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[English] Verbs III

category: Writing | course: English | difficulty:

This is where the real fun begins. Up until now we’ve only seen the basic building blocks of English (well, of any language really). You could write articles and novels with only those tenses, but that would quickly become a very monotone story. That’s where the perfect tense and some more fancy stuff kicks in.

Perfect Tenses

Perfect tenses is where the different time spans and simple/continuous begin to overlap and mix. There are therefore 6 variations on it, all equally important. So let’s start.

Simple Present Perfect

The simple present perfect is constructed by using a regular form of to have + past participle.

I have lived here all my life. They have been to the zoo twice this week. We have been to the zoo several times. She has just finished reading the book. He has read the Hobbit thrice.

It’s used for:

  • An action/situation that started in the past and still continues in the present.
  • An action performed during a period that has not yet finished.
  • A repeated action in an unspecified period between the past and the present.
  • An action that was completed in very recent past, expressed with just.
  • An action when the time is not important, but the result.
Continuous Present Perfect

The continuous present perfect is constructed by using a regular form of to have + ‘been’ + continuous form.

I have been cycling to school every day for years. They have been kissing for an hour now.

It’s used for actions that started an unspecified time before now and are still going on in the present.

She has been waiting for him all day (…when exactly did she start waiting? We don’t know)

It can also be used for actions that have just finished, and we are interested in the results.

It’s been raining since last night (...which means the streets are still wet)

Simple Past Perfect

The simple past perfect is constructed by using a past form of to have + past participle.

Mark had already left when I arrived. She had just saved the document when the computer crashed.

If the present perfect is about actions starting before now and going on until the present, the past goes back even further – it’s about actions starting earlier than before now. Because the whole sentence is in the past, the simple past perfect is mostly about making clear that one event happened before another (in the past).

Continuous Past Perfect

The continuous past perfect is constructed by using a past form of to have + ‘been’ + continuous form.

We had been trying to contact him, but we were unable to reach him.

Again, it describes a process that was happening in a time earlier than before now. The example sentence could be rewritten to:

We were unable to reach him (they concluded they failed to reach him in a time before now), after we had been trying to contact him (and even earlier, they already tried contacting him)

This tense can also be used in reported speech. Basically, if someone says something about the past, and you want to say something about that quote, you use it.

“I have been working in my office all day,” Mark told the police.

Mark told the police that he had been working in his office all day.

Simple Future Perfect

The simple future perfect is constructed by using ‘will have’ + past participle.

Soon, they will have arrived at the building. By the time you read this, I will have left this world.

They refer to a point in the future where an action is completed. We are basically placing ourselves in the future, and we see that a certain action will then be done or finished.

Continuous Future Perfect

The continuous future perfect is constructed by using ‘will have been’ + continuous form.

By 2016, I will have been living in Manchester for five years.

Because this is the continuous tense, we are again referring to an action to is still going on at a certain point in future time.

Next week (some point in the future), I will have been living with Sarah for two years (you’ve completed two years of living with Sarah, but you haven’t stopped living with her).

Passive Voice

The passive voice is used when we want to place emphasis on the object, the ‘victim’ of the action, or we’re just not interested in the subject. Usually though, using active language (which is everything we’ve discussed until now) is better, shorter and clearer – so try to use that whenever you can. Nevertheless, it’s still important to know the passive voice, especially because it looks like a simple or continuous present tense, but means something entirely different.

(active) Alan Parsons wrote “Old & Wise” => “Old & Wise” was written by Alan Parsons (passive)

The passive voice is constructed by a conjugated form of to be + past participle. It’s a combination between the simple and continuous tenses, and the past participle from the perfect tense.

 

 

 

to be (conjugated)

past participle

Simple present

The car…

is

cleaned

Present continuous

 

is being

cleaned

Simple Past

 

was

cleaned

Past Continuous

 

was being

cleaned

Simple future

 

will be

cleaned

Future continuous

 

will be being

cleaned

Present perfect

 

has been

cleaned

Past perfect

 

had been

cleaned

 

Notice that in all sentences we don’t know who is, was or will be cleaning the car, we only know that the car is being cleaned.

The most prominent use of passive voice is with the fact that being born is something passive.

I was born in 1997. Where were you born?

The so-called infinitive passive voice is used after modal verbs or other verbs requiring an infinitive, and is constructed by using ‘(to) be’ + past participle.

You have to be tested on your writing skills. He wants to be invited to the party. She may be disappointed in you.

The gerund passive voice is used after verbs that require gerunds behind it on all other occasions, and is constructed by using ‘being’ + past participle.

I hate interviewing => I hate being interviewed

My dogs like cuddling => My dogs like being cuddled

Those infinitives and gerunds (and conditionals) are all discussed thoroughly in the next chapter!

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