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I have been learning English grammar and I’ve encountered a sentence that I cannot identify as being in any of the tenses that I know. This one’s got me really confused:

It has already been planned.

Is “has been planned” really in the present tense, or is it really in the past tense?

  • At first I thought it might be in the simple past perfect, but that can’t be right because there is no been in the forms used for the past perfect construction.

  • Then I thought it might be in the simple present perfect since it has got has which is an irregular present-tense verb, but then where does the planned part come from? Isn’t planned a past-tense verb?

I see both a present-tense verb (has) and a past-tense verb (planned) there, so it confuses me which one it is. Can somebody explain this for me?

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I think the problem here is you cannot distinguish between a past participle, which is a misnomer,* and a past-tense (or preterit) verb. It's hard to distinguish one from another because they are morphologically formed as much.

It's essential that you know a past participle is used in a perfect construction and a passive voice; they are marked by a form of HAVE and by a form of BE, respectively.

In your sentence, it has already been planned, the form of HAVE (has) signals a perfect construction and it's followed by a past participle (been). And that of BE (been), which is also followed by a participle (planned), signals a passive voice.

As a rule, the tense in a perfect constructions is indicated by the form of HAVE. So this is a present tense.

Since this is a combination of a passive voice and a perfect construction, it's appropriate to refer it to as a present perfect passive.


*Because in most cases, the past participle has nothing to do with the past. For example, the reference time in Next month, I will have worked for the company for six years is future.

We have a complete treatise covering this topic. We call it a canonical post and it is really worth reading.

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has -- marks the present tense, licenses the perfect aspect 
been -- marks the perfect aspect, licenses the passive voice 
planned -- marks the passive voice 

Is it really the present tense?  Yes . This construction expresses a present-tense state of being . This state of being is the result of the action "to plan", so we can infer that the action must have occurred in the past, but that is not the same thing as placing the verb itself in the past tense. 

The only verb in this structure that has a tense is "has".  Both "been" and "planned" have no tense at all.*  These participles are non-finite forms.  In the case of "to plan" that may not be obvious, since the past-tense form and the participle form happen to be identical.  In the case of "to be" there is no confusion, since "been" is a distinct form from "was" and "were". 

Your opening statement contains a similar structure: 
have -- marks the present tense, licenses the perfect aspect 
been -- marks the perfect aspect, licenses the continuous aspect 
learning -- marks the continuous aspect 

So, the present perfect passive is no more complicated a construction than the present perfect continuous.  Both use a present-tense form of the verb "to have", followed by the past-participle form of the verb "to be", in turn followed by a participle form which expresses a state. 
_______________ 

* Two things about this statement may be confusing. 

First, not everyone uses the word "tense" to mean tense and nothing else.  Often other properties associated with verbs (such as aspect, voice, and mode) are lumped together and shoved under the tense label.  As I use the word, there are only two tenses in English grammar: the past and the present.  Anything else is, well, something else. 

Second, the traditional labels for distinguishing participle forms happen to be the same as the names of the tenses.  The so-called present participle does not indicate the present tense, and the so-called past participle does not indicate the past tense. 

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