What is the correct way to construct Complex Subject if the Infinitive Verb is expressed in its passive non-progressive form.

We heard a poem being cited. ---- We heard someone citing a poem (in progress)

??? We heard the poem cited ----- We heard someone cite a poem (non-progressive)

??? English song was heard sung by a girl.

??? His name was heard called .

Are sentences tagged with question mark grammatically correct?

Thank you for any help!

  • I don't think they're strictly ungrammatical, but the last two are very unidiomatic. We would say We/they heard a girl's voice singing in English, or I've heard [a particular song] sung by [a particular artist]. Aug 15, 2021 at 12:39
  • Kate Bunting, thank you a lot!
    – IRINA
    Aug 15, 2021 at 12:49
  • I would saying "We heard the poem cited" would register on me as "We heard the poem, which was cited [in some context]." not "We heard the citation of a poem"
    – Mary
    Aug 15, 2021 at 16:45
  • @Mary yes that is correct. Aug 15, 2021 at 23:08
  • "Citing a poem" normally means referring to it (as in an essay), not reading it. Maybe you mean "reciting a poem" which (perhaps confusingly) means speaking it, usually from memory.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 28, 2023 at 11:26

2 Answers 2


As Kate says, not actually ungrammatical, but not idiomatic English.

Firstly, unless "English Song" is the title of a song, it needs some kind of article. "The English song was heard, sung by a girl". ​

Next don't write like that! use the active if you can. In the case of "hear" you probably do know the person who hears it, because it is subjective. If you know "it was heard", you probably know who heard it. So contexts in which you prefer the passive are rare.

So you have the active voice:

He heard his name called by the teacher.

In the passive it could be

His name was heard, called by the teacher.

(This strongly suggests that his name was heard by some other people.

But you'd do better to rewrite.

His name was heard; the teacher was calling it.

  • 2
    In somewhere such as a hospital waiting room, 'His name was called' (taking for granted that everyone could hear it). In other circumstances where it would be unexpected, you might say 'A voice was heard calling his name'. Aug 15, 2021 at 14:32

hear is the kind of verb which takes Catenative Complement.

1. I heard the door being unbolted.
2. I heard him play the piano.
3. I had never heard it described that way.
4. She was often heard to say: "I am a very slow learner".

In Sentence #1 hear takes a Gerund-Participle clause, in #2 a bare infinitive clause, in #3 a Past-Participle clause and in #4 a to infinitive clause. All these are Catenative Complement realised by a non-finite clause.

The problem with hear is that in most cases we can't tell for certain if the intervening Noun Phrase (NP) is the subject of the non finite clause or a part of the matrix clause, precisely the complement of the matrix verb.

Semantically in all the examples above it can be thought that the intervening NP is part of the non-finite clause. the door is the subject of being unbolted and the non finite clause is the door being unbolted. But syntactically it is not possible. In syntactic approach the NP - the door - is part of the matrix clause. And the non finite clause is subject-less. the door is the complement of the matrix verb hearm which also takes another Catenative Complement in the form of Gerund-Participle Clause - being unbolted.

I heard the door's being unbolted. [INCORRECT]

Syntactically in #2 the NP - him - is again part of the matrix clause like it was in sentence #1 because more often than not a bare infinitive clause - play the piano - doesn't take a subject except in a few rare constructions.

In #3 the NP it is part of the matrix clause, a raised object..

Your sentences:

We heard a poem being cited. [PROGRESSIVE]
We heard the poem cited. [NON PROGRESSIVE]

English song was heard sung by a girl. [GRAMMATICALLY QUESTIONABLE USAGE]

  • Man_from_India, thank you for your reply. What if i put my question differently. the usage of Infinitive in sentences a) and b) is governed by Complex Object rule (progressive/non-progressive accordingly) there is a rule in theoretic grammar. a)We heard a poem being cited. [PROGRESSIVE] b)We heard the poem cited. [NON PROGRESSIVE]
    – IRINA
    Aug 17, 2021 at 10:36
  • sentences c) and d) belong to Complex Subject and i failed to find a rule Complex Subject should be constructed if Infinitve is in Passive and non-progressive form. c)English song was heard sung by a girl. [GRAMMATICALLY QUESTIONABLE USAGE] d)His name was heard called. [GRAMMATICALLY QUESTIONABLE USAGE] What does the grammar say about it? Though the way native speaker would use it is also obviously important.
    – IRINA
    Aug 17, 2021 at 10:44
  • @Irina I will read your comment later. At work rn. Aug 17, 2021 at 10:50
  • @Irina I am not familiar with complex object or any rule related to that. If you can guide me in that matter, I might answer you a better way. Thank you. Aug 17, 2021 at 14:09

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