).


Another complex grammatical area made simple!


* Verb 3 if you are remembering the verbs in a pattern. E.g. Run, ran, run.


Written by James R. McCance for Aston School

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