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Having been being lost in the woods for hours, he was finally found by emergency services.

Does this mean:

After he had been being lost in the woods for hours, he was finally found by emergency services.

Is this a grammatical sentence? If so, is "Having been being lost" called a perfect continuous (since it has "Having" and "being") passive ("been") participle clause (tells us more information about sentences)?

To conclude, I have 3 questions need answering. Any and all help is greatly appreciated!

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    I don't know if it's grammatical, but neither is idiomatic. You would say "Having been lost in..." or "After being lost in..."
    – tgdavies
    Jan 31, 2022 at 4:52
  • It certainly isn't grammatical to have two forms of the verb to be next to one another. Jan 31, 2022 at 9:16
  • @KateBunting Isn't it the passive construction of a verb in past perfect continuous? Jan 31, 2022 at 10:13
  • This isn't passive, as Vegawatcher explains below. To be lost doesn't refer to someone else having lost you, but to you being in a state of not knowing where you are. Jan 31, 2022 at 11:07

3 Answers 3

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The original question does present a certain logic, but is built on a number of misconceptions.

First, when the expression 'to be lost" means "not to know where one is,' it is not a passive expression. It is what linguists would call a stative expression and does not imply that there is any agent bringing the state into existence.

The structure "to be X'ed," where X represents an action verb, often indicates a passive, but not always. "To be closed' can be the opposite of "to be open," in which case it is not a passive, but just a state with no implication of an agent that does the opening or closing. If, on the other hand, "to be closed" is used as the opposite of "to be opened," then it is used passively and an unstated agent is definitely implied.

Similarly, "to be lost" can occasionally indicate a passive, but this usage is somewhat rare and almost never used in the situation of "losing one's way in an unfamiliar location," since no agent is implied.

Since 'to be lost in the woods" represents a state, it cannot be used in the continuous/progressive form. That form is not generally used for states except in very marked situations where the states associated with some words can be reinterpreted as a dynamic process.

An example of this rare case is that saying "we have a baby" and "we are having a baby" mean quite different things. The first is a state, and the second is an incomplete dynamic process. Another example mentioned in the comments is changing a phrase like "I feel tired" to "I am feeling tired." "I feel tired" represents a state, so should not be possible in the continuous/progressive form. It turns out it is indeed possible to use such forms if you reinterpret the state as a dynamic process/activity. "I am feeling" represents a dynamic situation that suggests the feeling is unstable, either because it came into existence only recently and is tentative or rapidly increasing in intensity or perhaps because it will only be a transitory state of mind. States by definition are not dynamic and tend to persist without change unless terminated by an external event. Dynamic situations by definition involve change, and so suggest transition, instability, or evolution.

In theory, you could use this grammatical process to say "I am being lost," but this would be a highly marked and unusual expression, since we usually don't think of being lost as something dynamic and easily variable in nature. You are either lost or not. To express such a meaning, you would more likely say that someone is "acting lost" to clearly indicate that a dynamic activity or process was involved. You could also say "you are getting lost" to indicate that the state is coming into being. The state itself does not suggest change and so is not very compatible with the continuous forms.

As a result of these restrictions, you can only say "having been lost in the woods" or "after he had been lost in the woods." No continuous/progress tense is possible.

Now if we change the word "lost' into the word "chase," a passive construction becomes possible and you can theoretically turn it into a passive continuous construction. You might then be able to say, "After he had been being chased in the woods for hours"; however, using a continuous/progressive tense in this case feels clumsy and overly specific. Some would even say it is not grammatical. Since the purpose of the clause is simply to establish a time frame, trying to add a nuance of continuousness or progression detracts from the main message and makes it hard to interpret what time frame is actually being described. You should just say "After he had been chased/lost in the woods for hours."

Now if we turn to the participles, we should note that they don't have absolute tenses, but only relative ones. You can use a present participle to indicate a contemporaneous action or a perfect participle to indicate a prior action. You can also make a participle passive to express either relative tense. However, you cannot make a participle continuous/progressive.

You can say "He was chasing the bus and fell down" or "He was being chased and fell down; however, you cannot grammatically say something like "Being chasing the bus, he fell down or "Being being chased, he fell down." That feature of continuousness/progressiveness is reserved for finite verbs and cannot be added to participles. The participles simply indicate whether the action is contemporaneous or prior to the main verb. Adding a form of 'to be" just makes the participle passive, but cannot add a nuance of continuousness or progressiveness.

Putting it all together, you could say, "having been chased/lost in the woods," but you cannot say "having been being chased/lost in the woods," since such participles don't exist.

You cannot say "he had been being lost" because "to be lost" represents a state that cannot be used in the continuous/progressive form. You can, however, say "being lost" in an appropriate sentence, because that form is simply a present participle indicating a contemporaneous state and is not a continuous/progressive form.

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  • With ben and the done's corrected, this is upvotable. But I seem to remember that there are other situations where continuous constructions can be used with stative verbs. //// Found a ref: "I feel tired / I'm feeling tired." // Modern usage probably creeping in: ?"We're loving it." Jan 31, 2022 at 11:42
  • Thanks for the feedback. I tried to make suitable edits to fix the typos and address usages like "I'm feeling tired." Jan 31, 2022 at 13:21
  • The usages seem variable. "I'm feeling tired / sick / angry / rather warm" but not ??"I'm feeling privileged to be here" / ??"I'm feeling honoured to be asked to speak". Jan 31, 2022 at 14:59
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    "I am feeling tired/sick/etc." suggests a dynamic situation subject to change or further developments, not something static (i.e., a "state"). If you say you feel honored to speak, you are suggesting a lasting feeling. If you say you are feeling honored, you are suggesting the situation is dynamic and that something might happen to change your feeling in a good or bad way. That is appropriate to describe intense feelings of the moment that naturally subside, but not appropriate if it suggests your gratitude will be short-lived. Jan 31, 2022 at 15:15
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Does it mean "After he had been being lost in the woods for hours,"

No.

Having been being lost in the woods for hours, describes his state when he was found. It is a fronting adjectival phrase.

Compare

Hungry / dead / exhausted, he was finally found by emergency services.

The sentence can be uninverted:

He was finally found by emergency services having been being lost in the woods for hours.

He was finally found by emergency services hungry / dead / exhausted.

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Warning: Grammar terms vary.

You have one too many bes there. Compare:

He is lost. He was lost. He has been lost. He had been lost.

There, lost is a past participle adjective and a subject complement. The verb be links he to lost (an ongoing state), so using the progressive (continuous) aspect is redundant. These are incorrect:

*He is being lost. *He was being lost. *He has been being lost. *He had been being lost.

That aside, you could argue a reduced adverb clause (see ThoughtCo) here. We can reduce an adverb clause when it has the same subject as the independent clause:

Before: After he had been lost in the woods for hours, he was finally found by emergency services.

Reduced: Having been lost in the woods for hours, he was finally found by emergency services.

Your independent clause is in the passive voice, which is what allows both the subjects to be he. If it were in the active voice, the adverb clause could not be reduced:

Before: After he had been lost in the woods for hours, emergency services finally found him.

After: *Having been lost in the woods for hours, emergency services finally found him. (incorrect — in this context)

You could instead possibly argue a fronted reduced relative clause:

Before: He, who had been lost in the woods for hours, was finally found by emergency services.

Reduced: He, having been lost in the woods for hours, was finally found by emergency services.

Fronted: Having been lost in the woods for hours, he was finally found by emergency services.

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