The elusive present perfect continuous in the passive
In all my years as a teacher, I have been reading about the elusive present perfect continuous in the passive as a classic example of that which is formally possible, the grammatical system of the English Language allows it, but is never actually done, i.e. ‘used’, by the language community.
According to Dell Hymes (1972) the language that, consciously or unconsciously, people use answers these four questions:
- Whether (and to what degree) something is formally possible;
- Whether (and to what degree) something is feasible in virtue of the means of implementation available;
- Whether (and to what degree) something is appropriate (adequate, happy, successful) in relation to a context in which it is used and evaluated;
- Whether (and to what degree) something is in fact done, actually performed, and what its doing entails.
And here I was on You Tube and for some reason got fascinated by a video about the crown jewels in the UK and this young woman, author of a book on the crown jewels, actually used one!!!
Here it is!! I thought I should save it! Listen to it!
Link to video excerpt in case you cannot view it in your browser
At first, I thought it was a wrong use or that I had misheard, but, no, I think it makes perfect sense as it is used in this context! It actually sounds perfectly right!
Could she have used a present perfect simple passive and would it have made equal sense?
Probably, to most of us. But she was trying to make a very strong point about the continuity embedded in the use of the various ceremonial objects and how they are linked to the history of the monarchy and its power for several hundred years.
I am not a fan of monarchy but the author’s use of this obsolete dodo of tense did make sense in that context. Any thoughts on this?
I often use google as a rough and ready corpus finder, checking frequency of terms used, phrases within double quotation marks. As a translator trainer of long ago, google was indeed for many years a great source of texts that could be mined in the search for the perfect translation – and still has many uses.
So, I tried to look it up in a google search which yielded many results, but in their vast majority they were people asking if the present perfect continuous passive can, in fact, be used or asking how it is used!!!
My third search was in the Google Books corpus tracker, ngram viewer, which scans for phrases in the books contained in its database.
I have often used this to check the currency of a word or phrase on its own or over another, and here are the findings about the use of the passive present perfect continuous, or progressive, as some would insist.
I used only the first three words as the past participle would, very obviously, be different every time.
Looks as if it has been used a bit more recently, but only an infinitesimal amount more, the percentages are really negligible.
I was really excited! Odd, isn’t it?
Please do not make funny comments below about how life is all about having fun etc. If you are a teacher, you probably share this fascination with language so, share some thoughts about whether you yourself might have used this tense in a similar situation and whether you have been able to mine any more examples of its use. 🙂
Hymes, D.H. (1972) “On Communicative Competence” In: J.B. Pride and J. Holmes (eds) Sociolinguistics. Selected Readings. Harmondsworth: Penguin, pp. 269-293.(Part 2)