5

Why is there no passive form of the present perfect continuous?

Active.I have been writing a letter for three years.
passive. A letter has been being written by me for three years

can we make passive voice of perfect continuous like this,if not,why?

4 Answers 4

9

Technically, the structure is good and the sentence is meaningful, but it's such terrible style and so easy to reword in a better way that many English textbooks and English teachers lie to you and say that there is no such form.

You'll pretty much only find that structure when people are writing about that structure itself -- either to say that it actually exists, or to tell you never to use it.

The first page of Google Books hits for "been being" is books about the English language.

Even worse is future perfect continuous passive:

One year from now, that same letter will have been being written by me for four years.

1
  • 1
    For loads of results, try searching Trump and "been being." Loads of hits from the news Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 18:00
6

As another answer says, this structure is not strictly prohibited. However, the juxtaposition of "been" with "being" sounds unusual. We can resolve this issue by using a different form of the passive. Usually it is "to be" + past participle, but it can also be expressed by "to get" + past participle. For example:

In practice, very little of this work has been getting done for the past two decades, but most of the progress that has been made has been when bipartisan agreements were reached. (Alice M. Rivlin, Sheri Rivlin, and Allan Rivlin, Divided We Fall: Why Consensus Matters, Brookings Institution Press, 2022)

This is the passive form of the present perfect continuous.


Note that we can also form such a structure by making "to be" the head of the verb phrase:

Bob is having been seen by Alice.

This is very unnatural. (Even the active form, "Alice is having seen Bob", would be unnatural.) However, depending on your definition of "passive", we can drop the first "to be" and easily come up with a verb catena that is passive, present perfect, and continuous:

Bob, having been seen by Alice, emerged from his hiding place.

0

So this is the "English Language Learners" version of stackexchange, but it seems you know quite a bit already about the language (more - than many, if not most people, it seems). So I'll just include these comments as a, hopefully, helpful and useful way to consider the situation. In practical terms:

It's incorrect because it is redundant. And not in usual way of restating something over again in different words (like I did just now, see?). This example uses 2 tenses of the same verb to describe current, state of that action - which has not at all changed. Despite being described in 3 ways, twice explicitly, no new information is presented.

At minimum it is "wordiness", which should be avoided because: (1) Words take space and space is limited, (2) words demand attention and attention is limited, and (3) as it pertains to this instance specifically, it is confusing.

Excluding any use case that could designated as "artistic expression", writing/ speaking is about communication. Your choices in writing should therefore support your positions, persuade in arguments, explain clearly, etc... So while this might not be breaking any technical rules, grammatically , it is very 'wrong' linguistically because it is logically incoherent and counterproductive.

0

You will pretty much never find a satisfactory, logical explanation for anything like this. On a few very rare occasions, someone has made up a prescriptive rule for English grammar based on first principles, written books on why people should talk that way instead of how they talk now, and it’s actually caught on. (Most recently, that we should use singular they instead of epicene he to refer to someone of indeterminate gender.) But with those tiny, tiny exceptions, people just talk however they heard other people talk when they were growing up, and always have.

If I had to justify it, I’d say:

  • English isn’t consistent about distinguishing between simple and progressive moods, and usually uses both interchangeably.
  • The passive voice is considered poor style in American English and avoided most of the time.

(... to never split, not something to end a sentence with ....)

But those first two rules are true enough that we can always change the passive continuous into something shorter and more direct. And that is what native speakers do. As you observed, we prefer the first way you said it (“I have been writing a letter ....”). The second way (“A letter has been being written by me ...”), with three consecutive auxiliary verbs, is not idiomatic, and indeed, over-use of the continuous mood is a stereotypical mistake for advanced ESL speakers to make. Many other languages are different.

There are some cases where you cannot get around it. If you want to subtly avoid saying who has been writing the letter, you pretty much have to say it in the passive voice. But the passive voice is so associated with that, it would sound evasive. [If this were Wikipedia, some editor would add here, Weasel words: associated by whom?]

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .