Can they have been being seized?

Hello everyone!

I want to start this month’s post apologizing for my… silence last month. I’ve got only myself to blame – anyone writing about organization skills out there? – and can just promise it won’t happen again. Scout’s honor.

So let me pick up from where we left off last time:  I ended by asking you whether you’d feel insulted if someone (a teacher trainer, a colleague, your coordinator) told you you had to work on your English. There weren’t many replies, I’m afraid, but the very few people who wrote back (both here and via email) had the same to say: ‘No, I wouldn’t’.

Well, I would. Maybe. Not insulted, but somewhat hurt. Let me expand on that…

I didn’t mean to say last month that it was in any way easy hearing from someone we need to work on our most important professional tool, our knowledge of the language – and yes, I do think it is at the very least one of the most vital tools in a language teacher’s “toolbox”, as it were. What I meant to say was that this is no reason why we shouldn’t talk about it!

I love teachers. The vast majority of my closest friends are language teachers. More than half of my students are teachers of English. I’ve been a language teacher for 15 years, almost half of my life. I think teachers’ feelings are important, and when I decided I was going to start dedicating more time to the neglected issue of an English teacher’s knowledge of English, it was by no means my intention to hurt teachers’ feelings, or to say my English was beyond reproach, or to aggravate people in any way. I just think it’s fascinating – and I don’t mean this in a good way at all – ELT just seems to pay no attention at all to such an important aspect of a teacher’s development. We owe it to ourselves and to our learners to keep on working on our language skills throughout our careers, and from next month I will be suggesting ways in which we can do that.

I want to end this month’s post, however, by sharing something that happened to me last Tuesday. Listening to a BBC podcast (BBC Global News), I heard one of the reporters, as he talked about the situation in Ukraine (Ukraine or the Ukraine, by the way?), say ‘Police stations have been being seized…’. I was shocked! Not only had I never heard that before in my life, I’m absolutely sure I’d gone as far as saying to my students that that was impossible, wrong, and that it sounded awful.  Some of the most interesting comments I got:

– ‘Awful!’

– ‘Wasn’t s/he stuttering?’

– ‘It is so embarrassing when supposedly educated people can’t even speak or fathom the language’

– ‘(…) if we can say “stations are being seized”, why not “stations have been being seized”… How else would you say exactly the same thing, if it started in the past and is still going on as we speak? (…)’

– ‘Why do people suppose that us native speakers get it right all the time? (…)’

– ‘Nice slip of the tongue. Unfortunately, present perfect continuous in the passive doesn’t exist.’

And on it goes.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this particular sentence (you can hear it here). Right? Wrong? Something in between?

To read about the Ukraine/The Ukraine debacle, click here.

See you all in May and hope to see some of you guys in Paraíba next month!

Higor Cavalcante

Higor Cavalcante is a teacher and teacher educator based in São Paulo, Brazil. He’s been in ELT for going on 19 years now, and his main interests in the area are language development for teachers, extensive reading, and pronunciation. He is the first vice president of BRAZ-TESOL, as well as the author of ‘Inglês para professor’, published in 2015 by Disal, and the upcoming ‘Inglês para professor 2’. Find out about his courses for teachers at

  • Ricardo Lino
    Posted at 11:23h, 26 abril Responder

    Hi Higor,

    A few minutes ago, while teaching a group of advanced students, I came across an explanation which says the passive cannot be used with the present perfect continous. In the explanation, it is recommended that we use the passive of the present perfect instead.

    As in the following examples: 1) People have been downloading more music this year than ever before. 2) More music has been downloaded this year than ever before. 3) Even more music will have been downloaded by this time next year.

    The way I see it, even native speakers make mistakes. And that is a clear example of this kind of native speakers’ mistakes. I believe it is, perhaps, a kind of mistake which goes unnoticed, or that could be acceptable in spoken English.

  • fabio fernandes
    Posted at 01:22h, 04 junho Responder

    And the saga continues… Two more examples :

    ( 5th paragraph : “We have been bringing upgrades … ” )

    and… ( an excerpt from a customer service forum )

    Posted 25 April 2014 – 20:15
    Well, on a very small sample of two, it does appear to be specific to Brazil … although as fabio fernandes is a subscriber he shouldn’t – as far as I’m aware – be being served ads. Although I suppose there might still be some reason for the main Autosport server to contact the ad server for Brazil.

    Obviously not browser-specific either, but it would probably need diagnosis from the Brazilian end to try to pin down the exact cause.

    • fabio fernandes
      Posted at 01:44h, 04 junho Responder

      Although the first example ( have been bringing ) looks perfectly ok, I’m pretty sure the second one ( shouldn’t be being served ) – will raise a few eybrows …

      BUT …

      have a look at item number 3 :

      (3) when the present participle is being or getting, and followed by a past participle, it is a present perfect passive construction (one of the most uncommon and unusual, but grammatical, verb tenses in English!) that shows something that has been happening to the subject of the sentence on a routine basis. Almost always, this strange construction could be reworded in simpler English.
      I’ve been being attacked by my political opponents. (More commonly rephrased as My political opponents have often attacked me.)
      I’ve been getting stung by bees (More commonly rephrased as I’ve been getting stung by bees a lot.)

      So, unusual for sure, but not wrong…

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