Here are two sentences that look pretty similar:

  1. The book was written by Hugo.
  2. The book has been written by Hugo.

Each of them says that the action has been already performed in the past in passive voice. What I can't understand is the exact difference between the meaning of these two sentences. When is it better or more suitable to use the passive voice of past simple versus the passive voice of the present perfect?

  • I'd say that 1) could be anytime in the (distant) past and 2) could be more recently to just finished today
    – mplungjan
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 7:38
  • 1
    They're both passive voice; that's why they look similar: they have the same structure. It's not possible to contrast passive voice with present perfect: they're two different categories, apples & oranges. One's a voice (passive vs active) & the other's a tense (present) & and aspect (perfect). I won't get into how many tenses there are or anything else, but I will say that before you ask a question, your should research the terms.
    – user21497
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 8:04
  • -1 This isn't a real question because it's illogical & doesn't make sense. Please rewrite the question so that it's logical. Ask for a comparison of the simple present & the present perfect (two oranges) in the passive voice (one apple).
    – user21497
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 8:08
  • ı think both are correct But I mainly use the first one
    – user43840
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 8:19
  • There are two people in a room. One of them sees a book lying on a table. He picks it up but the name of the author is hidden in the inside jacket. His friend replies (i) That book was written by Victor Hugo. (The author is deceased, he cannot write a new book.) (ii) That book was written by me (the author is clearly alive but the act of writing the book is in the past)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 12, 2015 at 6:58

6 Answers 6


You're comparing apples to oranges. Your choice of whether to use the passive voice is not a choice that relates to tense. You don't make a choice between a voice and a tense; you make a choice between two voices, or between two tenses.

The choice of voices is between active and passive. In general, the active voice is more direct and powerful, and aligns the reader with the subject of the sentence. ("He wrote the book" draws attention to the person who wrote the book, more than to the book.) The passive voice, on the other hand, is softer, and more languid, and places the emphasis on the object of the verb rather than the subject. ("The book was written by him" places the reader's attention on the book, rather than on the author.)

In your examples, the first one indicates a completed action (he's through writing the book), whereas the second indicates something that was going on in the past and is possibly still going on now or at least was going on fairly recently. So it's simple: Choose your tense based on whether the action is done, or more continuous in nature.

  • 2
    The first is past tense, passive voice. The second is present perfect tense, passive voice. Commented May 7, 2013 at 12:50

When I read these two sentences,

"The book was written by Hugo." "The book has been written by Hugo."

I would rather believe, there is no difference in meaning, as it doesn't make a difference to the book. The book is finished. If this happened five minutes ago or all of a century ago, doesn't matter to the book. All you learn from these sentences is:

  • the book is completed (whenever)
  • the author's name is "Hugo".

The whole matter may change, if you apply the same sentence structure to a different subject:

"The husband was beaten by his wife." vs. "The husband has been beaten by his wife."

In the first case, him or her might be dead or otherwise unable to meet again. It is over. Either her therapy worked out, or they don't meet anymore. In the second case, the story may be ungoing. You may be reporting from the crime scene or the hospital, without a clue, how the story will continue.

Am I mistaken in my guess???


For decades I pondered this very question. Here is what I think the differences are:

  • was written: Hugo was done writing the book and he would no longer participate in anything related to writing the book. He's done, so to speak. It also implies the timing of the action is in the more distant past.

  • has been written: Hugo from time to time writes the book. At the moment, he has stopped writing it. He may come back to write it again; who knows? It may also have other contributors. The timing is in the more recent past.

The difference lies in the hint and the atmosphere of the timing, and Hugo's schedule of writing the book.


After some research job, I finally arranged passive voice form of all past tenses in English.
Actually, it's much more logically and simply, than I thought.

Now, in order to use correct form of passive voice you have to decide which time is more suitable for your context and use its the relevant form.

Passive voice of the past tenses:

  1. Past Simple
    — The book was written by Hugo.
  2. Past Continuous
    — The book was being written by Hugo.
  3. Present Perfect
    — The book has been written by Hugo.
  4. Present Perfect Continuous
    — The book has been being written by Hugo.
  5. Past Perfect
    — The book had been written by Hugo.
  6. Past Perfect Continuous
    — The book had been being written by Hugo.

Thanks to — http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/verbtenseintro.html


Logically they are both equivalent. Stylistically, the perfect tense one gives a more intimate feeling. The simple past passive states a fact.


The book was written by Hugo. The book has been written by Hugo.

"I can't understand is the exact difference between the meaning of these two sentences. When is it better or more suitable to use the passive voice of past simple versus the passive voice of the present perfect?"

Contrary to erroneous claims above, the perfect tense does not mean that an action has been started in the past and may be 'on going' in the present; au contraire, the present "perfect" tense, as the name implies, dictates that the action is perfected, done, completed, fin. It is over.

English, the language of the angels, is the logical language. It is precise.

In the above examples, the former, is bad English, the latter, correct English:

'was written', is incomplete in that it fails to state when, and should thus have been stated more appropriately in the perfect tense;

"has been written", correctly draws attention to the fact that action is over, without needing to state when.


"I went to Japan last year. I have been to Japan."

These are correct examples of the past and present perfect tenses respectively, the difference being, the former has context, the latter merely emphasizes completion of an action - again, perfected, ipso facto, done; learn to read Babylonian boobs, something less than 2% of the public does after the completion of formal indoctrinati.. er, I mean, education, as if any of today's blinkards really know what education means; check the etymology, chump - without deigning to dwell on context, merely fact.

Compare, a far more common usage:

"Students who are graduated..." "Students who have graduated..."

The former, present simple passive voice, an erroneous usage, most often by Asian second language students who innately fail to grasp the perfect tense due to its conspicuous absence in their own native language, a fact reflected by the fact that less than 1% or only band 8.0 or above students in the IELTS exam can grok, the latter, correct usage of the perfect tense, indicating the completion of an action without needing to focus on the when, the context.

To answer the original question, "When is it better or more suitable to use the passive voice of past simple versus the passive voice of the present perfect?" It is more suitable to use the passive voice past simple when: 1) We wish to use the passive voice to draw attention to the object and not the subject of a sentence; 2) The use of the past tense dictates we provide a past context, ie, the when: ie: Rose was raped by an asian last night. Compare the obfuscation: Rose has been raped. No when, no who, no where, merely, perfected.

  • 1
    There would seem to be some authorative disagreement with your definition of present perfect tense. Perhaps you should include some references to back up your assertion. Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 5:20

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