Michael Swan in his "Practical English Usage" says that present passive forms can have similar meanings to present perfect passives.

The vegetables are all cut up - what shall I do? = The vegetables have been cut up
I got caught in the rain and my suit's ruined. = ...has been ruined
I think your ankle is broken. = ...has been broken
My suitcase is packed. = ... has been packed.

He states that it happens due to that fact that some verbs refer to actions that produce a finished result (to cut, to build, to pack, to close), while others do not (to push, to live, to speak, to hit, to carry).

He goes on: the past participles of finished-result verbs, and some of their passive tenses, can have two meanings. They can refer to the action, or they can describe the result (rather like adjectives).

The theatre was closed by the police on the orders of the mayor. (refers to the action of closing).
When I got there I found that the theatre was closed. (refers to the state of being shut - the result of the action).

I'm not sure I get the difference between the two groups of words mentioned above. Could anyone, please, go into more detail and explain it to me? I need more examples to feel what it really means.


If the present passive is used with a resultative verb, then the focus is on the present state. Conversely, if the perfect passive is used, there is a greater emphasis on the action that caused the present state. So in the following examples of housework, the present passive places the focus on the resultative state:

The car is washed.

The furniture is waxed.

The shoes are polished.

The clothes are ironed.

The beds are made.

The table is laid.

The perfect passive, in contrast, places greater emphasis on the action:

The car has been washed.

The furniture has been waxed.

The shoes have been polished.

The clothes have been ironed.

The beds have been made.

The table has been laid.


I can explain this difference from the standpoint of a native English speaker, but I'm afraid it won't be a very technical definition.

You asked for the difference between the feelings of the two sentences, since you have correctly determined that the different versions mean essentially the same thing. Take a look at the examples you presented and my paraphrases:

  • "The vegetables are all cut up."
    • These vegetables are cut up. That's just the way things are.
  • "The vegetables have been cut up."
    • Something happened to these vegetables that caused them to become cut up, and here they are, still cut up.

If you'd only like to communicate the present state of the object, you can use the first version. No additional information regarding the timing of the action is supplied or assumed by using this version of the verb.

Use present perfect passive if you'd like to communicate the fact that the object has existed in the specified state for some time after it received the action of the verb, while still communicating the feeling that the exact timing of the original action is unknown, ambiguous, or irrelevant.

I found an article that appears to explain the differences very well. It even comes with illustrations that show the assumed timing when using the various forms of the verb!

  • Yep, I do get all of the above, thank you for ur explanation, Oran D. Lord, but the thing is that I wanted to hear more examples with the mentioned above verbs that 'refer to actions that produce a finished result (to cut, to build, to pack, to close), while others do not (to push, to live, to speak, to hit, to carry)." – Yukatan Apr 23 '14 at 17:15
  • and one more thing, I've got a task to build sentences from the prompts, using the verbs in italics in the correct form: active, passive or causative: The walls/not paper/ properly. The paper is coming off. The key answer offers only one answer as the correct one, using present perfect passive, i.r.: The walls haven't been papered. I'm wondering whether present simple passive,- The walls aren't papered,- is also legitimate here or not. – Yukatan Apr 23 '14 at 17:19
  • @Yukatan Did you still need extra information regarding your last comment? – Oran D. Lord Apr 24 '14 at 19:25
  • sure:) and I wanted to hear more examples with the verbs of the two groups showing the difference in use - some verbs refer to actions that produce a finished result (to cut, to build, to pack, to close), while others do not (to push, to live, to speak, to hit, to carry). Because I can't say I do get the shades of meaning..@Oran D. Lord – Yukatan Apr 25 '14 at 4:47

I would not divide verbs into categories, to talk syntax. We could be "chopping wood" forever. When do we say "it's all chopped"? ;)

We might look to the active, thinking about the passive in your examples.

S/he is cutting up the vegetables # S/he has cut up the vegetables;

The vegetables are being cut ## are cut.

The time of activity is not decisive.

S/he was ruining the suit # S/he had ruined the suit;

The suit was being ruined ## was ruined.

Now, a suit is not a body part.

S/he got caught in the mesh; it was breaking her/his ankle.

Obviously, there is no need to wait for the ankle to get broken. Still, we cannot cling on to the verb to break. We naturally think if there is someone to perform the action.

Bread was being broken, when they came. (The people in the room were breaking bread.)

For a body part, we would be unlikely to say * Her/his ankle was being broken, as the natural expectation would be to know, by what volition. A mesh is inanimate. We do not ascribe volition to inanimate things, and we can use active syntax.

The mesh was breaking her ankle, when she got liberated.

For a human or another volitional factor and a body part, we would be focused on the result more.

S/he was pulling her ankle ... S/he broke ...

S/he will be packing the suitcase # S/he will have packed the suitcase tomorrow at this hour.

We would be unlikely to say * The suitcase will be being packed

To focus on the activity, we would use the active and include the person,

She will be packing the suitcase,

Or, when the action is finished, and to focus on the suitcase,

The suitcase will be packed.

Generally, I would refer to the focus and activity or faculty time frame, not particular classes of verbs, for syntax.

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