Today, in the UK, children are going back to school. We wish them all good luck and thank goodness they can meet up with friends and get socialising again. While I am sure it will take time for schools to get back to normal, just getting out of the house and running around with some friends will be a huge physiological uplift for them.
We’ve recently had a few emails asking about ESL English and grammar. Specifically using verbs in active and passive voice. So today we look at English verbs in past and present tenses. As always, our English lesson has a lot of examples to help you. If you feel confident, we even have a quick test at the end of the lesson.
So sit back and enjoy your Monday English listening grammar practice.
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Hi there and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. Don’t forget that if you’d like to work on understanding English conversation, then our Course One, Activate your Listening gives you pieces of English conversation, so that you can work further on your understanding. And if you’ve already bought this course, then don’t worry – we are planning more courses.
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Anyway, today’s podcast – shall we tackle a piece of grammar? English grammar can seem difficult, but it’s not if you take it step-by-step. And today we’re going to work on a verb form that’s much-used in English - therefore you need to know it!
So in English, very basic grammar, a structure for a sentence is subject-verb-object. So that might be ‘Sarah is eating an apple’. So there’s the subject of the sentence, that’s SUBJECT – and this means the person or thing that’s doing the action, that’s making the verb bit happen.
So in ‘Sarah is eating an apple’, the subject is ‘Sarah’. Then there’s the verb, VERB – which is the ‘doing’ word, the action – so here the verb ‘is eating’, which is Present Progressive tense – meaning it’s happening right now, it’s continuing now, the action is happening ‘is eating’, you can see it.
That’s Present Progressive tense. And the object of the sentence is the person or thing that has the action done to it – so here it’s the apple. And that word is object, OBJECT – the object of the sentence. So hopefully that’s OK – if you’ve had to learn traditional English grammar, English lessons may mean you know this, this is familiar. And subject-verb-object happens in lots of languages.
So ‘I read a book’, ‘You ate some cheese’, ‘He cleaned the bathroom’ – all subject-verb-object sentences. But another way of describing this - the verbs in these sentences are all in what we call ‘active voice’. And what we mean by ‘active voice’ – the subject of the sentence is doing the action. So there’s Sarah, biting the apple, munching away, very active in the process.
So the word ‘active’ in English – means ‘doing an action’. If you call someone ‘very active’ – you might be more specific, but it means ‘she does a lot’. She might be ‘very active in her school’, or ‘active politically’ or ‘very active in her church’ for example. And the opposite of the adjective ‘active’ in English is ‘passive’, PASSIVE.
So someone who is ‘passive’ by contrast, doesn’t do a lot. You might picture them sitting on a sofa somewhere, waiting for things to happen to them. If you’re ‘passive’, you’re not doing the action – other people do the actions to you, make the decisions for you.
So an English verb can be ‘active’ or ‘passive’. So the active voice sounds like ‘Sarah is eating an apple’, but the passive voice sounds like ‘The apple is being eaten by Sarah’. So there the sentence is turned around – and ‘apple’ becomes the subject of the sentence, even though it’s ‘passive’ in the process of being eaten.
The verb changes too – it’s still Present Progressive tense, but the verb is now passive ‘is being eaten’ means that the action is being done to the apple. We add in, as though it’s an afterthought ‘by Sarah’, as though it’s an extra piece of information.
So we use this form of the verb, this ‘passive voice’ quite a lot in English. It’s important for you first of all to be able to recognise it, understand it when you hear it. And then, when you’re more comfortable to actually be able to use it yourself when you speak. Some more examples?
- ‘Johnny is baking a cake and Sarah is making the tea.’ Both parts of that are active voice, but
- ‘A cake is being baked by Johnny and the tea is being made by Sarah’ – are passive voice.
The meaning of the sentence is the same – but the focus, the emphasis of the sentence is changed. In the first sentence – Johnny and Sarah are more in focus, as the people doing the actions, but in the second sentence, the cake and the tea are made more important – the cake and tea are the main event. So one of the reasons that we use passive voice is to change the emphasis – to direct the attention of the listener to what we want to emphasise.
Another use of the passive voice – you can actually leave out, omit the identity of the person doing the action. So ‘A cake is being baked and tea is being made’. You don’t have to name names, you don’t have to say who’s doing it. This may be because you want to be mysterious. ‘A cake is being baked and tea is being made’, but I’m not telling you who by? You’ll have to wait and see – perhaps it’s a surprise.
A photograph of a cake being taken from an oven. ESL English grammar how to use verbs in past and present voice.
The passive voice is used also when we don’t want to seem ‘to blame’ someone. BLAME, ‘to blame’ means to find fault with, to give responsibility to someone, usually for something that’s wrong. So you might say ‘The window was left open and the door was unlocked’ – so you’re stating the problem but you’re not saying who’s done it. You’re not naming the person or people who did it.
That might be because you’re being diplomatic or because you don’t know who did it. So you might use the passive voice because the identity of the person doing the action wasn’t known. It’s used also a lot in formal language because perhaps the person doing the action isn’t what’s important.
So the language of the scientific experiment, or the medical treatment or describing the action of a government body or a public service. The emphasis is on the action, not exactly who it was that did it. That’s less important. Notice too that you can only do this where verbs have objects. You can’t put a sentence like ‘The weather has been awful’ into the passive voice because there’s no object there.
So you’ll meet verbs in the passive voice a lot. We’ve talked about passive voice in a previous podcast, but let’s today focus on ‘nuts and bolts’ – how do we put verbs into this ‘passive voice’ grammatically? Well, this verb form uses the ‘past participle’ of the verb – so the same part of the verb that you would use for the Present Perfect tense.
So Present Perfect form of the verb, for example ‘I have found’ gives you the past participle ’found’, FOUND or Present Perfect tense ‘I have lost’ gives you past participle ‘lost’, LOST. Don’t just take the Simple Past tense because although it’s the same for many verbs, so ‘I found’ or ‘I lost’, it’s not the same for all verbs.
For example, ‘to eat’ is ‘I ate’, ATE in Simple Past tense, that’s not the past participle. To get the past participle you need Present Perfect ‘I have eaten’ – to arrive at ‘eaten’ as [in] the past participle. So passive voice in every tense, even the future, uses this past participle.
So for the Present Progressive where the action is happening right now, in this moment – ‘I am baking a cake’ is ACTIVE whereas ‘A cake is being baked by me’ is PASSIVE. This tense means that the cake is in the oven right now.
What about Simple Present – this means that the action is a regular habit, something that’s done often? ‘My mum bakes a cake on Sundays’ is ACTIVE whereas ‘A cake is baked by my mum on Sundays’ is PASSIVE.
What about past tenses?
Well Simple Past tense for a completed action in the past – ‘I baked a cake’ is ACTIVE and it becomes ‘A cake was baked’ when it’s PASSIVE. ‘An apple was eaten’, ‘A window was broken’. ‘He was discovered’ – ‘hiding in a cupboard’ or whatever!
Past Progressive or Imperfect, where an action was continuing in the past – ‘I was baking a cake’ is ACTIVE and it becomes ‘A cake was being baked’ when it’s PASSIVE. ‘An apple was being eaten’. ‘A window was being broken’. ‘He was being discovered’.
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Present Perfect ‘I have baked a cake’ is ACTIVE – the cake-baking is complete, the cake is out of the oven and cooling on the side. For PASSIVE voice, it would be ‘A cake has been baked by me’. ‘An apple has been eaten’. ‘A window has been broken’ and ‘He has been discovered...in his cupboard’.
Past Perfect ‘I had baked a cake’ is ACTIVE – meaning the cake-baking was complete, when something else in the past happened. PASSIVE voice for this Past Perfect tense is ‘A cake had been baked by me’. ‘An apple had been eaten’. ‘A window had been broken’. ‘He had been discovered’.
Shall we stop there and do an exercise? Let’s try some sentences - I’ll vary the tenses. And for each sentence – see if you can put it into passive voice – and name the tense. We’ve covered six tenses here – two present, four past. They were:-
SIMPLE PRESENT, PRESENT PROGRESSIVE, SIMPLE PAST, PAST PROGRESSIVE, PRESENT PERFECT and PAST PERFECT. Here goes – see if you can put these sentences into the passive verb form, using the right tense:-
- The dog chased the ball.
- My sister has been painting a picture.
- My cousin makes the dinner on Wednesdays.
- My cousin had made the dinner on Wednesday, when my uncle arrived.
- My brother is baking a cake, as my mother arrives.
- The dog was chasing the ball, when it popped.
OK, you’ll find the answers in the transcript. I think that once you’ve got the idea of using that past participle – and you’ve understood what it means and why we use it, passive voice isn’t so bad. Obviously I’ve only covered present and past tenses today – there are other tenses of course.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
- The dog chased the ball → The ball was chased by the dog. (SIMPLE PAST)
- My sister has been painting a picture → A picture has been painted by my sister. (PRESENT PERFECT)
- My cousin makes the dinner on Wednesdays → The dinner is made by my cousin on Wednesdays. (SIMPLE PRESENT)
- My cousin had made the dinner on Wednesday, when my uncle arrived → The dinner had been made by my cousin on Wednesday, when my uncle arrived. (PAST PERFECT)
- My brother is baking a cake, as my mother arrives → A cake is being baked by my brother, as my mother arrives. (PRESENT PROGRESSIVE)
- The dog was chasing the ball, when it popped → The ball was being chased by the dog, when it popped. (PAST PROGRESSIVE)