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tooth decay is a common dental issue that can be happened among children.

Please explain the grammatical error in this sentence.

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  • The sentence should be Tooth decay is a common dental issue that can happen among children. Be happened is never a grammatically correct thing to say. Something can either happen or can not happen.
    – Phil14
    Jun 16 '17 at 4:44
  • Welcome to ELL and thank you for your question. Please take a few minutes to review our tour and Help Center pages. The phrase can be happened can never appear in a correct English sentence. Can you tell us why you used the verb happen? Please tell us where you found this sentence. Is it part of an exercise from a lesson in school? Jun 16 '17 at 4:45
  • That's not strictly true. For example, "If one has the assistance of an experienced pig, then if one spends enough time hunting for them, fresh truffles can be happened upon."
    – tkp
    Jun 16 '17 at 5:32
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Happen is only used in the passive in very rare cases.

Now, the question is, how to say what you want to say.

Your version is not grammatical because happen has no meaning as a passive in this sentence:

Tooth decay is a common dental issue that can be happened among children.

You could either use a different verb, as some others have mentioned:

Tooth decay is a common dental issue that can be found among children.

An other possibility is to use happen in the active form:

Tooth decay is a common dental issue that can happen among children.

The easiest way is actually to leave out the whole extra bunch of words that don't really add any extra meaning:

Tooth decay is a common dental issue among children.

I dare say that that last version sounds most natural to me.

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The sentence is clearly wrong, but I'm having difficulty answering your precise question about what the error is. As @Phil commented, one correct form is "can happen", instead of "can be happened". But what's throwing me is the fact that while your sentence is incorrect:

Tooth decay is a common dental issue that can be happened among children.

the following alternative is not:

Tooth decay is a common dental issue that can be found among children.

In both cases, the word being used -- "happen" or "found" -- is the past participle of a verb -- "to happen" or "to find" -- however, as I say, "found" is fine grammatically, while "happened" is not.

Also, as I pointed out in a comment, even the relatively unusual form of "can be happened" is not strictly incorrect. That's because there is a variant of the meaning of happen where it means "to discover" or "to find unexpectedly" etc. So the following is also correct:

Dentists find that because of the modern tendency to eat lots of candy and drink fruit juice, childhood tooth decay can be happened upon a lot more frequently today than in the past.

A good question!

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