I know there are 16 active tenses in English. What about passive tenses?

Also I don't know what the difference is between tenses and voices and which of them I must use.

update: I mean, this is table: enter image description here

  • 2
    No, English has only two tenses, present and past, both of which can be used in active and passive clauses. You should do some research on this topic before you ask a question on ULU.
    – BillJ
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 9:38
  • I have created a table of all English tenses. When I was trying to creating it for passive tenses, I really confused about passive tenses.
    – Meysam Mahmoodi
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 9:44
  • 1
    Oh no, not the 16 vs 2 tenses again! :) Is it true that English has no future tense? P.S the passive is not a tense it's called a voice, so you should modify the title
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 10:08
  • 1
    Yes, I saw you added a table. So you're saying that it proves that English has 16 tenses? You should include the research for passive voice, (why is it called "a voice") or ask it as a separate question. But the links above should help you. Maybe ELL, our sister-site, would be a better venue for that second question.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 10:27
  • 1
    That is a brilliant answer in the link given above (How many tenses ?) - 88 and counting !
    – user63615
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 11:46

2 Answers 2


I think it is better to say that English has two tense systems: an inflectional system contrasting preterite and present, and an independent analytic tense system contrasting perfect and non-perfect, where non-perfect is not a tense but the absence of perfect tense. The perfect tense can combine with preterite and present tense but can also occur in clauses without inflectional tense.

Preterite and perfect are both instances of the more general tense 'past'. Preterite is the primary (inflectional) past tense, while perfect is the secondary (analytic) past tense.

Since the perfect is a past tense, you could say that English thus has only two tenses, present and preterite.

Voice and aspect have nothing to do with tense, and of course English has no future tense, despite what you may have read or been told.


The first two of these posts reflects a fundamental ignorance of some English grammar and syntax rules. What makes an English tense passive is using some form of the verb "to be" as an auxiliary verb preceding the main verb, except for the English progressive tenses (I am/was seeing you). This insertion is done to turn the subject of any sentence into the object of said sentence, and this can be done with every English tense.

For example, "I see you" has the subject "I" and is in active voice. To make this sentence passive voice, keep "I" in the subject position, but use "are" + the past participle "seen" to form the passive voice sentence "You are seen." The pronoun "I" is dropped because English passive voice makes the doer of the action unknown. In short, the object of the sentence (think "patient") becomes the subject (think "doctor") when a sentence is transformed into passive voice. This is an example of how a more complicated English phrasal verb phrase in active voice gets converted into passive voice: I had seen you before (English past perfect tense)-> I had been seeing you before. Notice the nuance of how using the passive voice makes the action ongoing rather than a one-time event.

Also—although an argument can be made that English has present tenses, past tenses, but no future tenses—most native English speakers would not initially understand what Meysam and BillJ mean because 1) they (native speakers) are taught the "English future tenses" in school, and 2) English modal verbs are the "work-around" used to convey a future tense meaning. By this, I mean that while a language like Spanish conjugates each tense differently, English keeps the basic verb stems and just changes the helping verbs in order to convey that the action is going to occur in the future.

A native English speaker myself, I grew up using phrasal verbs like will be (simple future tense, indicative mood), will have been (future perfect tense, indicative mood), would be (future tense, subjunctive mood), and would have been (future perfect tense, subjunctive mood) long before I learned their academic significance and titles. Another very popular substitute used by English for one-word "future verbs" is the colloquial phrase "going to," which can be substituted for "will," as in "I am going to/will see you."

The answer posted by BillJ is correct, although I suspect that many native English speakers may never have thought of English tenses in quite this way. I would just like to add that "independent analytic tense system" is, in my opinion, a technical way of saying that English concatenates helping verb strings with slightly different choices—may/can/must, shall/will/would-in order to use tense, mood, and voice to reflect nuances of meaning. For example, "I shall see you" indicates my intention for us to be face to face in the future. However, "I will see you" indicates my compelling determination to see you face to face.

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