A lot of sentences which I didn't understand why we don't use "using" instead of "used"? Isn't it past tense? These are examples:

  1. It is actually used now.

  2. When is button used, and when is key used?

  3. These are usually arrested.

  4. The book is used to inform humans.

These sentences are showing as simple present tense on Translate. Is it mistake of Translate or is a rule of grammar? If so when does this rule apply?

  • Welcome to the idiosyncratically beautiful world of English!
    – Void
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 19:12

3 Answers 3


Used is the past tense form of use. But it is also the "past participle".

The "past participle" is a bad name, because it doesn't mean "past time". It just means "the participle that sometimes is the same as the past tense". Participles don't have any tense.

The past participle has three main uses: It forms perfect tense expressions:

The carpenter has used a screwdriver.

It forms the passive voice

A screwdriver is used by a carpenter.

It forms participle phrases, and adjectives related to verbs. These also have a "passive" sense.

Used by carpenters, screwdrivers are good tools.

Can I buy a used car?

The tense is carried by the (auxiliary) verb, not the participle.

Your examples are all examples of passive voice

"It is actually used now". is equivalent to "Somebody actually uses it now"

When is button used and when is key used? is equivalent to "When does one use button and when does one use key?"

(number 3 doesn't have used) It is passive voice with the past participle of "arrest" (it might be an adjective "arrested")

The book is used to inform humans becomes "Somebody uses the book to inform humans.

When you change passive to active, you often need a "somebody" or "one".

To make a present tense passive voice to past tense passive voice, change "is" to "was" (or "are" to "were")

It was actually used 100 years ago.

  • Thanks but a little bit confused. So I wanna ask fragmentary. 1- First the examples not only for "used" verb. I think your sayings is suitable for third example. Right? 2- To + V3 = passive voice right? Therefore number 3 is a passive voice because "IS(be) actually used(v3)". Is it correct? 3- "Used by carpenters, screwdrivers are good tools." Is it simple present tense? If I want to turn into past tense I have to add "has" auxilary. Is it correct?
    – user123960
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 20:53
  • In 3 there isn't enough context to decide. Both the passive voice and the adjective "arrested" would have exactly the same form. It could be either.
    – James K
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 21:09
  • "V3" is past participle. "To + V3" is incorrect grammar. "To be + V3" is infinitive passive voice. Number 3 might be passive voice. "is .... arrested"
    – James K
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 21:11
  • That is simple present tense. The verb is "are". Subject is "screwdrivers" and complement is "good tools". "Used by carpenters" is a participle phrase. To change to past tense, change "are" to "were": "Used by carpenters, screwdrivers were good tools."
    – James K
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 21:11
  • It is clearer if you use an irregular verb like "eat-ate-eaten" Now you can see what is past tense and what is past participle
    – James K
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 21:14

Those are all examples of the passive voice. The verbs that you see there with the -ed ending are not exactly the past tense, but something called the past participle, which is used in the passive voice.

For example, in the first sentence,

It is actually used now.

It is being used by something else, even if we don't say what that "something else" is. That's what the passive voice is, and we make it by using the verb to be and the past participle of the main verb.

Reference: https://www.ef.edu/english-resources/english-grammar/passive-voice/

  • So those verbs are all passive voice and if I want those to turn into past tense I have to use "were" instead of "be". Right?
    – user123960
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 21:30
  • @user123960 Yes, that's right: the passive voice always uses the past participle, but what really controls the tense of the sentence is the tense of to be. So in the past tense, "it is used" becomes "it was used", and "they are arrested" becomes "they were arrested".
    – stangdon
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 22:31

You're overlooking the main verb in all these sentences, which is is or are, and that is present tense. There is no mistake here.

There's a reason why we don't say or write "It is actually using now." or "The book is using to inform humans." That's because is ---ing places the emphasis upon the subject as continually doing some action.

"It is actually using now" doesn't make sense, because "It" is now using...what? Compare that to "It is actually used now." The latter sentence means something (it) is being used (somewhere, somehow). How it's being used, and where it's being used aren't important. But if we say "It is using," then we need to know what it is using.

Info on present progressive (is ---ing verbs): https://writingexplained.org/grammar-dictionary/present-progressive-tense

  • I couldn't understand fully your last sentences. If problem is"It" and some missing I'll type correct: It is actually using tools well. I hear first time "ing" emphasis upon the subject. I confused.
    – user123960
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 21:12

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