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Humanities LibreTexts The Continuous Tenses in English (Active and Passive Voice)

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    The Continuous Tenses in English (Active and Passive Voice)

    Present Continuous Tense Active             Present Continuous Tense Passive

    I         am
    He      is       studying English.                      English is being studied.
    She     is      eating    a sandwich.                 A sandwich is being eaten (by her).
    It        is      playing with the boys.               The boys are being played with.
    We      are
    You     are
    They    are

           The present continuous is used in situations that are in progress as the speaker is speaking.  It emphasizes the action of the verb at this time.

    Past Continuous Tense

    I          was
    He       was
    She      was
    It         was
    We       were studying with John and Jill.         John and Jill were being studied with (by us).
    You      were eating his lunch.                        His lunch was being eaten (by you)..        
    They    were playing baseball.                        Baseball was being played (by them).

           The past continuous is used when two actions occurred in the past at the same time.  One action was in progress when another action interrupted it.  It can also be used alone to emphasize the action of the verb.

    Future Continuous Tense with Modals/ Quasi-Modal Active     Continuous Modals Passive
    I         will        be                                                                                 (Very rarely used by native
    He      might     be                                                                                speakers)
    She     should be studying biology and chemistry.      They might be being studied (by them).
    It        could be eating soup.                                   Soup could be being eaten.
    We      ought to be playing backgammon.                Backgammon ought to be being played.
    You      may      be
    They    have to  be

           The future continuous with will and other modals stresses the possible on-going action of the modal in the future time.

    Generally speaking, the Passive Voice isn’t used in the Continuous Perfect Tenses.
    Examples of changing active sentences to passive sentences:

    Non-continuous Tenses

    I write letter every day.
    Letters are written every day.

    I wrote a letter yesterday.
    A letter was written yesterday.

    I will write a letter this afternoon.
    A letter will be written this afternoon.

    I want to write a letter.
    A letter is wanted to be written.

    I want you to write a letter.
    I want a letter to be written (by you).

    I have written a letter. 
    A letter has been written (by me).

    I had written a letter before they got home. 
    A letter had been written (by me) before they got home.      

    I will have written a letter by the time they get home. 
    A letter will have been written by the time they get home.

           Continuous Tenses

    I am writing a letter.
    A letter is being written

    I was writing a letter.
    A letter was being written.

    I will be writing a letter. 
    A letter will be being written.         (Very rarely used by native speakers)

           Normally, we do not use the continuous passive voice with the perfect tenses in English.


    5.  If you want to say who or what did something when using the passive, then you must use by(See other examples above, please.)  Very often, it is not necessary to say who or what did something, so by is very often omitted.

           For example:

    In all of the sentences below, it is not necessary to say by because it is obvious who did all the actions.  In fact, it would be foolish to add the by prepositional phrase.

    This grammar explanation was written by me.  It will be studied and learned by you. You will be tested on it by me as soon as the test is written by me.       

               However, in the following sentences, by would most often be used by a native       speaker because the doer of the action is not obvious and may be important.     

    The Declaration of Independence was mainly written by Thomas Jefferson.
    The damage which was done by John and his brother was extensive.
    The boy's life was saved by an experimental drug.
    I was taught good manners by my parents and my teachers.
    The electric light bulb was invented by Thomas Edison. The Continuous Tenses in English (Active and Passive Voice) is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Don Bissonnette.

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