4

Is it correct to say "I have been explained this problem several times but I keep forgetting about it."

Or should it be "This problem has been explained to me several times but I keep forgetting about it."

This sentence comes from a textbook exercise, and I have to find verb-related mistakes in the sentence. It can be however, that there is no mistake. Could anyone help me with this?

Thanks in advance!

  • If you want to preserve the passive construction, the best way is to say "I have had this problem explained to me". – Jack M Dec 12 '15 at 14:11
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The first construction is incorrect. This construction is ditransitive, and is not possible with explain. A ditransitive construction is only possible with ditransitive verbs such as show.

For reference, explain and show have these thematic roles:

  • agent - the agent is the one who provides the explanation or showing
  • theme - the theme is the topic portrayed by the explanation or showing
  • experiencer/recipient - the experiencer or recipient is the person who receives the explanation or showing

These transitive constructions are possible with either explain or show:

  • Active clause---[Agent] explains [theme] (optionally, to [experiencer])
    • Alice explained grammar.
    • Alice explained grammar to Bob.
    • Alice showed the house.
    • Alice showed the house to Bob.
  • Passive clause---[Theme] is explained (optionally, to [experiencer]) (optionally, by [agent])
    • Grammar was explained.
    • Grammar was explained by Alice.
    • Grammar was explained to Bob.
    • The house was shown.
    • The house was shown by Alice.
    • The house was shown to Bob.

These ditransitive constructions are possible with show, but not with explain:

  • Ditransitive active clause---[Agent] shows [recipient] [theme]
    • Alice showed Bob the house.
  • Ditransitive passive clause---[Recipient] is shown [theme]
    • Bob was shown the house.
  • Did you write that long explanation with examples yourself or did you take it from somewhere? – user20792 Dec 12 '15 at 15:05
3

The correct phrasing is the second one:

This problem has been explained to me...

Since it is the problem that was explained not that you were explained.

I have been explained this problem...

Is not correct, though would be understandable to a native speaker. It sounds like a literal translation from another language i.e. Spanish.

  • No problem, keep asking! – Peter Dec 12 '15 at 11:57
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In addition to the other answers, yet another way to rephrase the sentence is:

I have had this problem explained to me several times.

-1

The second one is correct.

For verbs that can have an indirect object, there are two ways to form sentences, each with the same meaning:

I [subject] gave the ball [direct object] to John [indirect object]

I [subject] gave John [indirect object] the ball [direct object]

To form the passive voice:

  • drop the subject
  • promote the object nearest the verb to subject
  • change the verb to passive voice ([BE + past participle])
  • if the direct object was promoted, we can add in "by [original subject]"

The corresponding passive voice sentences are:

The ball was given to John
John was given the ball

We can also reverse this process:

  • restore the original subject
  • demote the subject to object
  • change the verb to active voice
  • remove "by [original subject]" if it is there

Thus

I have been explained this problem

This problem has been explained to me

becomes

Someone has explained me this problem [1]

Someone explained this problem to me [2]

The problem is, the first sentence [1] is technically correct but unnatural. Sometimes, you can put the indirect object next to the verb and drop "to"

I gave the ball to John

becomes

I gave John the ball

I'm not sure why*, but that construction is not nearly as common for the verb "to explain". For this reason, the corresponding passive voice sentence is awkward. Therefore the more natural sounding sentence is

This problem has been explained to me several times but I keep forgetting about it.


* This is pure speculation, I am not a linguist, but one pattern I've noticed is that the method of putting the indirect object next to the verb only works with Germanic words or at least words that came into modern English via Old English. Perhaps this grammar pattern is from Old English, which is heavily Germanic. The following is correct and sometimes even preferred over the "to me" form. All of the verbs have roots in Old English.

  • tell me something
  • give me something
  • buy me something
  • show me something
  • offer me something
  • find me something

The following list has somewhat to extremely unnatural sounding phrases. They are all synonyms/similar verbs to the above, but came into modern English via Latin, via Latin through French, was recently made up, etc.

  • explain me something
  • transmit me something
  • purchase me something
  • demonstrate me something
  • propose me something
  • google me something

So fortunately, if you have a sense for which words sound Germanic and which sound Latinate/other, you can figure out if the construction works or not.

  • The first sentence [1] may not be 'technically incorrect' but your technic is flawed. Also, I think we can say the correspinding [sic] passive voice sentence is not "awkward" but ungrammatical. At least until enough people say it and use it. – user20792 Dec 12 '15 at 14:51
  • The part about verbs originating from Latin is something to think about. However a verb's origin does not determine its usage. Even a verb from Latin can be used like a Germanic verb. Recommend is a good example. Many native speakers find 'recommend me a good book to read' grammatical. It is not to me. A next verb possibly headed this way is suggest. 'Can you suggest me a book' grates my ears and is ungrammatical to me and probably most native speakers. But so many learners say it that it will probably be grammatical some day, although not to me. – user20792 Dec 12 '15 at 14:59

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