If we speak about a long term passive situation which was interrupted, is the tense correct?

The box has been contained toys. (Now it is empty)


The box contained toys. (Now it is empty)

My doubt is about the passiveness of that action and emphasis on the process.

  • 1
    plural, so no 'a'. "The box used to contain toys." [does both tasks in one, tells you where the toys were & also that they are no longer there.] Dec 3, 2014 at 10:01
  • 1
    You might consider: Toys had been kept in the box.
    – Jim
    Dec 3, 2014 at 14:51

3 Answers 3


If you were using active voice, it would be better to say

The box used to contain toys.

However, you're asking about passive voice. In passive voice, the subject (the do-er) trades places with the object. "A car hit me" (active) vs. "I was hit by a car" (passive).

If we start with the basic past-tense sentence above and make it passive, we get:

Toys used to be contained by the box.


Toys used to be contained in the box.

An alternative would be the passive past perfect (past perfect since the box is now empty):

Toys had been contained by/in the box.

Passive voice has its uses, but in this case, I'd suggest going with the active voice. Both "Toys used to be contained by/in the box" and "Toys had been contained by/in the box" are rather awkward sentences.

  • I don't think the question is specifically about passive voice. It seems more concerned with how the action of the box containing the toys is passive compared to something like "The boy used to play with the toys."
    – ColleenV
    Dec 3, 2014 at 13:44
  • "... a long term passive situation which was interrupted" hence miltonaut's "used to be"
    – TimR
    Dec 3, 2014 at 14:42
  • @TRomano I'm not saying the answer is incorrect. I just think that the passive/active voice doesn't really address the passiveness of that action. I could be reading more into the question than is there, but I know some other languages have rules that don't necessarily translate into English. You can construct passive voice sentences that have "active" seeming verbs, i.e. The toys used to be played with by the boy.
    – ColleenV
    Dec 3, 2014 at 15:02
  • @ColleenV - I did give that some thought. From the OP's construction "has been contained" (present perfect passive), I'm guessing that it was an active/passive question. The only other thing that might make it something other than a question about active and passive voice is that the box is an inanimate object.
    – miltonaut
    Dec 3, 2014 at 15:16

As has been pointed out already (with an explanation), the best answer would be:

The box used to contain toys.

In your sentence 2:

The box contained toys. (Now it is empty)

If you have to talk about a single toy, use "a" toy. When you have more than one toy, use plural - toys.

This sentence isn't ungrammatical, but it doesn't really convey the "interrupted action" you were aiming to stress on. That is best described by the "used to" construct.

As for your sentence 1, it is ungrammatical. Ideally, you would use "has been" in cases like:

The situation has been contained.


Contain is a transitive verb used for saying that something holds or has something else inside it. The box is treated as a "doer", which does the action of holding, and the object that receives the action is "toys". When the doer is the subject, the sentence is in the active voice.

So the correct sentence is "The box contained toys, but now it's empty".

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .