The passive is a grammatical voice that moves an object of a sentence in the active voice into the subject position. The simple present passive is an English verb form that refers to verbs in the present tense, simple aspect, indicative mood, and passive voice.
Formation of the Simple Present Passive
Like most other verb forms in the English language, the simple present passive is periphrastic meaning that that “a phrase of two or more words performs a single grammatical function that would otherwise be expressed by the inflection of a single word.” Verbs in the simple present passive are formed by the present tense form of the verb be plus a past participle (regular or irregular). Note that only transitive verbs (verbs that can take objects) and verbs with verb phrase complements may be conjugated in the passive voice. The verb phrase patterns for the simple present passive are as follows:
- first person singular – am + past participle – I am beaten to work by my boss every day.
- second person singular – are + past participle – You are easily scared by loud noises.
- third person singular – is + past participle – The wind chime is rung by even a light breeze.
- first person plural – are + past participle – We are required to wash our hands frequently.
- second person plural – are + past participle – Are you bothered by your neighbors a lot?
- third person plural – are + past participle – Bagels are delivered to the office each Monday.
Some Englishes also allow for the simple present passive to be formed by the present tense form of the verb get plus a past participle in declarative sentences. The use of get as a passive auxiliary requires the addition of the do operator in interrogative sentences. The verb phrase patterns for the simple present passive with the auxiliary verb get are as follows:
- first person singular – get + past participle – I always get caught by my brother.
- second person singular – get + past participle – Do you ever get punished at work?
- third person singular – gets + past participle – The bathroom gets cleaned once a week.
- first person plural – get + past participle – We get invited to few parties.
- second person plural – get + past participle – You get frightened easily.
- third person plural – get + past participle – Cookies get eaten quickly at my office.
Notice that the present tense of the verb be is irregular in all persons and numbers but that the present tense of the verb get is identical in all persons and numbers except for the third person singular.
Uses of the Simple Present Passive
Like the simple present in the active voice, the simple present passive expresses a discrete action or event in the present or near future. Also like the simple present active, the simple present passive occurs most often in sentences that (1) express discrete actions in the present, (2) describe habits and routines, (3) state general facts and truths, (4) express thoughts and feelings, and (5) describe events in the near future. For example:
- The misbehaving child is scolded by her mother.
- Our mail carrier is barked at every afternoon.
- Crops are destroyed by insects.
- His lover is whisked away by train this evening.
The main grammatical and semantic difference between the simple present in the active voice and the simple present in the passive voice is that the simple present passive allows an object of an active sentence to appear in the subject position. For example, the use of the active voice in The dog chews on the bone means that the subject is the noun phrase The dog and the direct object is the noun phrase the bone. By changing the same sentence into the passive voice — The bone is chewed on by the dog — the original direct object the bone moves into the subject position. Using the passive voice thus allows a speaker to emphasize an object from an active sentence and/or to de-emphasize the subject from an active sentence.
The following visual illustrates the uses of the simple present of English verbs:
The simple present passive expresses discrete actions or states in the present or near future while moving an object from an active sentence into the subject position.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Kilby, David. 1984. Descriptive syntax and the English verb. Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm.
Leech, Geoffrey N. 2004. Meaning and the English verb. Harlow, English: Pearson Longman.