Hi, I’m working on a pre-course CELTA task from Oxford College and I need to identify the tense of the sentence ‘these computers are made in China.
I personally think it’s the simple past because of ‘made’ but the auxiliary verb ‘are’ is confusing me.
Am I right in thinking the sentence in the simple past tense?
Thanks in advance,
5 September, 2008 at 22:58
Total posts: 7
Reply To: The tense of ‘are made’
This is what they call the passive voice, as opposed to the active voice. Have you heard of those? "I drink wine" – active voice. "The wine is drunk" – passive voice (coz wine doesn’t drink).
"are made" is known as the present simple (you get the tense from "are". Don’t be led astray by "made" – you could call that the past participle and it is used in the passive voice in all tenses, so it is useless as an indication of tense.
It might be useful to visualise how the passive form is constructed – what we call its form:
ACTIVE: The police arrested the criminal.
Breaking this down:
– "The police" is the subject of the verb – the person or thing which does the action.
– "arrested" is the verb
– "the criminal" is the direct object – the person or thing on which the action is done
So, to put this into the passive voice, first we take the object and put it in the subject position at the beginning of the sentence:
– "The criminal"
Next, we take the verb "to be" in the same tense as the verb in the active sentence:
Next, we take the main verb in its third form (the past participle):
Finally, in this case we’d like to know a little bit more, so we mention the person who "did" the action of arresting:
– "by the police"
So you have:
PASSIVE: The criminal was arrested by the police.
It works in any tense:
– The criminal will be arrested by the police.
– The criminal has been arrested by the police
…and so on. Notice that it’s just the verb "to be" which changes each time.
We might use the passive in this case because, in the context of the conversation we’re having, or the story we’re telling maybe, the action is more important than who did it. We might even leave out "the police" altogether:
– "The criminal was arrested".
Another reason might be that we don’t know who arrested the criminal – saying "Someone arrested the criminal" is much less natural in this case than saying "The criminal was arrested".
Hope that gives you more of an idea about the form and function of the passive.