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Past perfect – passive

There are several reasons as to why we use the passive voice in English. In these notes, we’re going to focus on the past perfect in the passive voice and its elaborations. Generally, we use the passive when the focus is on the action and NOT on WHO or WHAT is performing the action.

Construction: had + been + past participle (found, helped) 

Example verb: email

I had been emailed   We had been emailed
You had been emailed   You (guys) had been emailed
He/she/it had been emailed   They had been emailed

The agent is unknown. We don’t know who or what is the agent 

  • A new factory had been built there ages ago. (We don’t know WHO built the factory). 

We use the passive to emphasise the subject 

  • Drugs had been detected in one of the cyclists during the Tour De France.

We use the passive to talk about general truths

  • It had been thought for years not long ago that the earth was round.

We can use the passive if we want to be unclear or vague about the subject 

  • All is known is that mistakes had been committed during that period. (We are being vague about the ‘mistakes’ and not specifying which were the exact mistakes). 

English Verbs – The Complete Guide

We use the passive when the subject is irrelevant

(We don’t care who or what has caused the action to be). 

  • Some guy from the information department had been told that he wasn’t allowed to leave before 18:00h. (Here, we aren’t interested in who the guy is, rather the fact that he wasn’t allowed to leave before 18:00h). 

We use the passive in a more formal atmosphere like a thesis or an important piece of writing, especially scientifically speaking 

  • Substances from the experiment had been located while researching.

English Verbs – The Complete Guide

Lesson #36: Past perfect – passive

Explanation

Construction: had + been + past participle (seen, spoken)

Example verb: scratch

I had been scratched   We had been scratched
You had been scratched You (guys) had been scratched
He/she/it had been scratched    They had been scratched

Context

  • What’s your opinion on university, Jim?
  • Back when I was young, going1 to university had always been considered2 a sort of an elitist thing to do and not everyone went because it was quite expensive. Besides, other jobs such as plumbers and electricians had been highly sought after as well.3
  • So, what do you think about university in today’s society?4
  • I think that in the past, universities had only been frequented by a small amount of people,5 but that is now changing,6 and today we see more and more people going to university.
  • Yes, that’s right. I guess it’s because jobs are becoming less and less physical.7
  • I agree, although, I will say, we still have a real need for plumbers,8 cooks, electricians etc. The last thing we want is a shortage9 of people doing those jobs.
  • Interesting point. We’ll continue our conversation another time.10
  • Yes, we shall.11

Analysis

  1. Back when I was young, going to university… ‘going’ is the gerund form of the verb ‘go’. Gerunds (verb + ing) can function as subject and objects. Here, ‘going’ is functioning as the subject of the sentence. Other examples are swimming is great. I like running. In the first sentence, ‘swimming’ is a gerund and is the subject of the sentence. In the last sentence, ‘running’ is a gerund and is the object of the sentence. ‘I’ is the subject.
  2. Going to university had always been considered… ‘had been considered’ is the past perfect in the passive voice. The passive is used to focus on the action of ‘going to university’ and not on ‘who’ or ‘what’ is performing the action.
  3. Other jobs such as plumbers and electricians had been highly sought after as well. ‘had been sought after’ is the past perfect in the passive voice. The passive is used to focus on the subject ‘other jobs such as plumbers and electricians’.  
  4. Today’s society. ‘s’ is the possessive. The thing being possessed is ‘society’. You could also say ‘the society of today’ using the possessive ‘of’, but the possessive ‘’s’ is much more common.
  5. Universities had only been frequented… ‘had been frequented’ is the past perfect in the passive voice, and it’s being used to emphasise the subject ‘universities’.
  6. That is now changing. ‘is changing’ is the present continuous in the active voice. We use the present continuous (am/is/are + gerund) to talk about the present moment and actions that are changing over time.
  7. I guess it’s because jobs are becoming less and less physical. ‘Are becoming’ is the present continuous (active form) used to talk about an action that is changing over time.
  8. We still have a real need for plumbers. ‘Have a real need’, ‘Have’ is an auxiliary verb, and we use ‘have’ to show possession of something or someone. ‘A real need’ is the thing being possessed, therefore ‘have’ is used. For example, I have two dogs. She has a house. ‘Dogs’ and ‘house’ are possessions, so we use ‘have’.
  9. A shortage. The noun is ‘shortage’. The adjective is ‘short’, and the adverb is ‘shortly’.
  10. We’ll continue our conversation another time. ‘We’ll’ is the contracted form of ‘we will’ and ‘we’ll continue’ is the future simple (active form) being used to talk about the future.
  11. Yes, we shall. This is a form of ellipsis and is short for ‘yes we shall continue our conversation’. Ellipsis is very common in English and is used to avoid redundancy.

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