Surprisingly, there is no entry in the English Grammar Profile or Pearson’s Global Scale of English (GSE) related to passive interrogative sentences. We know that the present simple passive starts at A2. We know that generally, for example, negation is a level higher when an extra word is added to a sentence to complete a grammar point. Similarly, inversion of the subject and verb in a clause could be considered as a higher level of English too. We could then guess that B1 might be the point at which passive questions can be used by English users.
It is also a difficult structure to search for in corpora. For example, if we do a search for:
. _VB _P _VVN
we mostly get ‘past participles‘ as adjectives:
1 . ARE YOU FINISHED 128 adjective (often asked when eating together)
Are you finished with that?
Sure. Help yourself.
‘finished‘ as an adjective is not listed in the English Vocabulary Profile (EVP). It is listed in the GSE at B1+ & B2+.
2 . ARE YOU PREPARED 113 adjective
3 . ARE YOU WORRIED 93
4 . ARE YOU LOST 89
5 . ARE YOU SATISFIED 42
6 . IS HE GONE 42
7 . WERE YOU BORN 40
This is the most common PAST passive ‘yes/no’ question.
*It is unnatural to say the active voice:
Where did your mother bear you?
8 . ARE YOU EXCITED 36
9 . ARE YOU RELATED 36
10 . AM I ALLOWED 31
11 . ARE YOU SCARED 31
12 . ARE YOU SURPRISED 30
13 . IS HE HURT 27
14 . WERE YOU SURPRISED 27
15 . ARE THEY GONE 21
16 . ARE WE ALLOWED 21
17 . AM I FIRED 20
18 . ARE WE FINISHED 20
19 . ARE YOU ALLOWED 19 present simple passive question
Are you allowed to say that on television?
20 . ARE YOU ATTRACTED 19 This still may be considered ‘adjectival’, but has the structure of a present simple passive interrogative or yes/no question.
Cambridge definition: B2 [ T usually passive ] If you are attracted by or to someone, you like them, often finding them sexually interesting
Next, we search for question words with:
_*Q _VB _P _VVN
1 WHAT’S IT CALLED 353 B1 present simple passive interrogative:
The tagger cannot tell if ‘s =
has or is 2 WHAT’S HE GOT 296
3 WHERE ARE YOU HEADED 232 unlisted C2 adjective after verb
4 WHAT ARE YOU WORRIED 217
5 WHY ARE YOU DRESSED 169
6 WHAT’S IT GOT 146
7 WHERE WERE YOU BORN 125
8 WHERE’S HE GONE 109
9 WHERE ARE WE HEADED 82
10 WHAT’S SHE GOT 76
11 WHAT ARE THEY CALLED 59
12 WHAT WAS IT CALLED 59
13 WHAT IS IT CALLED 54
14 WHY IS IT CALLED 48
15 WHERE’S SHE GONE 38
16 WHEN WERE YOU BORN 37
17 HOW ARE YOU FIXED 31
18 WHERE’S IT GONE 29
19 WHERE IS IT WRITTEN 29
20 WHAT’S IT MADE 27
So far, we only covered the fastest most basic approach to look for passive questions. The truth is that there are millions of combinations that suggest much more advanced levels of English. Just a basic search in the TED corpus for:
be * *ed?
will show up a great deal of infinitive structures. For now, we don’t have the resources to expand all of them.
passive modal affirmative is B2 in the EGP. So we believe if it can be turned into a question it is at least C1. For example:
Here is the basic modal question inversion + present perfect affirmative in a how clause:
Can you guess how they‘ve been altered?
present continuous passive with a range of verbs is B2 in the EGP:
- What are the lessons to be learned?
- And what about the parts of our energy system that cannot be electrified?
- Does it need to be repaired?
- How do we want to be remembered?
- But is it enough to consider how many lives would be saved?
- And how can it be treated?
- What patient scenarios and experiences are yet to be designed, what systems need to be revisited?
- Is this something that you want to be celebrated?