¶ one- “Percy Wacker, a 33-year old truck driver from the Netherlands was sentenced to fourteen years in prison”
• the active voice version would be something like: A judge sentenced Percy to fourteen years in prison. (Looking at the active version makes it easier to understand the grammar of the passive sentence and to see that sentence [someone] to [a length of time in prison] is a ditransitive prepositional verb.)
¶ one- “she was going to help the migrants after they arrived in England”
• as far as its actual formation is concerned, the verb phrase was going to help is just the past continuous of the verb go followed by a to-infinitive. Here, however, it is an example of one type of the future in the past. It is used to indicate a past intention that wasn’t actually acted upon. In other words: Ying Guo’s plan was to help the immigrants but she couldn’t actually do that because they died before they got to England.
¶ one and two- “fourteen years in prison for manslaughter”
• manslaughter is the crime of killing someone, not intentionally (which would be murder) but because you are doing something illegal or because you are being extremely careless. The word slaughter by itself means kill , but is mainly used to refer to the killing of animals for food. A slaughterhouse is a building in which animals are killed.
¶ three- “It was a very hot day but even so when he got to Zeebrugge, Percy closed the air vent”
• the words even so do not really affect the meaning of this sentence. They just emphasize the contrast between the two clauses (a contrast that is already indicated by the use of but). Even so has the same effect in this compound sentence that even does in the complex sentence: Even though it was a very hot day, when he got to Zeebrugge...
¶ three- “...Percy closed the air vent on the side of the truck's trailer so no one would hear the people inside”
• this is another instance of the future in the past. However, here is not (as in the first item above) a matter of referring to an intention that was not carried out, but just a matter of a statement about an event (the people in the truck making noise) which is in the past from the point of view of the person writing the story, but in the future from this point in the story. The correct way to do this is to use the modal auxiliary would.
¶ three- “no fresh air could get into the trailer”
• the trailer is the back part of the truck (or lorry) where the freight is carried. It is called a trailer because it moves independently of the front part or cab where the engine is located and the driver sits.
¶ four- “While he was enjoying himself the people inside the trailer got hotter and hotter.”
• enjoy can be used as a transitive verb as in I enjoyed the show or Jack enjoys Jill’s company. It can also be used, as in this example, as a reflexive verb. The object of a reflexive verb will always be a reflexive pronoun such as myself, herself, or themselves.
¶ five- “The oxygen began to run out ”
• to run out is a phrasal verb meaning, here, to become exhausted or to be used up (another phrasal verb). There is no good, non-phrasal substitute: apart from the fact that exhaust is usually too formal to be used in speech, it is not as versatile as to run out which can take the thing that is running out as its subject (as in the text) but which can also be used (as a prepositional phrasal verb) taking the people whose supply is running out as the subject, as in The people in the trailer began to run out of oxygen. In order to use exhaust in the first way, with the thing that is running out in the subject position, it is necessary to use the passive voice, as in Their supply of oxygen was exhausted.
¶ six- “They realized that if they couldn’t get fresh air quickly, they were going to die”
• In this past real conditional, could is used in the if-clause to emphasize the inability of the people in the trailer to get the fresh air they need. Were going to die is used in the main clause because a future in the past is required. (would die would also have been correct.)
¶ six- “They saw what one of them later described as a sea of bodies”
• the subject of this sentence, is they; the verb (phrase) is saw; and the object, is a long nominal relative noun clause. Its subject is one of them; its verb (phrase) is described...as; its object is what; and its prepositional object is a sea of bodies.