Tag Archives: verbs

English 362: Chapter 11: Intro to the Passive

Heyo Pwips! Before we get into the passive, let’s review the parts of the verb phrase that we have learned so far:

1. The modal auxiliaries that express “modalities”, or ways of modifying the meaning of the verb by suggesting an obligation or degree of probability.

2. The perfect aspect, which suggests a past event that has a continuing effect in the present (remember the perfect is formed by have + -en)

3. The progressive aspect, which backgrounds a process to a real or implied foregrounded event (remember progressive is formed by be + -ing)

4. The lexical verb itself

This formula sums up the verb phrase that we have learned so far:

VP = (Modal) (have+en) (be+ing) Verb


The Passive

Now we will add another element to the VP formula—the passive. The passive is formed by the auxiliary verb to be followed by a verb in the –en form. Along with being an auxiliary, the passive creates an interesting word order in sentences.

For example:

My first princess Barbie doll was destroyed by my older brother.

(Note how the passive is formed with a form of to be, in this case was, and the –en form of a verb, in this case destroyed is the –en form of destroy.)

Notice how the subject (my first princess Barbie doll) is not the thing performing the action. Rather it is receiving the action. Instead the noun phrase “my older brother” in the PrepPhr is the performer of the action. This is the unusual word order that the passive creates in a sentence. The prepositional phrase “by my older brother” is called the by-phrase.

When a sentence is in the passive, you can change it to an active sentence by taking the NP in the by-phrase and making it the subject.

For example:

My older brother destroyed my first princess Barbie doll.

We call the NP of the by-phrase the agent. When you diagram a by-phrase, its form will be PrepPhr, and its function will be Agentive. The NP of the by-phrase will simply be PrepComp.


English 362: Chapter 6: Problematic Verbs

There is often a lot of confusion surrounding the verbs “to lay” and “to lie”, and “to sit” and “to set” because they are so similar in a few of their forms. Let’s look at how to determine when to use each verb and distinguish between their meanings.

Lay and Lie

First of all here are the different forms of each:

  • Base form= lay/ lie
  • -Ing Form = laying/ lying
  • -En Form = laid/ lain
  • General Present = lay/ lie
  • -S Present = lays/ lies
  • Past Tense = laid/ lay


The key difference between these two verbs is that “to lay” is a transitive verb and “to lie” is an intransitive verb. Remember that transitive means that the verb takes a direct object (DO).

Here are examples with “to lay”:

My annoying brothers lay their dirty feet on my bed. (General present)

Frodo lays his weary head against the soft pillow. (-S present)

Tree Beard laid Merry and Pippin down on the grass. (Past)

The soldiers were laying beams across the northern entrance. (-ing form)

I have laid decorative center pieces on the tables. (-En form)

In each of these sentences, there is a direct object after the verb. (For example, in the first sentence the direct object is feet)


Here are sentences with “to lie”:

My furry cat lies on my jacket. (-S present)

Cats lie on my fluffy jacket. (General present)

My furry cat lay on my jacket yesterday. (Past tense)

My furry cat was lying on my jacket. (-ing form)

My furry cat has lain on my jacket before. (-En form)

In these sentences, you see that “to lie” does not take any direct object.


Sit and Set

Typically, these two verbs are less confusing, but they are still worth discussing. Again, we have a difference of “to set” as a transitive verb and “to sit” as an intransitive verb.

First, here are the forms of each:

  • Base form= set/ sit
  • -Ing Form = setting/ sitting
  • -En Form = set/ sat
  • General Present = set/ sit
  • -S Present = sets/ sits
  • Past Tense = set/ sat


Example Sentences

I sat with my back against the wall. (Past)

She sits next to her family. (-s present)

I was sitting there when he randomly introduced himself. (-ing form)

I have sat there before. (-en form)

Nobody should sit alone. (General present)


My family has set a record for most family stickers on the car window. (-En Form)

I set my books on that table usually. (General present)

He sets up the stage scenery. (-S present)

He is setting up the stage scenery. (-ing form)

I set my hopes on a vacation to Japan or China. (Past)