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Grammar: Tenses and voice

Throughout the speaking section of PTE Academic, you need to recognise and use English grammatical structures. This is important across all item types as an understanding of grammar can help you understand the language contained in the different item types as well as respond accurately in the longer item types.

In this article, you will look at English tenses and passive and active voices.


There are 12 major tenses in English (not including conditional tenses which are discussed in a later step). Recognising tenses is integral to understanding the meaning of the item types. Using correct tenses in your responses is important in correctly repeating sentences in some item types or constructing logical answers for others.

Look at the structure and uses of the different tenses in English.

Tense Use Example
Present simple Present states and repeated actions The students study from 9 - 12 every morning.
Present continuous Events which are happening now The icecaps are rapidly melting.
Present perfect Experiences without date, change over time, continuing situations There has been a significant increase in the number of women studying STEM subjects.
Present perfect continuous States or events which started in the past and continue now The building has been undergoing a renovation.
Past simple States or events which started in the past and continue now Purchases of televisions rose dramatically in 2008.
Past continuous Past state or action that was happening at a particular time As the scientists were finalising their results, they noticed an issue with the experiment.
Past perfect Past state or action that happened before another state or action Before applying for university, the student had taken PTE Academic.
Past perfect continuous Longer past state or action that happened before another state or action I had been living in Berlin for 5 years, before I could speak German fluently.
Future simple Future state or action The speaker argued that the rate of crime will continue to increase.
Future continuous Future state or action at a particular period in time By this time next year, students will be taking exams in the new exam centre.
Future perfect Future state or action that will have finished at a certain point in time The speaker claimed that by the end of the year, 1000 jobs will have been lost.
Future perfect continuous Future state or action that will continue until a certain point in time When I finish the course, I will have been studying for 10 years.


Voice refers to if a verb is active or passive. It is important to be able to recognise this as it can help you determine which noun in the sentence is performing the action.

Let’s look at an example of each. Look at the following sentences. In each sentence, identify the noun that is performing the action and the noun which is receiving the action.

Active voice: The scientists conducted a number of experiments.

Passive voice: A number of experiments were conducted by the scientists.

In the active sentence, the noun which performs the action (also known as agent) is the scientists and it is at the beginning of the sentence, before the verb.

In the passive sentence, the noun which performs the action is the scientist and it is at the end of the sentence after the verb and introduced by the preposition by.

Passive voice is formed by the verb to be and the past participle of the main verb. It can be used in any of the tenses shown above and it can be used in the following situations:

  • The agent is unknown:

Stonehenge was built more than five thousand years ago. (It is unknown who built it.)

  • The agent is irrelevant:

The students are assessed every 5 weeks. (It is clear they are assessed by their teachers.)

  • In academic contexts:

The findings of the research will be included in the report. (Instead of ‘They will include the findings of the research in the report.’)

  • In processes:

The sodium hydroxide is first dissolved in water.


Which tense do you find most difficult in English? Is passive voice common in your mother tongue?

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This article is from the free online course:

Practise your PTE Academic Speaking Skills

Macquarie University