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Athabasca University

Passive Verb Tenses

The passive form of verbs is not often used in writing now; most instructors prefer their students to use the active voice as it gives more power to the writing and it is more direct. There are special circumstances, however, when using a passive construction is preferable. It is also important to recognize passive constructions when you are reading so that you can understand them correctly.

  Past Present Future
Simple You were heard You are heard You will be heard
Progressive You were being heard* You are being heard You will be being heard*
Perfect You had been heard You have been heard You will have been heard
Perfect Progressive You had been being heard** You have been being heard** You will have been being heard**

*These verb forms are unusual.

**These verb forms are not in general use as they are very awkward.

The passive is used when the subject of the verb action is not as important as what happened. Note the difference between:

  1. He burned down the house. (Active verb)
  2. The house was burned down. (Passive verb—who, or what, caused the house to burn down is not known, or is not as important as the fact that it burned down.

The passive tense is still used in some forms of academic writing. It is best to become familiar with the type of writing style that is most commonly used within a particular subject area. Also, avoid using the passive unless there is a very good reason for using it.

Updated September 10 2014 by Student & Academic Services

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