Transitive past participles

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I received the following free grammar question:

For every transitive past participle, is the following true? He has been done=He is done e.g. 1. He has been killed =He is killed 2. He has been seen =He is seen 3.It has been eaten =It is eaten

Let’s begin by defining a couple of verb terms.

First transitive means it’s a verb that acts upon an object. Think of a verb like “throw”. You have to throw a thing, even if you throw a fit. A verb like “think” is intransitive. You can just think. You don’t even have to think of anything.

Next: the past participle is the form of the verb used with an auxiliary to indicate a past action. The auxiliary determines exactly when in the past the action occurred. Because these are transitive past participles, they are the object of the action.

Here are some examples of transitive past participles in action:

I have been helped. (past perfect)

He will have been helped. (future perfect)

She could have been helped. (past conditional)

The question is basically: can we change the auxiliary verb “have been” to “is” and retain the same meaning for the past perfect tense?

The answer is generally “yes”, but it becomes a little less natural English.

To say “he is killed” is absolutely correct English, yet it sounds a little awkward to me. I think that’s because I would equate “he has been killed” to “he is dead.” Now of course, the meaning of “he is dead” is not equivalent in every context. “He is dead” could mean from natural causes, but “he has been killed” can only mean something has killed him. But if you watch any movies, you might see a scene where someone is shot and another actor checks them and announces “he’s dead”, not “he is killed.” It’s just how we use the language.

He has been done. I think this one is clearly equivalent. He has received the action already. “He has been inducted into the army” or “he has been given his inoculation.” You could easily and naturally say “he’s done.”

He has been seen. This means he has been seen at some time in the past, but not necessarily right now. “He is seen” means he is being seen right now.

It has been eaten. This is the normal way to state this. “It is eaten” means the same thing, but seems less natural.

One of the biggest challenges of learning a language is learning these subtle variations in use.

About Peter J. Francis

Peter J. Francis is owner and operator of HyperGraphix Publishing Services (HGPublishing.com). He has over 30 years of professional writing and editing experience. He holds a BA (Honors) degree in English (1987), a B. Ed. degree from SFU (2005) and a certificate in Special Education from SFU (2011). He teaches high school and offers editing services as time is available.