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The Past Perfect-Progressive Passive of English Verbs

The passive, as one of the two grammatical voices in the English language, allows a language user to move an object of a sentence in the active voice into the subject position of a passive sentence. The past perfect-progressive passive is an English verb form that refers to verbs in the past tense, perfect-progressive aspect, indicative mood, and passive voice.

Formation of the Past Perfect-Progressive Passive

Like most other conjugated verb forms in the English language, the past perfect-progressive passive is periphrastic, meaning a “phrase of two or more words that perform a single grammatical function that would otherwise be expressed by the inflection of a single word.” Verbs in the past perfect-progressive passive are formed by the past tense form of the verb have plus the past participle been and the past participle being followed by a past participle (regular or irregular). Note that, as with other passive constructions, only transitive verbs, or verbs that can take objects, and verbs with verb phrase complements may be conjugated into the passive voice. The verb phrase patterns for the past perfect-progressive passive are as follows:

  • first person singular – had + been + being + past participle – I had been being called names.
  • second person singular – had + been + being + past participle – You had been being starved to death.
  • third person singular – had + been + being + past participle – The child had been being punished.
  • first person plural – had + been + being + past participle – We had been being driven to work every morning.
  • second person plural – had + been + being + past participle – You both had been being controlled by your parents.
  • third person plural – had + been + being + past participle – The prototypes had been being developed in the lab.

Like in other passive constructions, some Englishes also allow for the present participle getting to replace the present participle being in the past perfect-progressive passive. The verb phrase patterns for the simple past passive with the auxiliary verb get are as follows:

  • first person singular – had + been + getting + past participle – I had been getting stung by wasps.
  • second person singular – had + been + getting + past participle – You had been getting attacked by those politicians.
  • third person singular – had + been + getting + past participle – Money had been getting collected by the group.
  • first person plural – had + been + getting + past participle – We had been getting denied benefits.
  • second person plural – had + been + getting + past participle – You had been getting visited by potential clients.
  • third person plural – had + been + getting + past participle – Grapes had been getting stolen from my vines.

As with the past perfect-progressive, the past tense of the verb have is regular in all persons and numbers.

Uses of the Past Perfect-Progressive Passive

Like the past perfect-progressive in the active voice, the past perfect-progressive passive expresses and emphasizes the consequences resulting from a previous incomplete or ongoing action or state that began in the past and continues up to a specific time. Also like the past perfect-progressive active, the past perfect-progressive passive occurs most often in sentences that express actions that continued for a duration of time in the past and actions that caused other actions in the past. For example:

  • The child had been being yelled at by her mother yesterday.
  • Many animals had been being killed until the situation was addressed.
  • The cake had been being cake when the kitchen exploded.
  • Your document had been being printed just as the power went out.

The main difference in terms of grammar and semantics between the past perfect-progressive in the active voice and the past perfect-progressive in the passive voice is that the past perfect-progressive passive allows for an object of an active sentence to move into the subject position. For example, the use of the active voice in My cow had been produced a lot of milk means that the subject is the noun phrase My cow and the direct object is the noun phrase a lot of milk. By changing the same sentence into the passive voice — A lot of milk had been being produced by my cow — the original direct object a lot of milk moves into the subject position. Through the passive voice, a speaker can emphasize the object from an active sentence and/or de-emphasize the subject from an active sentence.

The following visual illustrates the uses of the perfect-progressive aspects of English verbs:

Perfect-Progressive Progressive of English Verbs

The past perfect-progressive passive expresses incomplete or ongoing actions or states that began in the past until a specific point in time while moving an object from an active sentence into the subject position.

References

Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Kilby, David. 1984. Descriptive syntax and the English verb. Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm.
Leech, Geoffrey N. 2004. Meaning and the English verb. Harlow, English: Pearson Longman.

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