Question from Christy in the Philippines

When do we have to use the past participle of the verb when the tense of your statement is in the present tense. This is because I get confused when someone asks me about this. Like for ex. I think your headset is broken. I know this sentence is right, but why use past participle (broken). Thanks

Hi Christy, thanks for your question. English can be confusing and I think you’ve landed on one of the areas that is most confusing for a lot of English language learners. Let’s take a look at your example sentence:

  • I think your headset is broken

Now what is that? Simple Present? Simple Past? Present Perfect? The sentence seems to be in the Present … but what is that past participle ‘broken’ doing in there?.Well, this sentence is in the Passive and that changes the way we structure the tenses.

We use the Passive form:

  • when the agent (the persons or thing performing the action) is known or is not important.In the following sentence we are not concerned about WHO is producing the Champagne.
    • E.G. Champagne is produced in France.
  • to focus attention on the result of an action. This fits your sentence where the important thing to focus on is not WHO broke the headset or WHY the headset is broken but the fact that it IS broken:
    • E.G. I think your headset is broken
  • to hide the identity of the person performing the action. The writer or speaker is being tactful, secretive or evasive.
    • E.G. The new building was built using sub-standard materials.
  • to keep the same grammatical subject.
    • E.G. Michael won the chess game with Jane but was beaten by Max in the finals.


Now, how do we make a sentence Passive? Let’s have a look at how we re-organize the tense structure (table taken from the English4Today English Grammar). Try and change these Passive examples into active sentences. I’ll do the first one for you:

  • Passive: The house is cleaned every day.Active: I clean the house every day.

Remember, the Passive uses the:


Subject verb ‘to be’ past participle
Simple present:
The house is cleaned every day.
Present continuous:
The house is being cleaned at the moment.
Simple past:
The house was cleaned yesterday.
Past continuous:
The house was being cleaned last week.
Present perfect:
The house has been cleaned since you left.
Past perfect:
The house had been cleaned before their arrival.
The house will be cleaned next week.
Future continuous:
The house will be being cleaned tomorrow.
Present conditional:
The house would be cleaned if they had visitors.
Past conditional:
The house would have been cleaned if it had been dirty.


Check out the section of the Passive in the English4Today Grammar for more information.